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Advice on picking technique

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by CaptainWally, Jun 21, 2005.

  1. Greetings!

    I'm interested in adding picking technique to my repetoire. I've played finger style for a very long time, and I've resisted playing with a pick because I was too lazy work on it.

    I've come to realize that many of my favorite tones on records come from pick style playing. I just need to do this.

    So I've looked at the Bass Player article on the holding the pick and I've practiced a bit with the pick. I get the general idea, but I need to refine it a bit.

    One issue I'm having is that the pick sometimes "sticks" on the string. Any pointers there?

    Any other pointers on how to practice picking? Are there excercises that are specifically geared toward picking?

    How hard does one usually pick at the string? Where is the most common place on the string to pick? Nearer to the neck or the bridge?

  2. The best way to prevent sticking is to slant the pick a little. You want to tilt it so that the normal of its upper surface is a little off vertical, closer to pointing at the headstock. If that means anything to you. The downside of doing this on the bass is that it will increase pick scraping sounds. The degree will depend on your strings, pick, and EQ. You may not have a problem. If you need more twang, then make the pick flat against the strings again. The other part of the solution is to use the tip of the pick, rather than digging in.

    You don't want to be a wimpy picker, but you don't want to play too hard either (generally speaking, that is -- dynamics may require more or less force). Be somewhere in the middle. You want to let the string know who's boss without beating it up.

    You can pick all over. It depends on the tone you want. Probably somewhere around the neck pickup is a good spot. One of my favorite things about pick playing is that you can play by the bridge all you like without hurting your fingers.

    EDIT: Oh, and make sure that your attack to the string is the same on both up and downstrokes. The pick should always be perpindicular to the body of the bass. There's a lot more to say on this topic, but I don't have time to say it right now.
  3. Slanting your pick (the way I warned you not to in my edit, not the way I told you was good) is a big factor in getting stuck on a string. If you notice that you get stuck mostly on upstrokes, then that's probably the culprit.

    You also need to pay close attention to the way you move your hand to pick. For playing on one string you want to use a combination of wrist rotation (like turning a doorknob) and a side-to-side wrist motion (like if you put your hand on a tabletop and moved your hand from the wrist to wipe the table). You'll have to experiment a little to find the proper mix of the two motions.

    Picking from the elbow is bad news for single-string picking, but it's the way to do multiple strings. When you're crossing only two strings you'll probably want to add in a little elbow movement, and for sweeping across more than that (like when you play arpeggios) you should probably move completely from the elbow.

    Your pick grip is also a big factor in how well you can pick, but it's a hotly debated issue, much like andchoring is for fingerstyle playing. The most common grips are to hold it with the tips of your thumb, index, and middle fingers, or to hold it with your thumb and the tip segment of your index finger. I recommend the latter way.

    Anchoring is an issue when picking as well as when playing fingerstyle. When picking it is accomplished by putting your pinky on the body of your bass somewhere. I recommend against this, but it is usually helpful to let the palm of your hand (right at the base of your thumb) brush the strings to mute them.
  4. I've been playing about 80% pickstyle over the last few months - practice at home till you're comfortable enough to bring it to a band environment, for example, and pick stuff you would normally finger. Most of the things I've noticed the past months echo Paul's post. It's really just getting accustomed to the pick. Approach it the same way you practiced fingerstyle back in the day. The two greatest challenges I found (and still work on) were coordinating both hands and jumping between strings. Also, just like fingerstyle, learn how the string reacts (and sounds) when you play near the bridge or neck. Playing near the bridge means more tension, a cleaner and thinner sound, and less "sticking", while near the neck the sound cracks more, sounds fatter, and is a bit stickier. Learn to play everywhere and feel the strings. Just stick to pickstyle for a while and you'll get used to it... and you won't forget how to play fingerstyle!
  5. Hey, cool - thanks.

    I read your posts carefully a couple times and really focused on your input.

    I practiced picking tonight and it's going much better. I think i really needed some encouragement and direction.

    one small cavet: the outer inside edge of my index finger got a little raw....is that normal?

    anyway, it will be great to finally functional with a pick. just like everyone says - it IS a different style with a different sound - why not make it available to yourself?
  6. I'm glad I could help. :)

    I'm not sure about that. My first picking was years ago, and I can't remember if my finger got raw or not. I guess you'll probably get a callus.
  7. 6-3-2


    Sep 20, 2003
    Never happened to me.
  8. PhilMan99


    Jul 18, 2003
    US, Maryland

    I've found the "sticking" is mostly a problem on round-wounds. With a heavy Fender pick, and flat-wound strings, I have no "sticking".

    Much like the way you pluck a string with fingers is important, the angle you hold the pick is important. Experimentation there should be sufficient.

    I have a few basic "techniques":
    * Rest palm at bridge (mute) and pick, pivoting at wrist.
    * Don't rest palm at bridge and pick, pivoting at wrist.
    * Don't rest palm at bridge, keep wrist straight, let ARM do the work.
  9. I call this one the "Take that Mr. Elbow!" technique.


    Aug 13, 2003
    Sulphur LA
    Say there! Just want to chime in here. For a pick that doesn't stick, I use the Pick Boy Carbon/Nylon jobbies in the 1.14mm size. They work really well. As for technique, I took the advice of Anthony Jackson in an old interview and just started working up the same lines I played with my fingers. I also recommend slanting the pick and I also hold the pick at a flat angle and use up and down strokes for really precise things. Also you can have fun with this: You can actually manipulate the groove of a song by going between upstrokes, downstrokes and up and downstrokes. Also you can arm yourself with different picks to further vary your tone. It's amazing what you can do with them. Especially in recording. They can be 75 cent EQ changes! :D Hope this helps.
  11. oldfclefer

    oldfclefer low ended

    May 5, 2005
    Southern Ohio
    I use Fender Heavys for picks. I've had the best luck with them.
    I use round wound strings.
    My picks get cut down at the edges and form a sawtooth edge. That's when they stick on me.
    I play fairly hard about half way between the top fret and the tailpiece.
  12. Origami Kamikaz

    Origami Kamikaz

    May 2, 2005
    Hi, I also have a picking related question that I'd like to ask...

    For those of you who play both fingerstyle and pickstyle, how do you balance your volume when you switch between the two? On one of my band's songs, I play fingerstyle all the way through, and then there's an outro that's a picked part since it involves fast-strummed chords...but when I go into that part, it always sounds obnoxiously loud if I've set the amp to deliver proper volume using fingerstyle.

    Everyone says "play light, turn up" regarding fingerstyle...but when a pick comes into play everything just gets messed up (for me, anyway).

    Any way to correct this, short of buying a volume pedal (I know that would work)?
  13. Correlli


    Apr 2, 2004
    New Zealand
    I use the volume control on the bass to "fine tune" the amount of sound coming out of the amp. Also, use the tone control to decrease the amount of attack the pick produces.


    Aug 13, 2003
    Sulphur LA
    I just practiced to get them even with each other. I also searched for the right pick that yielded the overall tone I wanted. The latter really helped and it made practice a lot more fun. I use the Pick-Boy Carbon/Nylon jobbies in the 1.14mm size. Hope this helps.

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