A cool thing about the Ukulele is that it doesn’t have the same level of a steep learning curve as many other instruments. It is great for both casual playing and serious playing. While this versatility is great, it also adds some confusion to the learning process as it leads to conflicting opinions and bits of advice. One such confusion is regarding the use of a pick. Many beginner ukulele players find themselves asking if it is bad to use a pick on a ukulele? This is especially true for someone who is accustomed to using a pick such as an electric guitarist. Let’s answer this question today
Why It Could Be Bad To Use A Pick On A Ukulele?
Like most things, there are two sides to this question and we will look at both sides. Let us start with a few reasons why the use of a pick is not recommended.
A Few Ukulele Techniques Cannot Be Executed With A Pick
If all you want to do is play the ukulele casually, then this point doesn’t apply to you. However, if you want to be a serious ukulele player then there are some advanced techniques that cannot be done with a pick. Examples include triple strum, thumb strumming, clawhammer, etc. These techniques require a certain degree of finger dexterity that may take longer to develop with the use of picks.
Most picks are primarily meant to be used with the steel strings of a guitar. This makes them possess a certain degree of hardness that is necessary to give them durability against metal. The strings found on most ukuleles, on the other hand, are made of Nylon or Nylgut. They are less robust than steel strings and a regular guitar pick will wear them down faster. Our fingers are not as abrasive as these picks. So, you might end up having to change strings more often when using picks. It is worth noting that this isn’t as dramatic as many people make it out to be. Most picks will only reduce the life of the strings by a few weeks unless you use metal picks or apply too much force.
This is another area of concern with ukuleles and picks. Most ukuleles do not have a pickguard as standard. Using a pick especially when strumming can lead to scratches. While the chances of causing structural damage are remote, it will give your ukulele a worn-out look. Some people like this rustic look and if you are one of them then go right ahead and play with a pick if you want to. If you are someone who hates scratches and paint chips then a pick might not be for you.
As is the case with any instrument, some strongly believe that an instrument needs to be played in a certain way. Such a group exists in the ukulele community as well and they feel, rather strongly, that using a pick on a ukulele is akin to disrespecting it. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and we are not criticizing this point of view. However, they can criticize your use of a pick. It is up to you to decide if such feedback will bother you to the point where it becomes a hindrance to your enjoyment of the ukulele.
Why It Could Be Okay To Use A Pick On A Ukulele?
Now let us look at the other side of the coin and see why it is totally fine to use a pick on a ukulele.
Plenty Of Workarounds Available
We previously saw how a traditional pick can cause wear and tear to a ukulele. The strings can snap more often and the body can get scratched. However, there are plenty of workarounds for both these potential problems as listed below
- Use a pick made from soft materials like felt or leather: Plenty of such picks are available that are specifically meant to be used on nylon and nylgut strings like the ones found on a ukulele
- Use more durable strings: If you do not want to carry around special picks for your ukulele then consider using more durable strings. These can be a bit more difficult to find and they will affect the sound of the ukulele.
- Use an aftermarket pickguard: While most ukuleles do not come with a pickguard as standard, there are a lot of inexpensive aftermarket options available that will remedy this shortcoming. These are easy to apply and remove making them almost a no-brainer unless you really love the clean look of a ukulele without a pickguard.
- Adjusting the amount of force applied: If you do not want to get any of these, you can still use a regular pick and get away without causing any damage. Learn to apply less pressure and strum in such a way that the pick does not come in contact with the body of the ukulele. It will take some time and practice to do this but it is not impossible and in a lot of cases is something you will develop on your own as you become more proficient playing the ukulele.
Playing An Instrument Is About Personal Satisfaction
There is a reason why the ukulele is held in such high esteem. It is as laid-back as a musical instrument can get. It is the epitome of ‘Do What Makes You Happy’ instead of following a strict set of rules. If using a pick is something that helps you enjoy playing the ukulele more then do exactly that despite someone telling you otherwise.
Plenty Of Revered Ukulele Players Use A Pick
To further reinforce the previous point, there are many renowned ukulele players such as George Hinchliffe and Kitty Lux of the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain who have been known to use picks. In fact, most advanced players will occasionally use picks along with their fingers.
To Sum Things Up!
The bottom line is this. There is no one right way of playing the ukulele. If you feel comfortable using a pick then do that. If you feel that your fingers suit the ukulele better then use your fingers. The simple point we are trying to make is that this question will exist in your mind only when starting. Eventually, you will find that there are merits to using a pick as well as your fingers. It depends on the music you play. There will be times when you might use both at the same time. It is all about what makes you feel more in tune with your instrument.