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Generally, playing bass with your fingers is the best – you could play fast and be flexible enough to perform techniques like slapping or muting.

Playing bass with pick is also fast and gives you a sharper tone but it’s tricky to perform techniques like slapping or muting.

Playing bass with your thumb is not really recommended because it slows you down but there are some use cases around it.

The best technique to play bass is the one you’re comfortable with, but knowing each style can help you utilize the maximum benefits. 

Discussion about using a pick for acoustic or electric guitar is pretty simple compared to using a pick, finger, or thumb with the bass guitar.

Many people who are just starting to play the bass have questions on what technique to use for your strumming hand. 

However, I always tell everyone to be familiar with all the styles to switch whenever needed. 

I started playing the bass guitar with only my fingers, but learning other styles helped me in many ways.

This article has a detailed comparison of each style and will discuss the following as well:

  1. Comparison of Using Fingers, Thumb, or Pick 
  2. Is Using a Pick for Bass Ok?
  3. Why Won’t Most Bassists Use a Pick?
  4. Is Slapping Possible With a Pick?
  5. The Best Way to Play the Bass

Playing Bass With Pick Vs. Finger Vs. Thumb

Playing the Bass Guitar Using Fingers Using Thumb Using Pick
Speed High Medium High
Tone Original and round Thicker Bass Refined and sharp
Slapping  Possible Possible  Tricky to do
Muting Possible Possible Easy & Possible  
Suitable For All Kinds of Music Slower Tempo Music Mostly Metal & Fast Tempo Music


1. Bass Speed: Pick Vs Finger Vs Thumb

The speed of playing your bass guitar is essential, mainly because bassists can’t mess up the tempo. 

You need to understand how you can maneuver the speed of playing to your advantage and how each style can be different from the other.

Using Your Fingers

Fingerpicking a bass allows you to play at high speed once you’re used to it. Well-practiced two or three-finger patterns can help you achieve a ton of speed in your playing.

With practice, fingerpicking for bass can be quicker than a guitar because of alternate two or three-finger picking, which is easier to perform on the bass guitar.

Using Your Thumb

Playing the bass with your thumb can be slower than other techniques. However, the thumb is great to play the bass at a slow tempo with a thick and low sound.

Even with practice, it is harder to move the thumb quicker than other techniques. However, thumb picking at a slower tempo produces a distinct sound.

Using a Pick

Using a pick is the easiest way to achieve speed and attack the bass guitar. In addition, you can play the bass at a much higher rate with accuracy once you get comfortable with the pick.

You can achieve tremendous speed by using a pick. Still, you might face some limitations because of a pick that we’ll discuss further in the article.


2. Bass Tone: Using Pick Vs Finger Vs Thumb

The sound of your bass guitar changes by switching up your playing technique. You can use this change of sound to your advantage. 

Using Your Fingers

Fingerstyle picking will give you an original sound that is round and warm. Using fingers is suitable when you’re shifting strings frequently.

Most bassists use their fingers to play their bass guitar. Thus, the general tone of a bass guitar is quite similar to the tone of finger plucking.

Using Your Thumb

The tone you get from your thumb is thick and lower than other techniques. You can also slap the bass strings with your thumb and be creative with music.

Your thumb is thicker and has more surface area than any other finger. Therefore, playing the bass with the thumb gives you a deeper sound.

Using a Pick

Playing your bass with a pick gives you a refined and clean tone. Picks are accurate at only plucking the strings you want so you don’t have any unwanted noise.

Picks will produce a solid attack when you’re playing the bass because it leaves out the harmonics and unwanted noise that may arise from mediocre fingerpicking.

Playing bass with fingers is most versatile. You can be fast and can do techniques like slapping easily.

3. Bass Slapping: Pick Vs Finger Vs Thumb

Slapping is a well-known technique apparent in playing the bass guitars because of the unique sound the thick strings make. 

However, the technique and tone of slapping are different for each playing style.

Using Your Fingers

There are various slapping techniques by using fingers on the bass guitar. Most bassists use a combination of their thumb and palm to slap while playing with their fingers. 

You can learn multiple slapping techniques and integrate them into your bass playing to improve your skills.

Using Your Thumb

Most of the slapping is done by your thumb, and If you play the bass with your thumb, slapping techniques might come to you more easily. 

It is possible that if you play the bass guitar with your thumb, you can not play the strings while slapping the bass guitar.

Using a Pick

Your thumb or fingers mainly do slapping. And slapping with a pick is challenging because it comes in the way of your finger or thumb.

You can learn to slap the bass strings while holding a pick, but it requires lots of practice for the pick not to come in between the slap.

