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PHOTO: Mike Duffy

Bass Debate: Pick vs. Fingers

Is there a right way and a wrong way? We break it down.

It seems like bass players are endlessly debating the old fingers-vs.-pick question. Some who play with a pick think that those who contend that finger-style is the only real way to play bass are snobby purists. Conversely, those who think that finger-style is the only right way to play bass think the guys who play with a pick aren’t really even real bass players.

This debate is purely subjective of course, and it has the drawback of completely ignoring an entire other species of bassist—the guy who plays thumb-style. A slap at the guy who slaps.


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Truthfully, there is no right or wrong way to play a bass guitar. There isn’t even a preferred way. Any method you use to get sound out of the thing—fingers, pick, thumb, those weird stick things Tony Levin uses, telekinesis, whatever—works just fine. It’s purely a matter of personal preference.

It’s a silly debate, really. Each method has revered and influential proponents who’ve been in our hearts and all over the charts since the advent of rock and roll. James Jamerson, Duck Dunn, Jack Bruce, Geddy Lee, Flea and many others are all beloved for their amazingly dexterous finger-style technique. Paul McCartney, Chris Squire, Roger Glover, Mike Dirnt, Matt Freeman and many others are admired for their powerful pick playing. Plenty of bassists use both methods—John Entwistle, John Paul Jones, Sting, Roger Waters and Adam Clayton all leap to mind.

If your goal is versatility, why not keep an open mind and become comfortable — even proficient — with each method? There’s room for everything.