It’s been an endless debate. Pick or pluck. Fingers or pick. It seems that no matter what you choose, the opposite group will lash out at you.

“Picks are for beginners!” the pluckers would shout. “You can play easier with a pick. so you’d be a fool not to” the pickers would say in response. These two groups have been arguing against each other for years, and it never really amounts to anything.

It’s kind of funny, because both groups are wrong. So which should you actually use? When you’re playing bass guitar, should you use your fingers or a pick? 

The answer, quite simply, is to use both.

Next time you plug in your bass guitar to play, I want you to play a few notes with a pick. Then, I want you to set your pick down and pluck the same notes with your fingers.

You’ll notice that the two sets of notes sound differently. They’re the same notes, but they have a different tone. The plucking tone may sound a bit wider and fuller, while the pick may sound a bit more ‘punchy.’ These tones of course, will be influenced by both your bass and the type of picks you’re using, but the difference should be noticeable.

Therefore, these tones will each sound better for different songs. Metal and punk music tends to favor picks while softer music and funk often sounds better with fingerstyle. Listen to the song you’re looking to play, and you’ll probably be able to tell the difference. Play with whatever method sounds better to you.

The emphasis here really is on the sound. I hear a lot of bass players choose to only play fingerstyle just because that’s what they see everyone else doing, and they feel pressured to do so to “fit in.” Your instrument is about the way it sounds, not the way it looks. There’s nothing wrong with playing with a pick if that sounds better to you.  Jason Newsted (Metallica), Justin Chancellor (Tool),  and Paul McCartney (The Beatles) all played with picks, if that makes you feel better.

It’s a good idea to become proficient and using both your fingers and a pick. That way, you can use either without bias. It’s fair to say that if you’re better with a pick, you’ll opt to use it without thinking about it, even when the song would sound better with your fingers. Try to become equally skilled at both, because both methods have their uses. Plus, you never know when you’ll lose your pick at a band practice or show. One thing’s for certain – you’ll always have your fingers (well… hopefully.)

It may take longer to become good at both methods, but it will most definitely be worth it in the end. Focus on both picking and plucking, and you’re guaranteed to become a better, well-rounded bassist. More doors will be open to you, and you’ll gain the ability to sound good while playing any genre of music.

There’s no harm in trying, so start working with the method you’re weakest with and build up your skill from there! You’ll thank me later.