What About Playing Bass With A Pick?

Once again, controversy among bass players abounds… 

By Jon Liebman
August 9, 2018

This week, we published a great interview with Dave Bizzigotti on ForBassPlayersOnly.com. When we got around to discussing bass technique, Dave described his fingers-style approach in a way that made it sound like playing with a pick was something he actually avoids doing. Frankly, I was a bit surprised, given the rock and metal circles in which he’s known. When I pressed him on the subject, he replied that he’d actually spent a lot of time honing the fingers technique in order to give the music that desired, pick-like metal quality. Is that the sign of a “kicking and screaming” pick-avoiding player?

A lot of notable bass players are known for playing primarily – or even exclusively – with a pick. Names like Carol Kaye, Paul McCartney, Chris Squire, David Ellefson, Bobby Vega and Anthony Jackson come to mind. On the other hand, people like Flea, Stanley Clarke, Billy Sheehan, Hadrien Feraud, Geddy Lee and so many others are lauded for their intricate two- and sometimes three-finger technique.

So who’s right?

Many bass players have told me, “I’m mostly a fingers-style player, but there are certain songs in our sets (often just one or two) that require a pick.” Obviously, the pick-playing technique isn’t their preference.

Is one camp “better” or more “authentic” than the other? Instead of viewing it begrudgingly, as an “Oh, they’re telling me I gotta play with a pick!” directive, might it be better to think of it as adding another style to one’s arsenal of bass techniques, like slapping, tapping, and palm muting? Or, better yet, what if each group took the “big picture” approach, with a goal of giving the music what it needs, instead of looking down their noses at the other side?

Got an opinion on the matter? I’d love to know what you think. Maybe you prefer one style over the other. Or perhaps you like both techniques equally. It’s up to you. Take your pick.

Check out my interview with Dave here.

Comments on What About Playing Bass With A Pick?

  1. John Patten says:

    Hi Jon-
    I really enjoy FBPO and can’t believe how much i’ve Learned from you.

    As for the pick-finger battle, I’m one of those who sometimes use a pick. While I prefer to use my fingers, I find on some songs, the attack a pick gives helps better define the bass line.

    Keep up the great work!

  2. Andrew Atwill says:

    Each style of music is called a style because it has its own identifier. Attached to these styles as a bassist are a set of guidelines rather than hard and fast rules on how to perform that style authentically or some might say correctly.
    Even if a bassist has perfected a four-finger technique, playing in Metal bands or hard rock bands that require fast 8’s perpetually uptempo and evenly is not simple on a pure stamina level. If that band is not famous it is likely they won’t be doing one set of 90mins, more likely a few hours.
    Aside from the pick in Metal having a sound people are familiar with, it probably can be done with only fingers.

    There is a difference between pride and false pride. Pride is knowing you can do something well without necessarily saying it. False pride is doing it causing your performance to be made more difficult because you do not want people to think of you in a certain way.
    Music was meant to be enjoyed and fun, not the opposite. My take is you use whatever tools are appropriate at your disposal for whatever music you are playing.

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