Bobby Vega: To Pick Or Not To Pick (Part 2)

Start by going to a music store and putting some picks in your hand.
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Learning how to play with a pick does not come overnight. It’s just like learning how to play an instrument—you have to put in the work to get good. There’s no substitute for experience!

Start by going to a music store and putting some picks in your hand. Every factor—shape, material, thickness—gives each pick a unique sound. See which ones feel good in your hand. They’re cheap, so buy four or five and decide which ones feel and sound best to you.

Check out different sizes. Some people use thins, but they give me too much thwack. Heavy picks sound darker. I get the most sounds with a medium; my main pick is a .73 Dunlop Tortex. Try them all—you’ll know when you’ve found the right one.

Figure 1 When it’s time to play, I turn the pick around and use the fat part, which sounds better, feels better, and allows me to decide how much of the pick I want to hear. Over time, I’ve also learned how to mute the strings with the fatty part of my right hand. Try holding the point of the pick at 6 o’clock and your thumb at 9 o’clock. Now turn it so that the point is at 9 o’clock, under your thumbnail (see Fig. 1). If you hold the pick so that it’s level with the string, you’ll get a cleaner sound when you strike it. If you hold the pick at an angle, it will scrape against the string and get a scratchy sound. Picks with rounded edges slide off the string instead of scratching, which gives a different sound. Downstrokes sound and feel different from upstrokes; playing all downstrokes makes a great rock vibe, while using up and downstrokes will give a feeling of more motion.

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You can play almost anything with a pick that you can play with your fingers or thumb, but the pick will give it a different feel and sound, and you can change your sound just holding the pick in different positions. You can get a cool high-end sound from heavy picks, for example, by changing the angle. No matter what pick you choose or how you hold it, though, don’t grip it too tightly or you might cramp up—or even worse, hurt your wrist. If this happens, stop playing!

Let’s face it: At the end of the day, if you don’t play bass with a pick, you will still be alive, but you’ll be cheating yourself out of a lot of music. Playing with a pick gives you lots more options. And options are good!

Here’s hoping that playing with a pick will help you play and hear new music. It certainly has for me. Now go have some fun—play bass and make some great music! And contact me online at for Skype lessons and consultations.

May the groove be with you.