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Plectrum Politics

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Plectrum, or no plectrum? It’s a question we’ve all pondered; asked ourselves, asked those we met at open mic nights – it’s been a semi-awkward ice breaker for many of us when we were just starting out. I see you use a plectrum, do you find it easier? ‘Easier than what?’ Well, than I do, I suppose.. I always accidentally throw mine at someone in the front row.. Anyway, here’s a great way to figure out the answer.

Who did you see or hear playing guitar that made you want to play guitar? Did they use a plectrum? Can you use one without dropping it? Does it make your guitar sound better, to you? Do you like the brighter, louder sound of the strings being picked, or do you prefer the softer sound of your fingers; the gentle, more controlled manner of playing – the caressing of the strings by you and you alone? Are you being recorded? Are you amplified? Do you even have a plectrum?

It’s not hugely complicated, but it’s confusing when you see so many different guitarists, each succeeding and thriving in their own way, and each uniquely deciding in silence whether or not they will use a plectrum today. How do they decide that? You have to think about what genre of music you intend to make. You have to think about the artists who inspire you. You have to think about volume, and control – can you play to your fullest capability using a plectrum, can you be more creative when finger picking, and does a plectrum make the guitar sound ring out too loud for someone with such a quiet singing voice accompanying it?

You also have to think about electric verses acoustic, and of course, the instrument itself – maybe you’re a bass player, an aspiring champion of ukulele, a plucker of alternative, homemade musical concoctions. You have to think about all of these things, but most of all – you don’t really have to think about anything at all.

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Choose a song to cover – pick up your instrument; try it with a plectrum. Try the same song without a plectrum. Which felt right? Create your own song – write a song with a plectrum, write a song without a plectrum. You see where this is going? Just as the pupil may watch the teacher swim and listen to the instructions, he will not known how to swim for himself until he jumps into the water. Maybe he won’t like swimming at all. Maybe he’ll decide that skiing is more his cup of tea. Maybe you’ll discover that the piano is more of a friend to you than any guitar, with plectrum or not, will ever be. It’s a big wide world out there, and for the most part – every small decision you make is yours and yours alone.

Put the playing to one side though for a moment, the fact of the matter is – plectrums are cool. If you’ve ever collected Pogs, stickers, trading cards, any sort of cool little plastic or wooden toys when you were younger; you’ll probably be uncontrollably intrigued by and attracted to plectrums. I rarely use a plectrum when I play guitar, yet I own close to thirty of them. Why?? Because they are awesome. They are all different colours, they have different slogans on them, they are tiny, they are cute, they are easy to store, they are fun to look at and use occasionally, and they are mine.

I’m not a person of many possessions, but I like a lot of plectrums. You can even make your own plectrums nowadays, which is fantastic – I used to make my own Pogs, so I can entirely relate to this and enjoy it to it’s fullest. Get involved. Plectrums are inexpensive and widely varied in style, size, thickness, brand.. Get lost in the Amazon and Ebay sections with plectrums and see where you end up. Head down to your local music shop and grab a hand full there, too. You also know that if someone gifts you a plectrum, after a gig perhaps, someone you admire – you know that one is with you for life. Don’t dismiss these little bad boys.

By the way, if you’re someone who prefers it to be called a pick, you’re probably highly irritated with this article by now – if you’ve made it this far at all. Pick is just a much trickier word to talk about online, it means a lot of things – Plectrum only means one thing, as far as I’m aware (as far as Google seems to stretch). I apologize for any irritation caused. Plectrum is a pretty fantastic word though. In all honesty, I personally don’t mind which word you use – call it what you want. Just don’t borrow mine and never return it.

Thank you for reading!

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Rebecca CullenMusician & writer with an MA in Songwriting.


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