View Full Version : Wandering Pick

Dec-31-2003, 9:03am
First, I know I'm holding my pick correctly. Verified by a couple of mandoliin players. Problem is when playing chords, the pick develops a life of its own. It starts to wander between my finers, rotating counterclockwise, so that the pointy end of the pick eventually is facing the headstock.

I don't have this problem when playing single notes, and I've adopted the Thile approach to holding a pick, "loose and relaxed."

It doesn't matter how I'm playing the chords, chop or rhtythm, the pick still moves. I've tried tightening my grip, but the same thing happens, and I'm gently brushing the top of the strings when playing a chord, so I know it's not too hard a stroke that's causing the pick to rotate.

I'm stumped. Is it just me, or does anyone else have this problem?

Thanks, and have a Happy New Year.

Tom C
Dec-31-2003, 9:12am
Yes, that does happen to me when I play with the point. However I use the shoulder of a gibson jazz pick and do not have this problem. I think that having the point actually point to the inside of my thumb knuckle while pickin with the should gives it a comfortable feel. I do play with the point when I practice fiddle tunes hoping to eventually switch to using the point.

Dec-31-2003, 9:25am
I think that may happen to everybody ... the remedy I came up with was to modify the grip by pushing the middle finger of the right hand, up on the pick. Simon Mayor calls this the modified "pencil grip" and it seems to keep the pick from taking off on a mindless trip of it's own.

I ended up, for chording, holding the pick as usual but - pushing the middle finger, on the pick, behind the index finger. When a chord is strummed, the middle finger pushes UP on the pick - while the pick is stroked either down, or up. This seems to keep the pick more solidly located - and interestingly, I can get syncopated, double time rhythms, inside the rhythm box "window". I also try to change the angle that the pick strikes the strings by rotating the thumb down - rather than striking the strings at @ 90 degrees.

This is difficult to write as it's such a bunch of small - micro movements ... It doesn't cost anything to try a few different approaches til you can keep the pick from doing the Lambada (when you want it to Polka).

Bob DeVellis
Dec-31-2003, 9:40am
My first question is whether the rotation is really a problem. I think one of the advantages of a loose grip is that it allows the pick to find the best angle that offers the best combination between lower pick resistance and enough pick projection to give the tone you want. I used to struggle with ways to keep the pick from turning until, one day, I was playing like blazes, triplets were flowing more smoothly than usual, and I realized that the pick had rotated a bit. When I straightened it out, it hung more. Other players have told me that they've had the same experience. If you really want it straight, the ideas others have given you should work well. But the first thing to think about might be whether it's really a problem at all. Bottom line, the pick is a tool. If it gets the job done to your satisfaction pointed a bit north, then so be it. Of course, if it isn't getting the job done, then by all means try making changes.

Dec-31-2003, 12:55pm
Dolamon: Thanks, I'll give your method a try.

bobd: The rotation is not a major problem, but after watching some folks play on television, I seemed to notice the rotation more than I had before watching them play.

Sorry for all the questions, but I'm a newbie to the mandolin, and have been playing three to four hours a day (hold over from piano and guitar lessons). The more I play, the more things I notice and wonder if I'm doing things the proper way.

I will probably take some lessons in the New Year, just to make sure my technique is right.

Thanks again for the great comments and suggestions. I'm sure I'll be back for more of your collective knowledge.


Dec-31-2003, 12:59pm
Do what I do - use a round pick, doesn't matter if it rotates in your grip, and mine does sometimes.

Dec-31-2003, 1:02pm
Gorilla Snot, never tried it, just like sayin it. http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/tounge.gif

Dec-31-2003, 1:58pm
Try a suggestion someone else made a month or so ago, buy some double sided sticky tape and put a small piece on one side of the pick. Seems to help.

Dec-31-2003, 1:59pm
Interesting topic...I'm using Wegen 1.0's that I cross-hatch a bit with a pocket knife...everybody in our band - guitar, banjo, dobro and mandolin uses Gorilla Snot...the stuff really works when used sparingly...too much and you'll stick your hand to the top of your instrument which is really embarassing http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif

Dec-31-2003, 3:15pm
I don't mean to sound condescending or anything (eep!), but perhaps you really aren't holding the holding the pick right. I obviously can't see you play so I can't be sure, but I know that your problem is caused by one of three things:

1)funny fingers (I doubt this! http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif)

2)choice of pick - make sure you're not using anything too pointy, slippery, thick/thin or bent out of shape. You probably wanna hang around .88 - 1.5 mm, and if your pick is too worn out, get a new one.

