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Bass Plucking Techniques: Guitar Pick vs.  Fingerstyle

While there are all manners of playing techniques for the bass, some of which are quite common among bassists, such as slap-pop, or some that are fairly specialized to a few virtuosos, such as two hand tapping, just about every bassist ends up predominately using either a plectrum to pick the strings or fingerstyle.  Both of these techniques have their own advantages and disadvantages and depending on what a bassist wants out of it.

Plectrum Playing (guitar pick)

Using a bass pick to play the strings is quite common among more rock, metal, and punk bassists, but it is by no means exclusive to those genres or the standard.  One of the chief advantages really is that it is an easier style to learn, particularly for guitarists.

While the common perception is this is a faster method of how to play bass guitar, this isn’t quite true.  It is easier to get faster with pick style and some bass lines that involve string skipping or odd string changes can be much easier with a plectrum, especially faster ones.  However, it is generally deficient in playing very fast lines on the same string, especially common in genres such as speed metal or power metal.  Trying to play lines that fast absolutely requires alternate picking, but at those speeds, most bassists will get a very unpleasant grinding sound of the pick on the string, while a fingerstyle player will still sound very clean on the same line.


Using a plectrum also usually gives a much punchier tone, which usually cuts through the mix a lot better than a fingerstyle player.  This isn’t automatically a positive though, since sometimes that simply is not desirable, but when the bass is trying to get through, this can be a big advantage.


Another positive is that muting the lower strings with the palm of the plucking hand is a viable way to get rid of sympathetic string vibration.  While this isn’t a way to get around learning proper string muting presented in bass guitar lessons, it is a nice way to ensure a minimum amount of unwanted string noise.

Fingerstyle

Even though both techniques have been around as long as the bass guitar has been, fingerstyle is often regarded as the more traditional technique due to its similarity to the technique used when playing a double bass.  One of the biggest advantages of this style is that it doesn’t require anything other than your hand to play.  This makes transitioning to other techniques much more seamless than a plectrum style player could do.  If a fingerstyle bassist wants to swap to slap-pop, two hand tapping, strumming, or most any other style of bass, they just need to alter how they are playing the bass.


A plectrum bassist would usually have to drop the pick, though a few guitarists and bassists are quite good at holding it in their palm until they need it again.  This makes using other techniques, especially for short periods of time, much more practical.


This style also doesn’t create the type of string grinding noise that can sometimes crop up when using a plectrum.  In addition, it does have a usually more mellow tone, which can work much better for some songs.  The advantages of this style can quite easily make up for the fact it is more difficult to learn initially, which shows why this is such a common style of playing despite the initial awkwardness it may pose for some people.


ne thing to bear in mind is that either style still uses the same bass guitar scales and other musical concepts.  While the plucking style maybe different, it is still the same instrument performing the same role in the band.