Playing Bass with a Pick vs Fingers: Which is Better?

When I first started playing bass I instinctively started using my fingers. I just felt natural and I assumed that’s how most bassists played. Picks were just for guitar players…right?

The thought of using a pick to play bass didn’t even cross my mind, at least at first.

After a few months of playing, I started to notice that quite a few bassists used a pick. I was curious about this weird playing style but was it for me?

I decided I wanted to give pick playing a go, but I had all kinds of problems right from the start.

After about 30 minutes of fumbling around with the pick, I got frustrated and gave up.

Fingerstyle to me seemed so much more natural and easy to do. Just the idea of having a piece of plastic between the strings and my fingers seemed kind of silly, I mean picks were for guitar players….right? So I became a dedicated fingerstyle player and shunned all pickers. Using your fingers was old school, it was traditional, the only real way to play bass.

To me, fingerstyle gives you more control and a warmer, thicker tone. I knew some pick players and actually like their sound but I was convinced it was not for me or any bass player that wanted to keep it real. I started to think again about pick playing after listening to session legends Joe Osborne and Carol Kaye. Both bassists used a pick with flatwounds, and I really loved the sound they got.

One More Time

So I dove in with my Fender Precision Bass strung with flats and practiced daily, pick in hand. It took me at least a month to get comfortable playing with that little plastic thing. The sound I was hearing was great…..solid and clear with a slight click at the front of the note. I noticed that muting strings was more difficult for me, but soon found a technique that worked.

The main problem though was control. I found it difficult to keep a good consistent tone that would work in a band context. This too was just inexperience, and after a while, I developed more hand strength and more control with the pick.

The bottom line is that I now have tremendous respect for pick players. I still use my fingers 90% of the time as it still feels more natural to me but I will break out the pick from time to time and have some fun. In the end, it doesn’t matter what you use to play bass as long as it works for you.

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