When it comes to playing the bass guitar, one of the key decisions a bassist faces is whether to use a guitar pick or their fingers. Both approaches have their own distinct advantages and sound characteristics, and the choice ultimately boils down to personal preference. In this discussion, we will delve into the realm of playing the bass guitar with a pick, exploring the reasons why some bassists opt for this method and the unique qualities it brings to their playing. What do you think? Bass Guitar With Pick or Fingers?
The use of a pick introduces a different tonal palette and attack compared to using fingers alone.
The decision to employ a pick or fingers is a highly subjective one, with various factors such as musical genre, playing style, and personal comfort influencing the choice.
In the following article, we'll delve into the reasons why many bassists choose to play with a pick, examine the distinct sonic qualities, and answer some commonly asked questions.
People play bass guitar with a pick for a variety of reasons. Using a pick gives you a different tone and attack compared to playing bass with your fingers. It allows for a more defined and precise sound, especially when playing fast or complex basslines.
The pick strikes the bass guitar strings with a sharper edge, resulting in a crisper sound that can cut through the mix and provide a driving rhythm, making it particularly popular in rock, punk, or metal genres.
Playing with a pick can also be less physically demanding and require less finger strength and dexterity compared to using your fingers. This can be advantageous for playing long periods or for those still developing finger technique.
It allows for a focus on rhythm and timing rather than intricate finger movements. Furthermore, the tonal characteristics produced by a pick, such as a brighter and more aggressive sound, can be preferred by some bassists for specific musical styles or when they want the bass to stand out in the mix.
The pick's harder contact with the strings adds a percussive element, enhancing the overall groove of the music.
Ultimately, the choice between using a pick or fingers when playing bass is a matter of personal preference and the musical context. Some bassists utilize both techniques interchangeably, adapting to the needs of different songs or styles.
It's worth exploring both methods so people find what works best for them and the music being played.
The right hand fingers and the bass pick are like paint brushes for a painter.
Just as the same shade of blue will have a different texture depending on the bristle, a bass line will differ in sound in terms of color, rhythm, and style.
When playing without a pick, your index and middle fingers will move upward through the string, using the string directly above as a stop. Your thumb anchors on a lower string or the pickup.
This can be a very fun playing experience when speed and accuracy has been built up. I think this simple technique adds to what makes playing the bass such a unique and fun instrument.
With this method, the strings are muted using the fingers, as opposed to palm muting.
String skipping can be easier when this technique is developed,
bass players who prefer this style argue that they have more control over the sound produced.
This could be that by eliminating the pick, the sound quality is now entirely dependent on the skills and accuracy of the right hand and its joints and fingers. This also conversely makes mistakes much clearer and easier to make.
Jazz, funk, blues, are genres where fingerpicking is commonly used.
A smooth and soft attack is evident and appealing among the bass lines of these genres.
Bass lines played in this manner tend to be more legato, which means they sound more connected, and flow with ease.
Bassists such as Flea and Geddy Lee are acclaimed for their bass skills, and are showmen for bassists who don’t play with a pick.
Many guitarists who venture out into the bass realm may take their picks and playing style along with them.
They like the familiar feeling of chugging with a pick, and aren’t interested in learning a new technique.
Many players prefer guitar picks when playing bass because it increases their speed by using up and downstrokes.
Many bass players have adopted the bass pick over the years, using a pick is becoming more and more acceptable.
Genres like punk, rock, and metal use picks almost exclusively.
Some examples of popular bassists who use a pick are Paul McCartney and Matt Freeman, from Rancid.
Bass players like to take advantage of the clarity and different tones offered by the pick, and create a heavy sound paired with some gain and distortion.
If you’re a bassist looking for the right bass guitar picks, here are some helpful suggestions.
We recommend using thicker picks because they're more rigid, offer more control, hold up better against the thicker bass strings of a bass guitar, and offer a beefier tone. Learn more about thin vs thick guitar picks here. Thinner picks can work too if you prefer less of a punchy attack so don't be afraid to experiment with thin picks for a smooth attack.
