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!

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