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I play the bass in a metal band, so I usually need a pick to get both a more fitting sound and reach the right speed. But I cannot find the right technique to use it and I don't have much precision and control of the instrument. Also, palm-muting looks like unfeasible for me at the moment, and I should use it sometimes.

My question is: which is the best way to use a pick on a bass (position of the hand, angle of the arm, distance from pick-ups)? Can someone point me in the right direction or suggest some useful source?

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    I know there is a valid answer to your question beyond this, but it would be good to get a bass professional (perhaps a teacher) or more than one to observe your current technique and get them to recommend how you can personally improve it. We can probably tell you what to do, but there is no substitute for such observation. – amalgamate Dec 7 '15 at 16:50
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You'll need lots of practice, as usual with any technique. Here's what you want to work towards with your practice:

  • Learn to be able to use as little of the pick as possible. By that I mean ideally you would be able to consistenly brush just the very tip of the pick across the top of the strings when picking. You may want to dig in to the string more for certain sounds, but that's easy to do once you can play with the minimum amount of pick.
  • Use a fairly heavy pick. Experiment with the heaviest pick you can possibly find and then try one or two lighter. A heavier pick gives you more control but is a bit more demanding on bullet number one above. That's because if you are using too much pick, a heavier pick won't give way and you will feel and hear that you are using too much. The upside to a heavier pick is twofold: first, as you learn and practice, you'll feel when you are doing better and when you're not. Second, having a heavier pick means you can player harder if you choose to, and also play lightly when you want to. With practice, you can play as lightly as you want with a heavy pick, but you can never play heavier than your pick.
  • You want to learn to pick both with your wrist wiggling slightly and with just your fingers moving the pick, so you can choose the most appropriate motion for the situation. Picking with finger motion only would be for precise, articulated passages. Picking with wrist movement only would be for playing even eighth, sixteenth, or faster notes continuously while fretting.
  • You want to learn to be able to pick closer to the bridge (easier) and closer to the neck (harder) so you can choose the ideal location to get the tone you want. Most of the time you'll be picking over the pickups, more or less. The faster and more complicated the passage is, the easier it will be to play closer to the bridge. If you recall the first bullet, above, optimizing pick use requires muscle memory of exactly where the string is. The string's position is a lot less predictable the farther you get from the bridge. Another reason why using as little pick as possible helps is that it minimizes string displacement so picking the next note is a little easier. The other side to that is the string is less mobile near the bridge, so it will fight you a lot more as you try to pick it. Once again, bullet number one is the answer to playing close to the bridge and dealing with the immobility of the strings in that area.
  • In all situations, whether playing with or without a pick, you will stand out among other bass players if you learn to play with even intensity at all times. Like using the minimum amount of pick, if you can play with even intensity you still can play harder or softer if the situation calls for it. Practice playing without any compression or distortion and work to make every note the same loudness and tone quality, across all the strings and frets. This is a lifetime mastery skill on bass so be patient. The more consistenly you can play, the more you will have that "professional" sound quality that is hard to define but you know it when you hear it. Precise timing is the other aspect of this, but that's not as relevant to picking.
  • Many people recommend angling the pick so that it is not hitting the strings flat. A small angle is good and a steeper angle is necessary for the fastest speed, but do not use a larger angle instead of using the minimum amount of pick. Using a steep angle and a lot of pick with slow you down and give you a not-good scraping noise. Sometimes a scraping noise is good for a song, but you want to be able to choose, and fast, articulated playing will require the minimum of scraping or else the notes will get lost. When you practice your picking, try to keep it flat so you are making things a little harder on yourself and forcing your muscles to rise to the challenge.

Regarding palm muting specifically:

  • Palm muting requires both effective muting and effective picking. "Effective" in this case mostly means "appropriate for the sound you are looking for". Sometimes you want more muting, and sometimes you want less. The more distortion you are using and the shorter you want the notes to ring out, the more muting you'll want to use (usually), and vice-versa. The proper way to get more muting is to move your palm (which is resting on the string(s) at the bridge) farther from the bridge and closer to the neck while keeping even pressure on the string(s). For less muting, you move your palm closer to the bridge. The minimum muting is with the corner of the palm just wresting on the bridge itself with the flesh lightly touching the string just where the string meets the bridge.
  • When you are wresting your palm on the strings/bridge for palm muting, it creates a challenge for picking and an opportunity. The challenge is that your motion is restricted, so changing strings is a bit harder. The opportunity is your motion is restricted, so it can be easier to pick precisely as required by the first bullet above (use as little pick as possible). You have to practice proper picking both with and without palm muting, since the muting action changes your hand position and range of motion.
  • The action of muting the string means the string "pushes back" against the pick more and resists moving. If you want to pick fast while palm muting, it's even more critical to use the barest minimum of pick (our old friend bullet number one), since the more pick you use the more the muted string will fight you and slow you down.
  • "pick both with your wrist wiggling slightly and with just your fingers moving the pick" : a very good point. I'd also add, learn to switch from fingers to wrist movement smoothly. Also, it's important to hold the pick closer to the index finger tip, this helps with the angle, especially with the low strap. – olegst Jan 16 '18 at 11:27
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A thing I would suggest to a beginner, is to have the bass quite high on its strap, so you can easily use the pick. If you have the bass low (like Flea or many other bassists), you won't be able to pick that fast at the beginning.

When the bass is high, your hand would feel more comfortable and you'll be able to use the pick (or fingerstyle for that matter) quite easily.

As far as the where you place the pick on the string, you'll see for yourself that the closer you play to the bridge, the fastest you'll be able to play.

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    Good point - not just for beginners. I tend to wear it high, in fact the same place sitting or standing. Saves having to adapt on stage after practising seated! It also puts (my) wrist/hand at a good angle for better playing. +1 – Tim Dec 7 '15 at 17:46
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Not metal, but Carol Kaye has said a lot about bass pick technique, some of the key points being:

  1. pick closer to the neck,
  2. Grasp the pick with the side of the index finger,
  3. keep your wrist flat, and
  4. tap with your left foot (assuming you're right handed),
  5. using a foam mute instead of palm muting (might not work in metal),

although some of here ideas might need to be modified to suit your genre, her approach might provide some useful approaches.

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    I think the picking position between closer to the neck versus closer to the bridge is very situational. In particular, in Metal there are famous performances of using an active bass and picking quite close to the bridge. Picking closer to the bridge can help with speed and accuracy since the average maximum displacement of the string is less than closer to the neck. – Todd Wilcox Dec 7 '15 at 18:11
  • I'm relaying Carol Kaye's approach -- some aspects of it would probably need to be changed for specific applications. – Dave Dec 7 '15 at 19:13
  • Yes, definitely picking close to the neck doesn't fit with the speeds I need to reach. – user25101 Dec 9 '15 at 9:23
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If I ever need speed on a bass, I tend to rest the side of my hand on the bridge and pick near the bridge, using quite a shallow angle so the pick doesn't dig in too much and slow me down. Remember to use your tone controls on the bass and the amp as well to achieve the sound you're after (I know sound comes from the fingers, but gear helps too amirite?).

I would definitely recommend getting a teacher who will sit down with you and help you in the right direction after you've explained what your requirements are.

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