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Dynamics With a Pick

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by Beginner Bass, Aug 18, 2012.

  1. Beginner Bass

    Beginner Bass

    Jul 8, 2009
    Round Rock, TX
    A&R, Soulless Corporation Records
    I'm working on an audition piece, and I've found that I like the sound of it with a pick. It has a tone that I think will work well with the song. The only issue is that I don't use a pick much, and so haven't practiced much with it. The problem I'm facing is that the accents just aren't very accented. Is there any key to getting the dynamics to pop with a pick? I know people will say "Practice, practice, practice, practice..." ad infinitum, but the issue I face is that even when I pick with as much power as I can muster (which I'm fairly sure is going to hurt me if I do it too much), I can barely hear any difference in the dynamics, so I'm pretty sure it's a matter of something I'm doing wrong as opposed to something I'm not doing enough of. Any help will be greatly appreciated.
  2. Audiophage


    Jan 9, 2005
    Maybe you're picking too hard in the first place.
  3. Dynamics in a nutshell is simply a matter of playing louder and/or softer, depending on the requirements of the passage you're playing. I've been playing with a pick a lot lately, and it hasn't been a problem for me as far as dynamics go. First of all what kind of pick do you use? I like Dunlop Big Stubby picks in the 2mm size. made of lexan, they are extremely hard with no give at all, which is excellent for control, and the lexan makes them quiet as well. Secondly, how do you hold your pick? You should hold it with the thumb and index finger, with a firm yet relaxed grip. The Big Stubbies have indents in them which makes them easy to hold. This will allow you to control the pick's attack, which is the key to dynamics. Thirdly, when you pick a string your wrists should have a bit of motion in them, yet the picking is largely controlled from the elbow. I'm not a fan of keeping the wrist stiff, which is an unnatural motion. Your picking should be free flowing, not stiff, which will help with controlling pick attack. Fourth of all, and I know you're not going to like this, but you need to practice. Try playing one note loud, then one note soft, and one note medium for a minute or two, just random notes so you can get a feel for pick dynamics.

    Hope this helps. And remember, if you or your IM Force get caught or killed, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions! Good luck, Beginner Bass! ;)
  4. Jeff Bonny

    Jeff Bonny Supporting Member

    Nov 20, 2000
    Vancouver, BC
    ^^^Good post.

    I'll add to that an observation I made listening to Carol Kaye talk about how Steve Swallow could have gotten more power in his sound by playing with a closed hand instead of the open one he uses. Thinking about this statement caused me to experiment and come to the conclusion that playing with an open hand will give you a more delicate, less forceful sound.
    Here's a pic of Steve using an open handed grip.
    Don't make the mistake of thinking he's anchoring his little finger on the body. It looks like that's happening but really it's just kinda hovering there with no real pressure on it.

    Here's Carol using a closed hand grip.
    This is the classic "learn to do it this way first" grip. Carol's method is not the end all, be all of using a pick but it is by far the most mechanically sound method for a beginning pick player to learn. It's a rock solid foundation that will serve you well through your career. Check out her tips pages. Sift through them all but #9 is a good one regarding using a pick.

    Experiment with different grips and see if it makes a difference for you. It may not make sense if your technique is not very advanced but if that's the case just file it away for future use.
  5. [​IMG]

    Sir Paul has been playing with a closed hand for as long as I can remember seeing him play. It works well for him, but for myself I'm more of a Steve Swallow open-handed type. I'm a converted guitar player, and I open my hands when playing with a pick. I'm so used to playing like this that I just can't get the hang of closing my hand when playing with a pick. Also, I can get plenty of force playing with an open hand, it's just a question of technique.
  6. Clef_de_fa

    Clef_de_fa Guest

    Dec 25, 2011
    Also Steve Swallow start a lot of his phrase with an upstroke instead of the classic downstroke. Starting with an upstroke is more like a bass player play fingerstyle and also you can't put a lot of force that way which is more organic sounding.
  7. JimmyM


    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    I don't get why that would be.
  8. I'm with Jimmy on this one. I can get a lot of force with an upstroke if I so choose. It's not comfortable, but if the music required it I'm sure I could do it.
  9. slagbass

    slagbass Supporting Member

    Apr 5, 2005
    Good advice.
  10. Clef_de_fa

    Clef_de_fa Guest

    Dec 25, 2011
    it is easier to downstroke with force than upstroke with force. upstroke all match how a bass player play fingerstyle with all upstroke.
  11. JimmyM


    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    I don't see it that way, sorry. Especially the upstrokes matching how a bassist plays fingerstyle. But OK...
  12. Ric5

    Ric5 Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jan 29, 2008
    I convert 4 string Rickenbackers to 5 string basses.
    I can usually play faster, cleaner, and have better dynamics with a pick. But I also really like fingerstyle tone so I play both ways.

    A pick is a great tool if you master it, and that is not too difficult. You simply need to practice.

    I am half way between open and closed ... I also play back by the bridge so I can palm mute. And I use up and down strokes.

  13. seang15


    Aug 28, 2008
    Cary NC
    How about...we don't use picks guys and gals. We ARE bass players after all.

    Uh oh, here it comes....
  14. Rickengeezer


    Feb 25, 2005
    Central Texas
    Endorsing Artist: Steve Clayton Accessories
    Interesting, I start upstroke and use the open hand technique also--I often anchor my right hand ring finger on the G-string which "pulls" it back down for the down stroke, sort of like a bow (as in bows and arrows, not string bass bow). Swallow looks like he might be doing the same thing on the neck heel.

    I get a lot of tonal as well as volume dynamics by adjusting how much pick is sticking out of the thumb/finger, which you can also adjust by changing the angle of attack on the string. Sliding the pick back into your hand far enough, and the trailing part of the upstroke comes off your index finger, meaning it is essentially single-finger fingerstyle (worked for Jamerson). Angle your hand differently, or play the downstroke, and the more percussive attack of the pick dominates. All sorts of things you can do with a pick to alter tone and attack/decay contours, in addition to volume.

    Or, you can be a REAL bass player, and use Funk Fingers like Tony Levin.
  15. JimmyM


    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    Pipe down, junior.
  16. t77mackie


    Jun 13, 2012
    Wormtown, MA
    Picks are for p.....s and guitar players! (I'm kidding, I'm kidding - don't kill me!) :crying:

    Maybe come up with some exercises to help with the dynamics:

    1: 0 - 1 - 2 - 3 on all strings starting softly and increasing the attack on each note then do again starting loud and getting soft

    2: Open string - "BUMP ba BUMP ba BUMP" etc. then try "bump BA bump BA bump" (hey! that's kinda difficult!)

    Stuff like that.

    - Good luck!
  17. Jeff Bonny

    Jeff Bonny Supporting Member

    Nov 20, 2000
    Vancouver, BC
    When I was talking about "force" and "power" I was talking about sound not how many foot pounds you can exert on the string with any particular technique.
  18. rumblinbass


    Aug 22, 2003
    Wimberley, TX

    there are a couple lessons about playing with a pick and dynamics.

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