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Switching from Pick to Fingers after 10 years

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Billy Williams, Dec 27, 2013.

  1. Billy Williams

    Billy Williams

    Dec 30, 2008
    About a year after I starting playing bass, I starting playing with a pick exclusively. Almost always playing fast, grindy bass lines, it made sense to use pick. Most of my influences were doing the same.

    On stage however, I've never felt in control of my bass with a pick in my hand. I hold my pick with 3 fingers (index, middle, thumb) to keep it from sliding out of my hand. My hand cramps, to the point of not being able to move, at least once per set. I miss strings. Worst of all, I never feel comfortable enough to jump/move around and enjoy playing in front of others.

    So I've decided to switch to finger picking with hopes of making a full switch for shows by March. I feel much like a man who has worked the same job for 20 years and then decides on a different career path. I really don't know what to expect or how to achieve the level of success I've had with a pick and then move passed it.

    Any advice?

      • Speed and endurance excercizes?
      • How to achieve the same tone without a pick (gear and technique)
      • How to get passed the intense forearm cramps?
      • What are some of the differences you notice between playing live with a pick and without?

    Or if you could just share your own experiences between the two style, I'd greatly appreciate that as well.

  2. MalcolmAmos

    MalcolmAmos Supporting Member

    I came over from acoustic 6 string backup guitar. Brought the pick with me. After a short while I stopped using the pick and started using just my thumb. I liked that and have stuck with it. Should mention I play Country and Praise and have no problem with those two styles.

    As to getting the same sound you have with a pick -- I do not think you will be able to get that same sound with your fingers, however, is that really important??? Learn both and let the song dictate what you use.

    I do not have forearm cramps or finger cramps when using just my thumb.

    Beyond that hit the shed and good luck.
  3. lfmn16


    Sep 21, 2011
    charles town, wv
  4. WardEarth

    WardEarth Supporting Member

    Feb 18, 2010
    Anchormanville, CA
    You can still get a good attack without a pick. Turn your tone knob all the way up, if its not already. Boost your treble and/or high-mids. You could even go geddy, and grow your nails to playing length.

    I got two tips for ya, try experimenting with your nail length. I find that too short and my finger tip has no backing, the skin gets sensitive. Too long and the nail hits the strings, which may be a sound you want. Also, for fast playing, it sounds weird, but nose grease is a must. lube those playing fingers with the side of your nose. <-- That is the game changer.
  5. DiabolusInMusic

    DiabolusInMusic Functionless Art is Merely Tolerated Vandalism Supporting Member

    1) Just practice slowly and consistently, you want each note to sound the same, this is something many bass players struggle with come studio time, producers hate it. Like anything, it will come with time and proper practice.

    2) You can't. You can try flicking with your fingernails like Geddy Lee does to get a bright snap but you will not be able to replicate picks with fingertips.

    3) Did I mention lots of practice already? That is how you get stamina, just push it a little more every day and every day it will get a little longer.

    4) I notice my technique change, I feel faster with my fingers than my pick. I generally do not switch live but I do switch during practice for cover songs that are played with a pick. I find picks move in my fingers as well, that is one of the biggest reasons I prefer fingerstyle, simplicity.

    Hope that helps!

  6. Groove Master

    Groove Master

    Apr 22, 2011
    Author of Groove 101, Slap 101 and Technique 101
    Practice exercises like scales and arpeggios with the alternate fingers technique: index-middle-index-middle etc then m-i-m-i. You will build a good right-hand technique and then forget about it when you'll play on stage. It will come naturally.
  7. Dan_reeves


    Jun 14, 2013
    How low/high do you wear your bass?

    Not to try to sway you to one style or another...but I have found that to play optimally with either depends on how I am wearing my bass. This is just me though. Your mileage may vary.

    There are others here who are far better players than I am and I hope they chime in a give you solid advice. I have just found, for me, I play optimally if I wear my bass higher for pick, lower for fingers. Just works for my body type. You might be cramping because your bass is in a bad position, for you. Just something to think about.
  8. Take it slow and steady on working up your finger style technique. Work hard on consistently alternating index/middle. Keep stretching, gently, your tendons and muscles on your plucking arm; stretching is an important part of strength training and your building strength as you work on your technique.

    But I think most important: keep working on your plectrum technique. See if you can revise that to alleviate your pain. But even if you don't, no use in dropping something you can already do, is there? Lot's of great pick-players in the history of bass.
  9. Billy Williams

    Billy Williams

    Dec 30, 2008
    I'll give it a shot. I've got a Sans Amp Bass DI Driver to add grit. Perhaps I just need to add more grit.

    Thanks! I might keep the pick around for some of the songs. I'm gonna spend some time with the technique lfmn16 suggested.
  10. Billy Williams

    Billy Williams

    Dec 30, 2008
    Middle of the bass is about belt level. Maybe a little lower. I've found the anything lower makes fills and walks quite limited for me.

    Up higher than my belt turns into pick arm cramps. Mostly in my elbow.
  11. Kmonk


    Oct 18, 2012
    South Shore, Massachusetts
    Endorsing Artist: Fender, Spector, Ampeg, Curt Mangan Strings, Nordstrand Pickups, Korg Keyboards
    I played with a pick for over 20 years and made the switch to fingers about 12 years ago. It takes practice but I found that I like fingers better. I am faster and have better tone. I had some cramping in my forearm at first but it passed. You really won't be able to get the same sound with fingers that you do with a pick.
  12. mntngrown


    Aug 18, 2007
    Santa Cruz Ca
    I play fingers, but wish I could play pick competently too.
    I play poorly when trying to use a pick, so I give up easily.
    (old dog). Learn your finger technique standing with the bass strap on, if that is how you perform.
    Tommie Shannon and others use both.