Why Do Bass Guitar Players Play With Their Fingers?


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You’ve been watching people play bass guitars online recently and noticed they often use their fingers. The technique is called finger plucking or fingerstyle. You may wonder why many bass guitar players do that and if it’s necessary to do that when playing bass guitars.

Bass guitar players play with their fingers when they want more control over their bass guitar strings. The technique allows them to achieve a deeper sound variety and quickly slap the guitar. Musicians can even use different parts of their fingers to get different tones.

Often, musicians will practice playing with a guitar pick and their fingers, so they’re good at using both methods. Keep reading to learn more about bass guitarists and how they play. Maybe someday you’ll play your bass guitar with fingers, too, who knows?

Reasons Bass Guitarists Play With Their Fingers

Several reasons why a bass guitar player may use their fingers instead of a pick. It often comes down to comfort, what techniques they’re using in the song, and whether using their fingers helps them stay in control of the strings.

Ask any bass guitarist about it, and they’ll tell you different reasons why they choose to play with their fingers. However, they often use their fingers to play their bass guitars for the following reasons:

Playing With Their Fingers Give Them More Sound Control

First of all, many guitarists say they feel more in control of the instrument when using their fingers. The added sense of control allows them to work with a wider variety of tones. If you want to add a certain “vibe” to a song, then working with your fingers can help immensely.

It’s easier to feel the strings through your fingers than it is through a pick! Plus, the guitarist can slap the instrument without worrying about the pick getting in the way. If the musician knows they’ll have to slap the guitar frequently during a song, they may not use a pick.

While it does take more effort and experience to learn how to use fingers on a bass guitar, it’s worth it for the added sound control that musicians receive. Additionally, they also won’t have to worry about fumbling the pick.

It’s All About Personal Preference

Additionally, some people feel more comfortable when playing with a pick. How a player gets their instrument to make sound is up to them. You’ll notice that every player does something slightly different! 

Some bass players will even say that they hate guitar picks because it prevents them from keeping rhythm and doesn’t allow for the rest stroke. Bass players must stay in a good rhythm since they’re often the “base” of the song. If they fall out of time, it gets extremely difficult for everyone else.

Bass Guitarists Can Play Around With Different Techniques

Guitarists can also get a more extensive range of sounds from the instrument with different techniques when using their fingers. One of these is the rest stroke, which I mentioned briefly above.

The rest stroke is a technique that creates the “thump” we associate with the bass guitar. Bass guitar players can use it to add more rhythm to a piece. However, it’s harder to do when holding a guitar pick, so many bass players prefer just to use their fingers instead.

Additionally, when guitar players use different parts of their fingers to pluck strings, they create different tones. For example, they now have access to smooth tones from plucking with the pads of their fingers. They can easily switch to stronger “twangs” by using their nails instead.

Every part of the finger offers a different sound profile to make use of. They can experiment and discover different sounds by using as many as they want in a single song since it’s easy to switch finger positions. Bass guitar players won’t get as much range when they only use a pick, although it makes playing faster a lot easier (Why Are Bass Guitars So Quiet?).

Overall, playing with fingers allows the bass guitar player to switch between playing techniques quickly. That means they also can produce a variety of different sounds and tones on short notice. Finger plucking makes it much easier for them to switch up their playing styles mid-song as well.

The Technique Is Good for Building Calluses

It takes hours of effort and hard work to build calluses from playing bass guitar (relevant article: how to keep guitar calluses from peeling). If they use a pick, their fingers won’t contact the string, so they’ll never form calluses. It takes even longer than building calluses with an acoustic, and they need to play often to keep them there.

Guitar players view their calluses as assets and want to form them, so they’ll often avoid anything that can slow that down. When they have calluses, it’s much easier for them to play the guitar for long periods. Plus, it often sounds better to them.

Finally, calluses take away a lot of the discomfort from plucking strings. While building them up takes a long time, many guitar players say it’s very worth it. Once they have calluses, they won’t want to lose them since it took so long to get them in the first place!

Their Fingers Allow Them To Play the Bass Guitar Longer

Many guitar players also won’t use a pick if they plan on playing for long periods. Using a pick is very tiring and can strain your wrist since it’s not a natural movement that people make. However, plucking allows bass guitarists to play for longer.

When a guitarist’s hand gets tired, they’re also slightly more likely to drop their pick. However, they won’t have to worry about it if there’s no pick! Many train themselves with that in mind.

Overall, if a guitarist knows they need to perform for a long time, they probably won’t use a pick to enhance their endurance. New players may not use a pick either since they want to build muscle to avoid fatigue.

Is It Necessary for Bass Guitar Players To Use a Pick?

After reading about why so many bass players use their fingers, you may be wondering why they would ever use a pick. However, there are plenty of instances where they do! Bass guitarists can get a completely different sound from it, which works well with specific genres of music.

It’s not always necessary for bass guitar players to use a pick. However, there’s no set way to play the bass guitar, so it’s up to the player to choose what they’re most comfortable with. Many players learn to play with and without picks to add variety to what they can play.

If you’re looking for a high-quality bass guitar pick, check out the Fender Premium Picks Sampler from Amazon.com. This order offers 24 picks in different gauges and thicknesses so that you can find one that best suits you. Plus, you’ll be able to change between picks as you please. They have an excellent sound quality and come in many colors, too.

Even if a bass guitarist prefers one method over the other, it’s not unusual to see them switching it up. Many explore different sounds and experiment with the instrument by using their fingers. There are plenty of techniques to uncover, and every person can produce slightly different sounds this way.

To summarize, not all bass players need to use a pick all of the time. Some won’t ever use one, but others will choose to use picks as they see fit. It’s not uncommon for players to be familiar with both methods to create music!

A Guitar Pick Is Essential When Playing Fast Music

Certain situations almost always call for the use of guitar picks. If the bassist needs to play something aggressive and fast (like rock music), they’re more likely to use a pick. Since the pick is thinner than their fingers, they can swap between the strings extremely fast.

Plus, picks give a snappier sound while plucking sounds deeper. If a guitarist wants this type of sound, it’s much easier to achieve it with a pick than with their fingers.

Overall, it can come down to personal preference on whether or not bass guitar players use picks. Many come from playing the upright bass, which doesn’t use picks, making it easier for them to learn and adjust to the bass guitar in this way.

While you can start playing the bass guitar using your fingers (without a pick) right away, it’s best to learn both techniques. That way, you can play with or without a pick, depending on the songs you want to play. Being able to use both techniques also helps you improve your skills as a bass player.

Final Thoughts

Many bass guitarists use their fingers when playing. Most do this to have more control over the sounds their instrument produces. They also have an easier time slapping the guitar when they need to.

However, most of it comes down to preference. Some players enjoy playing with their fingers, while others don’t—either way, what a player does often feels the most comfortable.

Overall, you’ll see plenty of bassists using a mix of their fingers and picks. Many will change as the songs call for it. It can be challenging to learn, but playing with fingers only greatly benefits their music.

David Sandy

Hey there! My name is David Sandy and I'm the founder of Sandy Music Lab. I've been playing guitar for several years now and created this site to be able to share and explore music with others. Check out my recommended guitar gear!

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