Playing Bass With a Pick – Pick Style Bass Playing

A lot of bass players have talked about the wrong and right way to play the bass guitar, what way should we play? What sounds do we get and is it rite to play bass with a pick or plectrum?

Different people have many answers to this. Yes there are rite and wrong ways of playing bass, but however there is nothing wrong with playing the bass with a pick, there is nothing wrong playing bass with fingers and also slapping away on your favourite bass grooves.

Learn pick and finger style, to be a great bass player you should play both! However there is nothing wrong in playing the way you want to play bass, get your sound, and enjoy the style and technique that is for you. Playing with the pick is what I enjoyed and a style I have worked close with.

My article is focusing on the pick player, the pick style of bass playing! I myself am a pick style bass player, I love playing with a pick, love the sounds I can make and the great part of making people dance and enjoy the music! If you are a player starting out, a player who wants to know more about the pick or a player who never looks to the pick this is looking at the side of the pick style, the players, some history, how to play and things I have learnt in this style of many styles on the bass guitar…. the pick player!

Not to go on, but some brief history here. When the fender bass first ever came out it was made to be heard, made to be easy to carry not big like the upright bass, made to be electric and one thing made to be easy for guitarists to play so they could double up, get more work playing bass as well.

The electric bass was played with the thumb to start with; the guitarists came along and started to use their picks on the bass!

This started to become a technique with the electric bass player in the studios. The attack of the pick could be heard, it didn’t get lost and worked well with the studio equipment and sound at that time. It was a very precise sound with a high end and a good cut through sound. Session bassist Carol Kaye picked up the fender bass when a bassist didn’t turn up for a session. She put down her guitar and picked away on the fender bass. From then on she made pop music history. Take a listen to hits from the Beach Boys, the Doors and the original mission impossible theme tune.

Carol developed the flat wrist pick technique and the deep sound with the click. She has taught and published many books on this subject. For me Carol is an influence in the way to play with a pick. For me this was the start of pick playing, there are other players who played with the pick, on big hit records and also helped to shape this style of playing.

So what sounds can you get? Playing with a pick you can get a range of sounds depending on how you set your amp and bass up and the way you play! If you play with a pick properly and not sloppy you can get some great deep tones, tones with a click or if you wish a trebly sound.

Also where you play on the bass with the pick comes in to play.

Play near the neck you get a deeper sound, play near the bridge you get a more treble sound. Work and experiment playing in various parts around the bass’s pick ups to get different sounds.

Picks are for punks and heavy metal players with wristbands! I hear this all the time! Not really you can apply a pick to any style of music, any groove, play any song you desire if played and practiced well.

When I’ve been out recording or working live I was doing a show in the north of England. After the show someone came up and said ” I was amazed to see you played with a pick, the sound out front was so deep and great, but like fingers”. When doing a recording session I used the pick, one track I was asked to play very bright with the pick, the other tracks deeper sounding with the pick and a very slow acoustic number with the fingers…. that’s part of the job and knowing your chops…

Working with the pick. Good performance and pick technique is what is required to get the sounds and get the feel. A pick is very percussive where you can keep the rhythm of the wrist going when you are not playing a note, light muting is good for keeping a tight feel and sound! Always keep the wrist flat and keep it on the body of the bass, like you are hugging the bass! Use your wrist and don’t move your whole arm….

Like alternate fingering with fingers it’s important to play down – up picking.

Down-up-down-up-down-up…. This makes your picking clean and constant witch is very important. DOWN the pick goes to the floor, UP the pick comes up to you. I have seen some players who just use down picking, great if your Jason Newstead and you will use down picking on slower more ballad type songs. Practice is the key to keeping your picking strong and feeling good. Mute the left hand on the stings and just play away with the pick different rhythms, up and down stokes. I still do this every day to keep on top of my pick style.

Holding the pick is important! I have seen many players holding the pick in different ways. The way I hold the pick is between the thumb, first finger and the second finger. Now some bassists play with just the thumb and first finger. I find I have more grip and control using three fingers. Also there is open and closed hand position. Open you can let the fingers hand open and closed you close up the fingers like a fist. I prefer using the close fist and hand holding the pick with three fingers. I get a better attack with the pick and feel. I feel more in control playing this way. (See photo section). Don’t tense up the hand, keep it relaxed and in control.

Two types of picking are scratch picking where you can get a scratchy sound by using the edge of the pick and digging in the string more and flat-picking where you are flat on the string. It depends on what sounds you want to get and what songs you are working on. Practice really digging in the stings to playing with more light and shade from heavy to lighter picking. It all works well learning the different way with the pick and opens up more tones and sounds.

Another important part of playing with a pick and I learnt this in the early days, stick to the same pick. You want to get a sound of your own, the rite sound! If you use different picks, different gauges and weights of picks or just nick picks of the guitarist that are flimsy or the wrong size before a gig, it wont work.

I used to change picks all the time. The sound changed, some picks were too heavy, had no grip and I struggled.

I tried out lots of different picks and plectrums, gauges, thickness until I found what worked for me! I have stuck to the same pick, same size, good grip and same gauge. I find a 1mm tortex blue pick works great for me as I am not a heavy pick player, although everyone is different, so find what works for you and feels good. Stick with the same type of pick!

Well, we have had a brief insight in to playing and performing bass with a pick and looking at the bass pick style.

I hope it helps if you are playing bass with a pick, wanting to learn pick style as another style along with finger style, wanted more info about playing with a pick or just interested in the bass guitar and the way its played or simply what is bass pick playing.

Andy Till