How to Play Bass Guitar with a Pick: A Step-by-Step Guide

Updated: May 5


In order to play bass guitar with a pick, you'll need to first get comfortable holding the pick.


It's important that you use a pick that is comfortable for you and has a size and thickness that feels good in your hand.


Once you have selected a pick, it's time to start learning how to play! In this step-by-step guide, we will show you how to hold the pick and how to make basic strokes on the bass guitar. Let's get started!


The Pick


There are a variety of bass picks on the market, and each one has its own unique properties.


Some picks are heavier and thicker than others, while others are made from different materials. It's important to experiment with different picks to find the one that works best for you.


Finding A Good Pick Technique


So, how did I come to find pick playing to be such a nuanced topic? Sadly, through a playing injury.


Before I attended music school I had quite a reckless attitude towards practice. I was very impatient, I had no idea how to use a plectrum, practicing more was always better, and (I'm embarrassed to admit) I subscribed to the flawed "no pain, no gain" mentality.


*Disclaimer: Never play through the pain. It's a stupid idea!


By the time I enrolled in music school I already had an underlying problem in my right arm and this made me very conscious not to bend my wrists too much whilst playing.


This, however, became a problem during a particular module of my technique class.

Pick technique.


Free Pick Technique Exercise PDF





How To Hold A Bass Pick


Hold the pick between the underside of the thumb and the last joint of the index finger and then rotate your hand from the elbow to perform the picking motion on the strings.


This wasn't all bad advice. I still think the index and thumb grip is the best option out there for holding a pick.


However, placing the palm on the bridge and anchoring the little finger caused a problem.


It bent my wrist.


So, what was the solution here?


I decided to rebuild my technique from the ground up. But rather than building it around the instrument by doing things like anchoring to a certain part of the bass, I wanted to build a technique around the way that my body worked.


Pick Technique Movements


The most helpful thing I found in relation to pick technique was that the rotational movement (often called "flicking your wrist") that is required for pick technique doesn't start actually at the wrist. It starts at the elbow.


The two bones that attach to the wrist and run through the forearm attach at the elbow. So in order to rotate the wrist and the hand that's attached to it, you must rotate from the elbow.


I was off to a solid start.


With this newfound knowledge in mind, I also noticed that if I rotated my hand from the elbow rather than the wrist, I could keep my wrist perfectly flat.


I didn't have to apply any pressure or strain to the wrist and this meant I was much more relaxed when using this movement.


But all of this knowledge, as great as it was, hadn't yet been applied to the bass. How would it hold up?


I won't lie, there were a few teething problems.


The new technique meant I started out holding the pick at a steeper angle in relation to the strings to the sound was a little angular and aggressive.


But this was a relatively easy fix.


I adjusted the height of my strap a little to flatten the angle of the strings and all was well.


The Benefits of Proper Pick Technique


A few months into this new bass picking technique I also noticed that it was more diverse than the technique I was taught in class.


For one thing, I no longer had to anchor any part of my hand to the bass to play. This meant I was able to have a totally open tone, a heavily muted tone, and varying degrees of a partially muted tone with ease and comfort.


The previous technique was fine for open tones but it got uncomfortable when trying to use a heavily palm-muted tone.


The second big improvement was that all of these different sounds pretty much required the same hand movements to execute.


Whether I was playing open, muted or partially muted didn't affect my hand position and this, in turn, didn't make me more likely to pick up an injury if I was using one technique or tone over another.


So was this technique overhaul worth it?


Massively, yes!


I've taught it to many students since. And I've even written an exercise book to help others develop it.


Video Demonstration





But one thing I do want to address before I'm done is that many students who are new to the technique say "it doesn't feel right" when they first learn it and this, in their heads, gives them a reason why they shouldn't learn it.


But there's a logical flaw with this point of view.


Sure, ultimately we all want our technique to feel smooth, natural and to have a good flow to it. Think of it as being very similar to the technique you use for slap bass.


And what we don't want is tension, aching and playing pains.



If you're trying to learn a new technique it will feel strange at first. It will feel clunky, clumsy and unnatural but these feelings aren't the indicators of a bad technique. They simply highlight the fact that your body hasn't moved in this way before and that it needs to learn how.


As long as you're not putting yourself through painful movements and as long as you're moving the way your body naturally wants to move then you'll have a good technique.


Pick Technique Exercise Book For Bass


If you're looking to take your pick skills to the next level then check out my pick exercise book "Pick Techniques In Practice".


There are 137 exercises in the book in full TAB and notation and, if you use the link above, I'll throw in a heavy discount for you too!


Pick Technique FAQ's


Can you play bass guitar with a pick?


Yes, you absolutely can and many professional bass players play bass with a pick. In fact, it's not uncommon for electric guitarists who switch to playing bass to use a pick as they're already accustomed to using one. If you're new to playing bass then it's definitely worth giving it a try as it will open you up to new techniques and sounds.


Is bass easier with a pick?


Not necessarily, it's just different. You may find electric bass easier as you don't have to be as dexterous with your plucking hand but it's mostly just different rather than easier.


Why don't bass players use picks?


Many do. The reason some people think "real bass players don't use picks" is because there's a bit of a stigma amongst the bass community but if famous bassists like Paul McCartney can use a pick then that settles it. Bassists should use picks!


How do you hold a bass pick?


Between your thumb and index finger with a light grip that allows you to rotate your arm and pluck the strings.


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