“Pick” and “bass”.
For many, these two words should never be together in a sentence.
Unless, of course, that sentence says: DO NOT PLAY BASS WITH A PICK.
Reasons are unknown, but the number of people who consider playing bass with a pick a sin is not small.
Why? Why did this become a rule? How did it happen?
Unfortunately, many believe playing bass with a pick is a synonym of incompetence and lack of professionalism. It is mainly associated with a lack of technique. The main issue with this idea is that people take it as a fact when in reality, it is nothing but an opinion.
Love it or leave it, that is your choice.
Still, either anti or pro pick, you’ll probably want to keep on reading.
Here you’ll find everything you need to know regarding plectrums for bass.
Is it wrong to play bass with a pick?
Despite what your friends say, there is nothing wrong with playing bass with a pick.
In fact, picks are awesome!
They are helpful for people looking for a different sound, mainly a quicker and stronger one.
What is more, plectrums can even help beginners get used to their instrument.
That is to say, finger techniques are, on the most part, harder to master.
Want to play fast but your fingers can’t keep the rhythm? Use a pick.
With a pick, playing faster is easier.
Therefore, a pick can boost your confidence and keep you motivated.
So, all in all, there is no reason why such a technique could be considered invalid.
Are there any differences between playing with your fingers and with a pick?
Sure enough, there is a considerable difference between playing with fingers and playing with a pick.
The most obvious distinction, of course, is sound.
As I mentioned before, plucking strings with pick results in a brighter and more aggressive sound. In other words, picks provide more “attack”.
Is this a good thing? Of course it is!
Whether we like it or not, it is a fact many bass players suffer from not being heard.
A pick here can be the tool needed for being noticed.
The other side of the coin is finger plucking. This style too has its own advantages.
For instance, a smoother and more fluid tone.
This sound is, in part, the result of better control over the strings, something that picks can’t provide.
Another advantage is that fingerstyle makes slapping, popping, and muting easier.
The reason is, again, the overall control one can have over the strings.
To sum up, the main differences between one style and the other are a change in sound and technique.
Why are bass players that play with a pick frowned upon?
There is no real answer to this question.
Some people may relate pick plucking with an inability to slap and mute properly, which translates into “beginner player”.
This is a bit silly because real musicians don’t need to master every technique for the sake of doing it.
Punk rockers are ok not knowing how to slap, just like funky players won’t necessarily need a pick to perform.
In the end, it seems it’s just a silly opinion that became more and more popular as time went by.
Should you learn to play with your fingers if you are a pick player?
Nobody should force you to play with fingers.
You have the right to decide what to play and how to play it, and that’s why music is wonderful.
All things considered, I recommend pick players to give fingers a try.
Switching styles and experimenting with new methods make you an overall better professional in the long run.
What is more, it is convenient for learning different techniques and abilities.
For example, how to play two notes simultaneously, or slap, which I mentioned before.
Moreover, if you happen not to have a pick with you, finger plucking will be the only option left.
Sooner or later, that is bound to happen, and you should be prepared.
All in all, you don’t have to learn to use your fingers to be considered a real bassist.
Although I highly recommend it, a yearning for change should be your choice, not somebody else’s.
Famous bassists that play with a pick
Pro-pick bass players are more common than you think.
Some of them may prefer to change from time to time, according to the sound they are looking to acquire.
However, you’ll see them with a plectrum more often than not.
Here you have a few examples:
- Gene Simmons (KISS)
- Lemmy Kilmister (Motörhead)
- Duff McKagan (Guns N’ Roses; Velvet Revolver)
- David Ellefson (Megadeth)
- Jason Newsted (Metallica)
- Roger Glover (Deep Purple)
- Mike Dirnt (Green Day)
- Paul McCartney (The Beatles)
- Justin Chancellor (Tool)
- Chris Squire (Yes)
- Matt Freeman (Rancid)
- Dee Dee Ramon (The Ramones)
Genres that favor playing with a pick
First of all, let’s clarify this: you can play anything either with fingers or plectrum.
With that being said, there are some genres in which a pick will be more beneficial than others. Most metal subgenres, for instance.
After all, metal needs loud, aggressive sounds.
Picks are there to provide such an energetic wave of power, especially on studio recordings.
Punk can’t be out of the conversation, either.
If you need to play fast, then a pick comes in handy.
It will prevent fatigue on your fingers and/or muscle cramps on your hands.
Plus, it helps lock in with guitars who play repetitively and fast.
Hard Rock is another genre in which picks will stand out.
While not as fast as punk or metal, Hard Rock begs for bright and loud notes.
Want to play any of these genres? Then a pick could help!
Summary and final thoughts
Let’s summarize the main points of this article in a list:
- Picks provide aggressive sounds
- Picks help for styles that need playing fast and repeated notes
- Pick plucking is just a different style, not a synonym of incompetence
- Plenty of great bass players use picks
Sadly, the amount of bassists who get discouraged from playing with picks is not small.
This assumption is far from being a motivator to get out of your comfort zone and learn to play with fingers.
In fact, it gets the opposite result: frustration and resentment.
Two sides argue which one is the best.
Who is wrong, or what is right?
Meanwhile, real professionals are out there, practicing and enjoying their playing.
Happy for finding their unique style, instead of listening to what the rest told them to do.
The only thing you must listen to then is your guts.
Do what feels right, and never stop learning.
Hello there, my name is Ramiro and I’ve been playing guitar for almost 20 years. I’m obsessed with everything gear-related and I thought it might be worth sharing it. From guitars, pedals, amps, and synths to studio gear and production tips, I hope you find what I post here useful, and I’ll try my best to keep it entertaining also.