3)technique- this is the most common problem. I'll post just a few guidelines (once again, not trying to condescend) for you to check out if you think you need to. I've never heard of someone having their pick go counterclockwise, but it's probably just the opposite of what causes it to go clockwise. http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif

a) make sure you're holding the pick with the pad of your thumb and the side of your index. Don't hold the pick on the pad of your index... this makes it harder to smoothly flick the wrist.

b) make sure the majority of your strumming motion is from your wrist. You should only be using elbow rotation for added strength, not movement. That means your chop should be a two-fold motion: a flick with the wrist and a slight downward fall of the elbow. Let gravity do its work... stay relaxed.

c) don't attack the strings at a 90 degree angle. This takes a lot of experimenting according to the pick you prefer to use, but you should be hitting the string at a slight angle. Because mando strings are in pairs, the pick gets too caught up if it hits head on. When you angle the pick, it slides over more gracefully. If your pick is rotating counter-clockwise, that means you're probably coming in at too steep of an angle with your upstrokes. Make sure that the pick is hitting at about the same angle with both upstrokes and downstrokes... just a different side of the pick.

d) above all, hold the pick loosely. It's natural when playing for the pick jiggle around a bit. As you play more and more, you'll notice that your fingers automatically compensate by making minute adjustments to the picks position if it gets too out of whack... but this shouldn't be happening too often unless you're doing whirlwinds. http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/mandosmiley.gif

Jan-01-2004, 12:06pm
I'm putting a big check mark to all the things you mentioned. That is, I do all of them.

When I took jazz guitar lessons, my teacher was obsessed with holding the pick correctly (just as you described). That is one thing that has been ingrained into my psyche.

Looking back to my jazz guitar days, the same problem persisted. My teacher couldn't figure it out either. In theory, since I was doing everything correctly (holding the pick, strumming, angles, etc.), the pick should not move as it had, and continues to do. He was baffled, as am I.

From reading the other posts, I don't seem to be alone, but in my case it (the pick movement) is more pronounced.

Maybe I'll give that Gorilla Snot a try, when the need arises.

Thanks for all the tips.

Jan-01-2004, 10:51pm
I've got to put in a vote for trying out using a bit of middle finger to hold the pick as Dolamon mentioned. It may not reduce the tendency of the pick to rotate, but if you have three fingers touching the pick it's a lot easier to use one of them to rotate the pick back to where you want it without dropping the pick.

I really don't think that holding the pick with the side of the index finger is the only right way to do it. Folks hand shapes, fingerprint patterns and sweatiness are all different. Plenty of very good players hold the pick with three fingers at least sometimes. I figure if you're having trouble doing something the 'right way' it can be worthwhile to try it one of the 'wrong ways'. http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif


Jan-02-2004, 12:45am
I play with several picks and solved my wandering pick problem a couple of ways:

1. Nylon/celluloid picks-switched to oversized.

2. Wegen M150-I grip lightly with middle finger and rest index finger on top edge.

3. Make it stick. My husband made me a great ivory pick for Christmas! A quick lick of the thumb gives the ivory a little tack. I use the "pencil grip" out of habit anyway.

Jan-03-2004, 7:53am
Good news...My wandering pick has stopped wandering, well about 95% less wandering.

After reading all the posts, analyzing the way I was holding the pick, strumming angles, etc., I could find nothing I was doing wrong and was resigned to the way things were. And then, I noticed something that had gone undetected for many years.

I was standing up, trying some chords, when I looked at my right hand, and noticed it was off the bridge. Sort of hovering just above the strings.

When I play melodies the heel of my right hand just grazes the strings, just behind the bridge, but I discovered when I was playing chords, I raised my hand so that there was no contact at all with the strings or bridge.

