Not all bass players need to use their fingers. In fact, for styles such as hard rock and heavy metal, a pick is often preferable to fingers. This is because the pick allows us to keep steady rhythms without wasting any energy.
Today we will discuss the benefits and techniques of the most basic picking style; alternate picking. Alternate picking is a picking style which consists of alternate upward and downward strokes.
This means that no two notes are stroked in the same direction. Alternate picking on bass guitar is a bit of a science.
First off, you need to do the ever popular pick search. Thicker picks are commonly used on bass guitars because of the string gauges. Bass strings are extremely thick, and using a thin pick can lead to pick breakage and extreme bends.
Pick bends are when your pick actually warps due to the amount of pressure being applied to it. Not only is this inconvenient, but it also affects your picking, usually for the worse.
Once you have picked out a proper set of picks that will hold up under the demands of thickly gauged bass strings, the next tip is hand placement. Your hand placement when alternate picking should be close enough to the strings to allow easy reach, yet far enough to avoid interference and extra noise.
Your palm should remain half an inch above your strings at all times. This height is perfect for alternate picking as it allows you to pick without straining your wrist, and also helps you to avoid hitting other strings, which causes extra, unnecessary noise.
One of the easiest ways to keep your hand comfortable is to rest the butt of your palm on the edge of the tremolo system. This allows your palm and arm to relax while keeping your hand the proper height.
Alternate picking will take a lot of practice. While it is great for fast rhythms without too much movement, because of the spacing of the bass strings, alternate picking is somewhat limited when it comes to string skipping.
Start off with a metronome. Use a slow to moderate tempo and allow yourself to fall into a rhythm, picking a single note on a single string, alternating between upwards strokes and downwards strokes.
With alternate picking, your wrist should be doing all of the work. If you find yourself tensing your bicep, shoulder, or forearm, slow down and force yourself to relax. It is best to correct these things early on than allow yourself to learn bad form. Bad habits learned in practice translate to bad habits when playing or improvising on the bass guitar. They also lead to injuries.
Once you feel comfortable with single note alternate picking, move on to scales. Start off at a reasonable tempo and play the scale you know, alternating from upstroke to down stroke with each and every note.
If you feel comfortable playing your scales with alternate picking, move on to licks. Take some of your favorite legato licks and try to play them with alternate picking instead. Incorporate the picking into your riffs and practices, and soon enough you will find it second nature.
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