The Big Bass Debate, Plectrum or fingertips
The Big Bass Debate – Plectrum or fingertips, and what about pop and slap…
This blog isn’t likely to settle this debate that has been going probably as long as bass guitars have existed. If you aren’t a bassist you might not even know about this age-old bone of contention within the communion of musicians of the low end. It goes something like this; “real bassists don’t use a plectrum!” And yet many prominent and talented bass players do use a pick. I like facts more than opinions, so allow me to share my opinion based on the following facts.
Fact one: Music is art, an expression of emotion. (or that’s what it is supposed to be)
Placing limitations on any artistic expression immediately hinders that expression. Rigid rules limit creativity and many great artists are great for the very reason of breaking the status quo of their day.
Fact two: The sound of fingers plucking a string is different from the sound of a plectrum striking a string.
With this in mind, the question becomes what sound do you want in your bass lines? The attack and choppy feel in Thrash Metal? The warm moody tone in Blues? The twang and clunk of Funk? The best approach would be to try the same bass line with and without the pic and even some pop and slap technique. See what you prefer and what sits better within the sound of the band and feel of the song.
Fact three: Sloppy playing will be heard regardless.
No matter what, if you do not practice to play in time and accurately your bass lines will sound bad. Developing bass technique has no short cuts. With this in mind, one sometimes might need to compromise. If your finger dexterity is not advanced enough to allow you to play 16th notes without losing time with your drummer then there really are only two options; play them with a pick which generally makes it easier or put in the hours and hours of practice to work up to being able to play 16ths straight at the required tempo. The same applies to bass lines that turn into gallops when they shouldn’t or don’t when they should. Triplets are very handy but not if they aren’t executed properly.
I hope these points have brought some new perspectives to you on this debate. I personally sometimes alternate between fingers and plectrum within the same song depending on the different sound I want in a chorus or bridge part. The most important thing to take away from this discussion is to not allow the opinions or rules of others to stifle your creativity and style. Play your bass with a mallet or a piece of sausage if you want to and prefer that sound. Make your music, tell your stories, your way.