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Take Your Pick

I very rarely play with a pick these days, but I wore some picks down to a nub in my early bass days.  Like many bassists, I'm a converted guitarist, and I was a lot more comfortable with a pick in my right hand.  Every time I tried to convert to fingerstyle plucking I would get so frustrated and quickly revert back to the good ol' pick.  It wasn't until a band I was in had a legit record label showcase opportunity that I knew I had to make the switch to playing with my fingers.  I took a few songs and played them over and over until I was comfortable playing them without a pick.  After that I made up a few simple right hand exercises to do each day, and then I was in business.

To me, playing with my fingers just sounds better.  It also gives me more control over the tonal dynamics in the attack on my strings, and it gives me more low end to my sound.  In my opinion, whether or not you play with a pick should be determined by the sound you are looking for.  You can get some very cool sounds by playing with a pick and rolling off the tone knob, but for me it's not the everyday sound I'm looking for.  However, some kinds of music do sound better with the pick-style attack and tone...i.e. metal.   

I usually opt for a pick when a song calls for a really driving bass part throughout the entire song.  A good example would be something like Reptilia by the Strokes.  If I'm going to be driving 8th or 16th notes throughout the whole song, it's a lot easier to stay on time with a pick.  I always like to think that I can do it on my own, but it never fails...about two and half minutes into the song my hand feels like it's on fire and I start getting behind in the bassline.  I've crapped out a few times in a live show where I didn't have a pick on me and I ran out of gas towards the end of a set and we decided to throw in a cover that drives 8th notes the entire time.  Or the new drummer is playing one of the songs way too fast and you desperately needed a pick just to keep up.  My main band, The Mark Cuban Missile Crisis, plays the Turkey Trot 5K race every year in Downtown Dallas on Thanksgiving and it's always really cold to start the morning.  I usually play that entire show with a pick because I can't feel my fingers!

I don't always play with a pick, but when I do...I play a Dunlop.  I like the Dunlop Tortex .88's aka the "green ones".  The have this matte/powder finish that allows you to grip the pick really well even when your hands start to sweat a little bit.  I also like them because they get a little pliable over time and they will conform to the way you hold it.

If you've never tried to make the switch from a pick to fingerstyle - do it.  Do it now, and throw away all of your picks until you are comfortable playing with your fingers.  Be patient because it can take some time.  Once you've got the hang of it, you can go buy another pack of picks for those certain songs where it fits.  Or if you've never experimented with a pick at all, you should give it a shot.  Either way, you should know how to play both styles.  I think it was Flea who said something along the lines of "you should know how to play slap bass...even if you never do it."  Same thing applies's just good to know.

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