Can You Play Ukulele with a Pick?

Beginners always have one question when picking up the uke and it’s an important one at that. In the world of ukuleles, there is one topic that always seems to raise a debate; Can you play ukulele with a pick? Can we play the uke with a place? The sound our hands produce on the instrument depends on the right hand technique. Within all other factors, the usage or discarding of a pick determines our right-hand technique.

Traditionally, only the fingers and fingernails come into play while strumming the ukulele. But while there’s no hard end need for a pick, you can definitely use one. The pick can be a helpful tool at times and it is your instrument. Let’s discuss a bit more.

History says that the first ukulele players didn’t rely on a pick. The orthodox method dictates a mix of fingers and fingernails to pluck and strum individual strings. For example, the traditional Hawaiian rhythms were always strummed by the index finger or thumb, sometimes a combination of both.

This particular technique, also known as fingerpicking, facilitates specific movements, gestures, and positions of the right hand that wouldn’t be possible otherwise. It also gives birth to a particular sound that would vary with the usage of a pick. 

So obviously, if you like sticking to the roots, you will not require a pick. Continue working on improving your right hand’s fingerpicking and the left hand strength and you’re set! But if there are issues that force you to think about whether you should try a pick or not, keep reading because you might not be wrong.

When to Use a Pick on the Ukulele

Aside from the traditional aspects, ukulele music, like any other genre of music, is evolving. The instrument is easy to play, making it gain popularity super-fast. To keep up pace with the demands, the techniques are changing, naturally.

Musicians are naturally curious and creative creatures. They are also experimenting with new tunes and pushing the technological envelope forward. Our instruments are our toys, and with most of them, the world is our oyster. All instruments experience an evolution at some point or the other.

With time, the positive feelings toward using a pick is an example of such development. The primary reason behind this is that the potential of the instrument is no longer defined solely by traditional Hawaiian music. Pop and rock songs are popular genres ukulele players are trying on the steel-stringed little guitar which is played with a pick

Sometimes, ukulele ensembles will have one or more players play on different timbre levels with picks. These groups are best to try out all the available possibilities on the instrument – giving the music an exciting and interesting twist. And this goes for recordings as well. For instance, an 8-bar strumming pattern is the theme for the day. Consider recording a pick solo. Naturally, the pick produces a louder sound which really highlights the difference between the strumming and solo.

There are some practical reasons as well. If your fingernails are weak, or take significantly long to grow strong, a pick will be a wise idea. Some people are cursed with naturally thin nails that produce too metallic of a sound. If that’s the case with you where the sound produced by the thin nails is becoming an issue, a pick will be the smarter alternative. The same applies to those who fingernails get damaged or break often. It’s always frustrating to practice with nails for a long time only to get them broken and having to wait for weeks or months for the broken nail to return to the same length.

What is a Ukulele Pick?

While guitar picks can be used on a ukulele, it’s best you choose a pick that was particular intended for the instrument. The main reason is that, a lot of the times, these guitar picks turn out to be harder and heavier.

An average guitar pick is made of plastic which may damage the top of the ukulele alongside damaging the strings at an accelerated rate. Leather, rubber, and felt ukulele picks are softer and smaller, thus avoiding this issue.

The Pros and Cons

It’s only fair to weigh out the pros and cons before making the final judgment. Here are the advantages and disadvantages to playing with a pick.

Pros

Ergonomics: Arthritis is a serious condition and people affected can’t really risk their bones like this. This is when a pick becomes a necessity, not a choice. Some educators prefer their younger students, i.e., children, use picks so the strings don’t damage their delicate fingers. If strumming is getting painful, please use a pick.

Fingerpicking: Experiences fingerstyle players, Led Kaapana, for example, used thumb- and finger-picks to create that amazing effect. Rigid picks give a harsh sound when strumming.

The effect: A pleasant mellow tone can be produced by a felt pick, specifically on tenor and baritone ukes. If you want to shred, a rigid pick is the one for you.

Cons

Dulls out the original sound: Often time, playing with a hard pick diminishes the original sound of a uke, causing it to sound more like a guitar – a small, cheap one at that. You could simply play a guitar if that’s the way you wished to play.

No pick & roll: The pick takes away all the exciting strumming possibilities of the uke. The world is full of strums – starting from rolls to triplets – the range is simply beyond your comprehension if the pick is pinched between your fingers.

Ruins the uke: Picks tend to have a really bad effect on the tops of the uke while strumming only wears out the upper bout. Nobody likes a chewed up ukulele.

Conclusion

There are as many reasons to use a pick to play the ukulele as many as there are reasons you shouldn’t. You can definitely use a pick, but limit yourself to the ones designated for ukes if you want the instrument to last.

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