4. Bass Muting: Pick Vs Finger Vs Thumb

Using Thumb & Fingers

When you play the bass with your thumb or fingers, you have more fingers that can be used to mute the strings. However, muting the strings with your palm is slightly trickier than using a pick.

Using a Pick

A significant advantage of using a pick is easily palm muting the strings while playing the guitar. 

You can achieve a unique sound by palm muting the strings. Learning palm muting is easier with the pick because you have more space between the strings, palm, and the pick.


5. Suitable Bass Styles: Pick Vs Finger Vs Thumb

Every bassist has a different preference of playing techniques. However, specific techniques are superior for a particular genre of music. 

Knowing what style is better for the music you enjoy will flatten your learning curve and help you tone your skills.

Using Your Fingers

Using fingers is the most common method of playing the bass guitar. It gives you greater control, and you can play almost any genre of music with the proper practice of your fingerstyle technique.

You can achieve any tone and speed with your fingers on the bass guitar. Your fingers might get callused because of the thickness of bass strings, but it won’t feel uncomfortable after a while of playing.

Using Your Thumb

Playing the bass with your thumb is suitable for music that requires thicker bass notes and has a slower tempo. Using a thumb is also helpful if you use a lot of slapping in your playing.

Using a Pick

Using a pick for playing the bass is more suitable for fast-paced music such as rock and metal. Most bassists use a pick to achieve a higher speed and attack required in metal and rock music.

The edged part of picks helps you get a refined and hard tone for your bass guitar. You can also play repeated notes much quicker with a pick—something familiar in the metal and rock genre.

Playing bass with pick gives you sharper sound and will ring longer.

Why Don’t Most Bassists Use a Pick?

Most bassists don’t like the sound and the lack of control from using a pick. Instead, they want to use their fingers because of the control they have over the strings and the bass’s tone.

However, using a pick or any other technique is a preference for each bassist. Many professional bassists such as Lemmy Kilmister from Motörhead use a pick because of its advantages.

Some advantages of using a pick for bass:

  1. Better attack 
  2. More speed
  3. Knowledge of using pick is transferrable to guitar
  4. Notes ring longer with a pick

Is It Ok to Play Bass With a Pick?

It’s completely fine to use a pick for playing the bass guitar. There’s no shame in using a pick, and many professional bassists regularly use a pick where needed.

A unique sound comes by using a pick on the bass strings. Apart from the sound, you can also play with much higher speeds without putting in too much effort than fingerpicking.

It’s like a shortcut for speed and power. Moreover, using a pick can help you achieve a refined tone if you like it.

You can always use a fingerstyle combination and a pick for strumming the bass guitar. It’ll open new dimensions to your bass skills.

Can You Slap Bass With a Pick?

It is possible to slap the bass strings with a pick, but it is much more challenging to slap compared to other techniques such as using fingers or a thumb. In addition, the pick can come in between your fingers and make it harder to slap. 

One of the most significant drawbacks of using a pick is that slapping becomes challenging. And who doesn’t enjoy an excellent fat slap on the bass?

To slap with a pick, you need to practice extensively so that the pick doesn’t come in between your fingers or palm when you slap the strings.

It’s going to be difficult at first, but it’s possible. And learning to master the slap with a bass will 10x your bass playing.

Is It Better to Play Bass With Fingers or Pick?

There’s no definite answer in choosing between fingers and pick for bass. However, both styles have their uses, and mastering both will allow you to utilize the maximum benefits of each technique.

There’s music that would be appropriate for using a fingerstyle technique. Similarly, there are times when using a pick will give you the upper hand.

In the end, what matters is how the final sound of the bass comes out and what your personal preference is. You should try both styles and decide what suits you finally.

Is It Ok to Play Bass With Your Thumb?

Bassists have always been using their thumb to pluck the strings of their bass guitar as well. However, thumb plucking is generally slower and gives you a fast and thick sound that may be suitable for slower tempo songs.

There’s nothing abnormal about playing your bass with your thumb. A lot of professional bassists use their thumbs as well.

There’s no shame in playing the bass guitar with your thumb. It’s your preference and comfort that matters in the end. And you’d be playing the bass smoothly as long as you feel comfortable and confident about your technique.

Final Thoughts – What’s the Best Way to Play Bass?

There’s no best or right way to play the bass guitar. As long as you get the tone you’re looking for and feel comfortable about your technique; you’ve picked the suitable method.

What matters is feeling confident about your playing and getting the sound you’re looking for.

Knowing how to play the bass with your fingers, thumb, and pick will make you a better bassist. You can then combine different techniques depending on the music that you’re playing.

Ifandi S.

About Ifandi S.

Ifandi started Strumming Bars to answer all the questions of a guitarist. As a self-learned guitarist, he remembered how frustrating it was to not find answers to his many questions in the journey. With Strumming Bars, that's no longer the case!

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