Any flat pick will work just fine & will develop their own bevel as they wear in or you can opt for bass guitar picks that are beveled right out of the gate. There are many sculpted picks out in the market now or you can check out some of our best guitar picks which all have this feature.
Finally, go for a more durable material that will take the punishment. We recommend different types of materials such as acrylic picks, Acetal/Delrin picks, ultem picks, even thicker picks made of nylon. Traditional celluloid picks will tend to wear out much quicker but their availability can make up for it if you really like the tone & feel you get out of those.
It might be difficult if you're just starting out, however many bassists would agree that bass playing using your fingers is more difficult than using a pick.
With a pick, playing consistent single notes is easy but other techniques such as economy picking & string skipping might take some extra effort to master.
Playing with fingers can have its own nuances that make it more difficult such as using more fingers individually, having a consistent tone, and slapping the bass.
Slapping the bass sounds cool. It's also a playing technique that adds a percussive and rhythmic element to your playing, enhancing the overall groove & energy of the music.
Related: 6 Cool Guitar Picks To Try
It creates a distinctive and funky sound that stands out in the mix. Slapping allows you to create dynamic and expressive basslines, incorporating pops, slaps, and muted notes to add texture and variation.
It can also serve as a soloing technique, enabling you to showcase your technical skills and improvisation abilities.
Furthermore, slapping can be visually engaging, captivating the audience with the physicality and flair of your playing. It's a versatile technique that can be applied across various genres, from funk and rock to jazz and beyond.
Absolutely! Bassists have the opportunity to take solos and shine in their own right just as with any other instrument. While the bass is primarily known for its role in providing the foundation & groove of the music, bass solos allow you to step into the spotlight and showcase your unique skills and musicality.
During a solo, you have the freedom to explore different techniques, such as melodic runs, chords, and slapping, to create captivating and expressive basslines.
Bass solos can occur within a band performance or during individual showcases, demonstrating your command over the instrument and your ability to hold the attention of the audience.
It's an exciting moment to demonstrate your creativity, improvisation, and technical prowess, adding depth and excitement to the overall musical experience.
Many metal bassists do opt to play with bass picks because it allows for a more aggressive and precise attack on the strings, producing a sharper and defined tone that cuts through the heavy instrumentation.
Bass picks provides the necessary clarity and articulation required to maintain a tight and powerful rhythm section in the midst of intense guitar riffs and pounding drums.
However, some metal bassists still choose to play with their fingers, as it allows for a more versatile and expressive playing style, particularly for incorporating complex techniques like tapping and sliding.
Some bassists choose not to play bass with a pick due to a preference for a warmer & more organic tone that fingers provide. They believe that playing with fingers allows for a greater range of dynamics and nuances in the attack, resulting in a smoother and more fluid sound.
There is also a cultural and stylistic bias against using a pick in certain genres like jazz, blues, and some forms of rock, where fingerstyle playing is considered more traditional and classic.
However, it's important to remember that these perceptions are subjective and vary among individuals.
The choice between using bass picks or fingers should be based on personal preference, musical context, and the desired tone and technique.
The most crucial factor is finding a playing style that allows for self-expression and achieving the desired sound, regardless of any perceived stigmas.
Yes all guitar picks can be used interchangeably as bass picks just as you can use a guitar cable for a bass.
The decision to use a guitar pick or fingers when playing bass guitar should be based on personal preference and the desired sound and technique.
It's essential to disregard any stigmas or biases associated with either approach.
Whether you choose to play with a bass pick or use your fingers, both methods have their unique advantages and can contribute to your musical expression.
The key is to explore and experiment with different playing styles, techniques, and tools to find what resonates with you and enhances your musicality.
Embrace your individuality as a bassist and focus on creating the sound that inspires you and best serves the music you play.
So, play with confidence and joy, regardless of the choices you make, and let your passion for the instrument guide you on your musical journey.
What is your take on the bassist debate? Do you use a pick with your bass? If so, which do you like and why?
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