My StudyBass

A lot of people ask: Should I use a pick or my fingers to play bass? I think the answer is always: Yes! My philosophy is to never limit yourself. Both are valid and common methods of plucking the bass strings. Each has its place and, ideally, you should be comfortable with either one. Many great players used picks and many others used their fingers. There's no right answer. I'll outline some more thoughts on the topic...

The Main Question – Why?

Why do you want to use a pick? Why do you want to use your fingers? In my opinion, there should only be one, honest answer to this question – “Because it is the sound I want.” Any other answer like it’s easier, or I can play faster, or bass player so-and-so does it, doesn’t matter. If it’s the tone you want or need, choose that method. Do the work to develop that technique.

To me, some styles, like metal, just sound right with a pick. If the pick gives you the tone that fits the style, use one. Other styles, like funk, favor fingerstyle playing. Choose the sound, not the technique.

Many guitarists converting over to bass tend to stick with using a pick. I can understand why. It can be frustrating when one hand is more advanced than the other. A lot of guitarists turning into bassists are forced to do so under urgent circumstances and don't have time to learn a new approach. Others are impatient and don’t bother to learn to play with their fingers. If you're a guitarist becoming a bassist, try fingerstyle. You might need to spend a couple of solid months working on it. Again, I think everyone should do the work to develop both techniques and then decide between fingers or a pick.

Thoughts on Using Fingers

I favor using my fingers. I always feel I have a beefier tone, more tonal variety, and control using my fingers. (That’s just me.) You may also find it easier switching between fingers and slap technique. Plus, you’ll never forget to bring your fingers to the gig or lose them.

For most people playing fingerstyle takes a little more work to learn. But, the difference isn’t that big. Both methods share the same muting issues and technical obstacles.

Thoughts on Using a Pick

Most people like using a pick because they can develop speed more quickly. If you’re into styles of music that are speed intensive, a pick might make sense. You can develop the same speed with your fingers, but most people find it takes a little more time.

You can get different tones with different types of picks. Experiment a lot to find the right sounding pick.

In Summary

There’s no “right way” to play the bass. As long as you are getting the sound you honestly want and it’s not out of stubbornness or laziness, you’ve chosen the “right” method. As I said above: Choose the sound not the technique.