While most of the time I use my right hand fingers to pluck the strings when playing bass, there are definitely sounds and styles that require using a pick. Especially if you are a rock bass player, I would put becoming familiar with using a pick at least somewhere on your practice list. Being able to play with your fingers as well as a pick is going to give you a wider variety of tonal and technical possibilities.
Watch the video lesson below to see me demonstrating the examples as well as some additional insight.
Building your Bass Picking Chops
(Video Bass Lesson)
First a couple of basics about picks if this is a foreign object to you. Picks come is all kinds of shapes, sizes and thickness. You may want to go to your local music store and buy a variety of different picks and do a little experimenting to find what is right for you.
To start I might consider using just a standard size and shape pick that looks like the picture below. I would avoid really thin picks. Try and start with a medium to a heavy pick.
You will also see different bass players hold the pick in different ways. I hold my pick with the flat part of my thumb, and the side of my index finger. I feel this gives me the most amount of control.
Picking 16th Notes with an E minor Pentatonic Scale
We are going to get to some real music shortly, but before digging into that I want you to practice a basic E minor pentatonic scale picking down and up 4 times on each note. You are playing 16th notes, and a 16th note is a quarter of a beat, so there will be four 16th notes in every beat. You may want to emphasize the 1st note in every group of 4 to help you keep your place. Practice the notes slow and even, and then increase the speed as you become more comfortable.
16th Note Rock Bass Riff
Practicing a scale is great for developing your bass technique, but if you can build your chops and play something that sounds like real music that’s even better. So here is a rock bass riff that uses constant 16th notes to help you improve your picking. Start slow and practice 1 measure at a time. Work on getting a clean sound from your notes. Playing fast and sloppy will only move you further from your goal.
You should also make sure that you practice with a metronome or drum machine. Below are a couple of drum grooves below that you can practice with as well.
Drum Jam Tracks
Here are 2 rock drum tracks that you can use to practice with. One is at 75 beats per minute, and the other is at 100 beats per minute.
Rock Drums 75 BPM
Rock Drums 100 BPM