I played some more chords, this time using the same right hand placement I use when playing melody, and the pick wandering just about completely stopped. There is some slight motion, but 95% of the wandering is gone.

It's as if I were not seeing the forest for the trees. My right hand position (resting of the strings vs. hovering just above the strings) was the answer.

Thanks again for all your wonderful suggestions. Had it not been for your responses, I probably would not have taken such a hard look at what I was doing.

Feb-20-2004, 12:08pm
I #purchased a Wegen 150 pick and found it to work really well for me. #The problem was the surface of the pick being #more slippery than any other I had used.

I was sitting in my office playing one day, and noticed a package of 3-M decorating clips with Command Adhesive, laying on my desk. These clips are used to hang pictures on wall with the aid of a doublesided tape. #When you want to take the adhesive from the wall, you just pull the tab, and the adhesive strip pops off. Works well for hanging computer cords too.

I took one of these adhesive strips and applied it to my wegan pick...it worked. #It holds really well to my finger without getting sticky stuff all over my finger, and seems to last a long time. #I have had mine on for about 3 weeks, without any indication that the adhesive is falling off. It also gives you more confidence in holding your pick loosely without fear of it dropping to the floor.

#I only applied the strip to the thumb side of my pick, but I suppose it would work on both sides as well. It adds a tiny bit of bulk to your pick, but for me it wasn't a concern.

#The clips cost $3.00 for 24 clips and adhesive strips. #If they don't work for you, you can always hang a picture of your mandolin on the wall with the clips! #It's worth a try!

John Flynn
Feb-20-2004, 10:22pm
Well, I am always the big naysayer on these discussions, but you deserve to hear both sides. I play with a loose grip and slick picks and I only have pick rotation problems when I lose my focus and my technique falls apart. I worry that using any kind of "stickum" on a pick might mask technique flaws I need to work on.

It is good that you have a good grip. That is the proper start, but only the start. Strumming chords (or picking notes) is a dynamic process. The pick needs to balance in that good grip all the way through the strum. Think about this: Why would the pick rotate? What forces would be acting on it to make it rotate? When it happens to me, I know that it means I am not contacting the strings properly. I am striking at an angle that is creating torque on the pick. If I hit the strings squarely, how could there be any sideways force on the pick? There wouldn't be. And contacting the strings squarely is also how you get your best tone.

Others are certainly free to do what they feel comfortable with. For me, I believe picking without grip aids helps force me to improve my techinique.

Feb-20-2004, 10:31pm
ah....picking technique....perhaps the most divisive issue in all of music http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif

Feb-21-2004, 6:46am
Think about this: Why would the pick rotate? What forces would be acting on it to make it rotate? When it happens to me, I know that it means I am not contacting the strings properly. I am striking at an angle that is creating torque on the pick. If I hit the strings squarely, how could there be any sideways force on the pick? There wouldn't be. And contacting the strings squarely is also how you get your best tone.
When you used the word "squarely", do you mean that the pick should be perpendicular to the strings?

Without the benefit of a teacher, I've been looking at pictures, and the Chris Thile DVD. From looking at these resources, it seems to me that the pick is not quite perpendicular to the strings, but at a slight angle.

I've tried holding the pick perpendicular to the strings, and found it to be rather uncomfortable. That is, the more natural position seems to place the pick at an angle to the strings.

Of course, I could be doing things all wrong, since I don't have an instructor.


Ted Eschliman
Feb-21-2004, 7:43am
ah....picking technique....perhaps the most divisive issue in all of music
Yes. Why all the blather about pick and picking technique? We need to all go to the latest flameworthy Chris Thile thread and talk about something more substantial...
In all seriousness, one of my own personal playing turning points was after an Evan Marshall clinic. He had a series of exercises that focused on articulations, including rest strokes, and up down combinations. (Hopefully he'll get this published soon.)
His approach included a 5-8 minute DAILY drill that set the tone (pun intended) of the rest of my own practice session. It involved simplifying the left hand notes (major scale, SLOW!); time well invested, as your right hand develops its natural grip and stance for the rest of the time when you're working on other aspects of your playing. The trick is to devote the short amount of time EVERY day. It pays off after several weeks.

