Mike Moxcey ©2005

Plucking Utensils

There are many different ways of playing stringed instruments. Some folks think you must play an instrument a certain way, but since they’re all strung in a similar fashion, you can actually play them all with any technique. Here are some of the basic styles. Each one can get very advanced.


This is the basic way of playing most stringed instruments. With the nails of your fingers, or the fleshy part, or with a utensil of some kind, you pluck down or up across all (or almost all) of the strings. If you form a complete chord, a strum has a good sound.

A strum is generally shown as being done with a flatpick, but you can also do it with fingerpicks on and you can just do it barehanded. I like to pinch my fingers together so the down stroke hits the strings with my fingernails and the up stroke hits them with the thumb nail. It makes a more solid sound, but wears the nails out when playing on steel strings.


Flatpicks are flat pieces of triangular-shaped plastic. Not all of them are triangular shaped, but that’s the general shape. They can also be made out of turtle shells, bones, rock, and many other materials, each with it’s distinctive sound. Buy cheap ones to get started and get several because you will lose them. If you like using a flatpick, take your instrument to a store and try out the different kinds. When you can buy 10 for a dollar, it seems weird to pay $4.00 or more for one, but after you hear the sound, it may be worth it to you.

Felt Picks

An alternative to flat picks are Felt Picks. These are usually sold for ukuleles. I’ve always just used fingers or plastic flatpicks on ukuleles but some people swear by the felt picks. They are extremely thick triangular shaped hunks of felt and are used just like regular flatpicks.


Fingerpicks actually come in two separate varieties: Fingerpicks and Thumbpicks. But when folks say they use Fingerpicks, they usually mean one Thumbpick and one or more Fingerpicks.

Either can be made out of plastic or metal. The metal ones can be bent to fit well on your digits. The plastic ones can be dropped in boiling water to soften up and can then be molded to your fingers. I try them out at the music store and get ones that fit well. Plastic thumbpicks can also come with different sorts of materials glued to the striking surface such as tortoise shell or stone.
Techniques Index