“Real Bass Players Don’t Use A Pick” Or Do They?

Musicians can be an opinionated bunch – and bassists doubly so! 

A number of phrases are thrown around, like “Compressors compensate for lack of skill”, “Jaco only need four”, and possibly the most common, “Real bass players don’t use a pick”. Few of them have much merit outside the confines of your favourite forum, but perhaps diving into and exploring one of these statements may be of value. 

Let’s talk about different right hand (or left-hand, if you’re otherwise-dominant) techniques one the bass guitar! What is the value in playing with a pick, fingers, thumb, and even slap bass!

Pick Bass

While it may be frowned upon by some – some of the greatest bass players have famously played with a pick, and have created some iconic tones this way. Everything from Queen’s Under Pressure to Come Together by The Beatles was played with a pick.

Primarily characterized by a quick, treble-focused attack which can bring a lot of punch to a bass tone.

Finger Bass

The most traditional style of bass playing, inherited from the upright double bass. The fingerstyle technique is generally defined as using the index and middle fingers to pluck the strings of the bass.

From James Jamerson, to Flea, to Cliff Burton, the versatility is undeniable. With slight changes in position on the strings and fingering technique, a wealth of tones can be achieved!

Finger bass, however, is primarily characterized by a warm, “thumpy” attack.

Slap Bass

Pioneered by the one and only Larry Graham, slap bass is defined as using your thumb and index finger to thump, and pluck the strings respectively.

Bassists like Les Claypool, Victor Wooten, Marcus Miller, and Flea used and reinvented slap bass, incorporating it into everything from pop music to virtuosic solo playing.

Slap Bass is characterized by a sharp attack and quick percussive lines.

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