You would be surprised the amount of bass players who started life as rhythm guitarists. This being said, bass and guitar are completely different instruments, and those switchers sometimes have a hard time recognizing this.
While alternate picking does hold a place in bass playing, bassists who favor a pick primarily use down picking. This is because down picking gives a note emphasis that alternate picking can’t; it adds power.
The key to down picking is practice. Down picking is tiring work, and at first you will find your arm fatigued very quickly when trying to down pick a consistent pattern. Below, we are going to discuss a few ways to help you build up your down picking.
The first way to achieve fluent down picking is by achieving proper form. Down picking is performed with your wrist. This means that your bicep and forearm need to be relaxed. If they are flexed, they will add unnecessary amounts of tension to your wrist, making down picking nearly impossible. Use a metronome, and start off slowly.
Down pick simple quarter notes. While you are picking on the bass guitar, assess your form. Take notice of your bicep and forearm. Are they straining? If they are, take a second to shake off and continue. If you feel like you are flexing, slow down your metronome. You can only down pick as well as you can relax.
If you find yourself straining to keep pace with the metronome, check your bass height. A bass too high can cause you to flex your bicep as it will need to be bent. A bass hung lower than your stomach will not only strain your form, but will also cause you to stretch further to reach the strings. Find a happy medium for your bass’s height, one that is comfortable as well as easily maintainable.
The key to down picking is in the motion itself. The down pick does not require your entire arm to left and lower starting at the shoulder. In fact, your hand should barely leave the strings. Down picking is a short, close quarter’s movement. Your hand should be no more than half in inch off of your strings.
If you find it more comfortable, allow the butt of your palm to rest against the edge of the bridge. This will allot you to forego the strain of holding your hand above the strings, yet allow you to maintain short, sharp, and precise movements.
Down picking can add a completely different element to your bass guitar playing. While most musicians trivialize the importance of picking styles, they do in fact create different tones. Down picking will add further attack to each note, making your playing more aggressive and abrupt.
The only way to perfect your down picking is to practice hard. Set aside a block of time each day, and after a proper warm up, focus solely on your down picking. So long as you pay attention to your form and your positioning, you will begin to see improvement in no time. Good luck, and have fun!
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