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Senior Member
Username: edwardofhuncote

Post Number: 825
Registered: 6-2014
Posted on Monday, February 08, 2016 - 8:57 am:   Edit Post

Any of you folks that regularly, or even casually play bass with a pick (or plectrum if you prefer the proper) mind giving some advice?

So I made this New Years' Resolution to learn to play at least a couple tunes with a pick. Not that it would ever be a primary mode for me, but just to have that club in the bag so-to-speak. I am making progress, but it's been slow going for a stubborn old upright player.

Probably the largest hurdle so far has been the sheer mechanics of it being so radically different. All this time I've been used to pulling and releasing a string so that the note blooms and decays within the window of time my brain tells me the note belongs. That happens much faster with the pick, and therefore feels much harder to control. Muting is pretty strange tooÖ Iím doing it all with my left hand. It was quite an adjustment to land the notes where I wanted them, but once that passed it got easier.

The easy partsÖ I'm no stranger to a flat-pick, having used one with guitar for years, (and even as a closet mandolin player) so no problem there. Also, the pick itself - I typically use very thick, stiff picks, so no real learning curve there either. I was easily able to find a way to hold it and get the tone I wanted fairly quick moving around between the pickups until I found a happy spot. Oddly, itís just slightly bridge-ward from my regular finger-style place. Iíve found that hard-anchoring a finger somewhere isnít necessary to accomplish what Iím trying to do here.

So Iím wondering, at this point, is really just down to practice time and determination? Are there any exercises I could use to become more proficient? Any bad habits I should avoid? Any role models?

Iíll take anything you got, and be thankful for it. =)
Intermediate Member
Username: stephenr

Post Number: 166
Registered: 9-2014
Posted on Monday, February 08, 2016 - 10:13 am:   Edit Post

I probably play with a pick about 90% of the time. Always have liked the punchy and defined tone you can get. I also use heavy picks, green or blue triangular Dunlops, but I turn the pick sideways with the pointy part aimed back into my hand and use just a small amount of the corner, 1/16"-1/8", to do the actual picking. Almost the entire side of the pick is firmly against my thumb. I find this gives me the meatiest tone with a solid attack.

If I want an even fatter tone, that sounds closer to using fingers I slide my thumb down a bit more so that the side of the thumb is contacting the string either completely or in tandem with the thinnest sliver of the pick giving a deader/rounder tone.

I never play with the pointy end of the pick, to my ears the sound is too thin and "clangy". If I want a thinner tone I just pick closer to the bridge, for the fattest tone I pick up near or just over the end of the fingerboard. I also find the end of the fingerboard to be a spot where I can lightly pick a low note to emphasize the subharmonics with no attack sound and less emphasis on the fundamental. I usually do that to place a single soft-sounding sustaining pedal point under a vocal passage.

As far as exercises I would suggest working on playing scales or even just finger exercises that move across and up and down all the strings paying attention to maintaining alternate strokes when moving string to string. Eventually using alternate strokes becomes second nature, though, there may be times when hammering all down strokes works best for the part you are playing.

Most of my muting is done with the left hand. I control how long the notes ring out plus the general shape of the note and whether the lower or upper harmonics are dominant by how hard or long I press down coupled with right hand technique. For a completely dead fat sound I mute with my palm.

Pretty sure I gravitated toward using a pick because I grew up listening to 60s rock and pop music and so many of the hits of the day had Carol Kaye playing on them using a pick. Interestingly she also generally used a foam mute under the strings but still had a very defined punchy sound.
Senior Member
Username: gtrguy

Post Number: 996
Registered: 9-2004
Posted on Monday, February 08, 2016 - 11:34 am:   Edit Post

I play with a pick and my fingers. I really like to record bass with a pick, as it adds attack and clarity if used right. If it is too much, I opt to place a bit of foam under the strings at the bridge.

Since I first started on guitar many years ago, using a pick on bass was easy. I might try playing just downstrokes at first on the bass, and then work on to up and down strokes later. many great bass players use a pick.

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