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The Bass Debate: Pick vs Fingers

Picks vs. Fingers

Q: I prefer playing the bass using my fingers, but I see a lot of bassists these days using a pick. What’s your take on that?

A: As with all things that come down to taste and music, I say: “follow your ears!”

If you don’t like the sound of a pick, or it just doesn’t feel right, don’t bother with it unless there’s a specific reason. It can’t be “everyone else is doing it”.

I will argue to the death that one is no better than the other. Pick haters only need check out Bobby Vega, Steve Swallow or Carles Benevante to hear that a pick can be used creatively and make beautiful (non hard edged) music.

I’ve always been a finger player, but I’ve actually started using a pick on about half of the songs I perform with the pop band, Echo Helstrom. I’ve recently joined the band, and I just felt like I should be using a pick on some of the tunes with pulsing 8th note grooves.

I wanted to hear that click with the notes, so I bought a handful of different picks and experimented until I found one that felt right and sounded right to me.

Is it a bit awkward? Sure, at first, but I’m getting used to it and it actually makes me play differently, which is a good thing, I think.

I like to keep myself open to whatever the song may need. If that means a pick, cool. Why not?

So, in short, do what will make the song sound better and what will make you feel best about what your playing. Forget any hype or online arguments about what is better. Serve the music!

That said, I’m sure this will open up plenty of discussion here, and I look forward to it.

Readers, what’s your take? Post your thoughts on this subject!

Photos by Robin D and ilcountz

Have a question for Damian? Submit it to askdamian@notreble.com. We can’t promise every question will be answered, but we will read them all.

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241 comments

Share your thoughts

Kaleb Asmussen

Kaleb Asmussen

It’s the fact of using the correct pick. I have known idea what pick I should use, even though I prefer fingers. I feel if you are using a pick, get a jazz bass, precision works better with fingers and a smooth sound to a band. Jazz is good with picking because of the rich, funky sounds. Hope tho helped

mike

mike

When jazz got started, classical bass violinists were appalled at the very thought of “those primitives” playing the BV without a bow. When the electric bass guitar came along about 1950, the used2B primitives were appalled. Now the finger style purist actually loses sleep over the fact that “their” instument was being tainted by a little celluloid triangle. I was once on a bass blog where Metallica was the subject, and one idiot actually said, and I quote, “I fucking hate Jason Newstead. He plays with a pick.” Hate? Get a life!

Bob Funke

Bob Funke

I play finger style and I have to admit, I have also felt that “real” bassists use finger style; although, because I play guitar, I am quite adept with a pick if needed. I prefer not to with bass and I can achieve the pick sound with my finger nail while integrating the finger style. The spacing of strings lends it self better to finger style, but many famous bassists use a pick. I would recommend mastering the finger style first before experimenting with a pick. A pick can produce a distinctive sound in the same manner that Jimmy Page used a bow for guitar. Nothing wrong with using it for effect.

David Oates

David Oates

There’s a youtube video from John Paul Jones that give a couple of good examples of why both are good & useful for differant songs. He gives an example of Dazed & Confused which he plays with his fingers & then the very percussive ‘almost guitar like’ strumming he uses with a pick for Whole Lotta Love. I’ve been a finger style player for 30+ years & I’ve only recently started using a pick for some songs & I regret not sharing my practice time between fingers & a pick 30 years ago. If I was to start now I would most definitely share my right hand practice time between fingers, pick & slap (yes I know there will be those who will argue that, that is time that could go into their primary style such as fingers). As Damien said it’s what the song needs, why not have a tool you can bring to any song?. Also I like to ‘kill tw
o birds with one stone’ such as when practicing scales, different positions, modes etc practice with your right hand what you might be weak at such as extra fast picking, slapping or finger style triplets or sixteenth notes or moving to the next note on a particular subdivision of the 16th note or metronome exercises for timing so you could be practising your scales/modes, working on your timing (or speed) & working on your weakest right hand style (e.g. slap or pick) all within the one exercise

keith Kizer

keith Kizer

I’ll throw in another reason for picks, I was a finger player for years but due to a hand injury I sustained years ago I am developing some pretty serious arthritis in my fingers of my pick hand so playing fingerstyle is becoming more and more painful so I have been reforming my style to incorporate the pick. I hated it at first but with some eq adjustments on my amp it’s growing on me.