Feb-21-2004, 8:37am
My "wandering pick syndrom" is slowly going away, but I came up with a temporary solution when I was heading for a practice or a barn dance where I really didn't want that to happen. I sprayed a little puddle of photo mount on a piece of paper, then put some of the still wet stuff on my thumb and index finger, letting it air dry. It lasted all night! I've been playing for one year now, practicing 3 hours per night, and I don't use the stuff any more.


" Repetition is the mother of all learning"

John Flynn
Feb-21-2004, 8:47am
When you used the word "squarely", do you mean that the pick should be perpendicular to the strings?
No, I mean that the flat of the pick hits the string all at once, not the edge. It is easy to think you are doing that, but actually not be doing it.

Try an experiment. Hold the pick way more loosely than you ever would for playing. I mean hold it so loose it nearly falls out of your hand. Then do several easy strums. You should be able to do those strums, even with that super loose grip, because you are thinking about it and you are instinctively hitting square.

Now do the same thing, but twist the pick slightly so that the edge closest to your wrist hits the string just before the rest of the pick. Do several strums. The pick point will tend to rotate away from your wrist and you will instinctively want to increase grip pressure to prevent it. IMHO, that is the force that will cause a pick to rotate. When you are playing in earnest, of course, you would be holding the pick more tightly, but your strumming force is much stronger also.

My premise is that it is better to eliminate the roatational force, rather than tightening up or "sticking-up" the grip. You will have to adjust your forearm angle or your wrist angle or both and concentrate on keeping it consistent, but relaxed, to do that. I don't have full catalog of the great players, but the ones I have seen don't appear to use any kind of stickum and they tend to use slick picks.

Feb-21-2004, 9:43am
I mean that the flat of the pick hits the string all at once, not the edge. .

Try an experiment. Hold the pick way more loosely than you ever would for playing. I mean hold it so loose it nearly falls out of your hand. Then do several easy strums. You should be able to do those strums, even with that super loose grip, because you are thinking about it and you are instinctively hitting square.
I'm sorry, I didn't mean perpendicular. When I posted it was early and wasn't thinking clearly (well, that's one excuse anyway).

Thank you. Your explanation is what I meant to post.

Since posting I have been making an effort to do as you suggest, but I find I have to hole the mandolin a bit differently.

Usually, it's at an angle, the headstock being higher than the bottom (sort of like holding a classicl guitar). In that position, in order to have the pick flat against the strings, I have to turn my wrist to accomplish the feat. However, if I lower the headstock so the mandolin is even I the proper pick stroke is easier.

Perhaps, I have been holding the mandolin incorrectly all this time?

Man, this is a time when a teacher would be invaluable, but in my area there are none.

I appreciate your time and patience.

Laura Harmon
Feb-21-2004, 10:17am
I have the wandering pick problem, especially if my hands get moist. I used to buy picks with holes in the center but can't find them anymore. #I use a single-hole paper punch and put the hole in the middle of the pick. #It helps a lot. #The only drawback is that if you use really thick picks, it may be difficult or impossible to punch the hole.
I mostly use this on rounded triangle picks. #For the triangle ones that are larger on one end, I choose the ones that are textured on the larger end.

Laura Harmon

Feb-22-2004, 2:43am
I used to have the rotation problem a lot, but it went away on it's own at some point. I do remember that when I had that problem that my picks tended to wear down really fast and in a very lopsided manner, which they no longer do, so I suspect in my case it had to do with the angle I was holding the pick.

Feb-22-2004, 7:04pm
Here is how I got rid of any pick rotation. First of all you must be holding the pick right, which you say you are, so that is a good start. The key is having the right thumb pressure. The pick should lay across the side of your index finger and your thumb should be placed right over top of the pick. Here is the important part. There should be uniform pressure placed by the thumb. Rotation of the pick can come when you have more pressure towards the tip of your thumb or towards the middle nuckle of your thumb. Imagine standing on your feet, all your weight is towards the center of your feet so you have good balance. If it towards your toes or heels you can be pushed over very easily. Same with holding your pick with your thumb. You want the pressure to be centered so it is spread out evenly, otherwise you will probably get some rotation. But remember to not press hard. You want to be as loose as possible. I hope this helps out some for you and who ever else is having this problem.