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Re: playing w/ a pick...

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Posted by Carol Kaye on February 15, 2000 at 10:26:54:

In Reply to: playing w/ a pick... posted by kav on February 13, 2000 at 23:31:56:

: Hi, im having trouble playing w/ better speed w/ a pick because im used to
: playing w/ my fingers.... my playing w/ a pick sounds choppy and i was
: wondering if anyone can tell me what i can do to improve my speed/accuracy
: w/ a pick? Any help would be appreciated.. thanks!
First of all, get a hard tear-drop-shaped pick, and hold it in your hand as shown on my Playing Tips Page, (it's the *only* way to play bass successfully with a pick, bass is much different than guitar), and while patting your left foot, and keeping your right wrist down (bottom of thumb muscle touching a lower string), play down on the down beats and up on the up beats (8th notes) for awhile get used to your foot and right hand moving up and down together, this is the way you'll pick. The 16ths are doubletime: down-up-down-up, triplets are down-up-up (except when they're tremolo speed, then just alternate picking, accenting the downbeats). Following is a copy of an attachment I send out: >>>>>First of all, it's not necessary to play elec. bass with a pick, I've always said that except for in the late 60s or early 70s, when the studios and record companies sometimes demanded their studio bass players to play with the pick (they were asked for the "Carol Kaye" sound, so naturally I had a lot of students, not bragging, just explaining). But normally even today in the studios, you really don't have to use the pick, altho' its popularity is gaining ground again. If you look at where your thumb is on your hand, next to the index finger, then you see the logic to grasp it between your thumb and index finger for the most natural strength and flexibility. Some guitar players will naturally pick up any kind of pick and grasp it with more than just the thumb and index fingers as they probably haven't been taking any lessons from a teacher and don't know the correct way to hold the pick for fine execution.

And most elec. bass teachers have little idea to hold the hard pick correctly either, not having the amount of live playing, studio, and teaching experiences with the pick, let alone the best kind of pick to use for hard-sounding positive bass notes. Any other way of holding your pick and your thumb then has to move to a weak (and wrong) position. It should be held on the SIDE of your index finger, you'll have the fastest and strongest way to play the elec. bass with the pick, you don't "strum" chords on the bass, but play much harder than you ever do on the guitar. So using the pick in the way I'll describe is your best bet for not only a great sound on bass, but a positive SURE way of easy clean accurate perfect-rhythmical playing, that both keeps your right shoulder less tense (and not sticking up in the air), plus makes it seem effortless, just a little practice (2-3 weeks) and you've got it. Next (if you are right-handed), you want to start patting your left foot and right hand (holding the pick in your right hand, just the opposite for lefties) down on the quarter notes of the rhythm (down-beats) to get the hang of playing down on the down beats and up on the up beats. This is the way to get the most speed, metrical accuracy, and best ease of playing altho' there might be a few times when you pick ALL down in spots for accentuating somewhat. Make sure your thumb is curved inward towards your hand while holding the pick, and STATIONARY (don't move that thumb knuckle!) -- all action comes from the WRIST (just a little forearm motion is OK, but not much, and make sure the forearm does NOT pull backward and foreward, just a little up and down motion (toward the floor) will be alright, concentrate ALL the motion in your right wrist). It's important that you FEEL where the down beats and up beats are with the pick in your hand before you attempt to play the bass. When I was teaching a lot of students in the early 70s (Dave Hungate, Mike Porcaro, Tony Sales, Reinie Press, Arnie Moore, Alf Clausen, Jim Hughart, Pat Smith, Whitey Hogan, Frank Carroll, Abe Luboff, Pete Vescovo, Tom Winker, Trey Thompson, Dave Edelstein, Harvey Newmark, Luther Huges, Mike Schoebelon, Dave Edelman, etc.), they would keep the pick in their right hand while flying to their gigs, and practice beating their right hand pick in hand to music on the earphones the whole flight, this is GOOD practice. Maybe they got funny looks from the stewardess, but the principle works. Make sure that you find a comfortable place to rest your right arm FLAT on the bass somewhere. It's much different for longer-armed people than shorter-armed people, just be sure your right hand winds up so that you pick no closer than an inch or two to the base of the neck (further back a little is better). Never pick really close to the bridge, simply too hard to play there, and you'll get bad sounds there but sometimes you may have to do that to get the required sound in some studios or on some basses, don't do it much tho', wrong position). Now, with your right hand and wrist resting FLAT (not up in the air) from the strings, as you play a note, your right thumb muscle will be sitting barely on top of another string "grazing" the string (the string next to the one you're playing on, and you lift up and off when playing on the E string, as if there's a B string there, easy for the 5-stringers). You learn to "hop" over a string when playing down and up pickstrokes, sometimes even in a "circle" motion of the right hand, but ALWAYS with the wrist FLAT, the power comes from the wrist so don't leave it up in the air, it needs to be DOWN right next to the strings to get power, and 95% of the motion comes from the wrist. Now, with your foot patting, play down-beat notes on "C", letting your right hand play relaxed with the fingers curled in slightly, not tightly at all, keep that pinkie poking up in the air slightly, the other side of your right hand (thumb muscle) DOWN grazing on the strings - all action remember, comes from that strong wrist, held in a relaxed manner with all the fingers slightly curled in, hold that pinkie UP, not sitting down on the bass, but UP in the air, the only thing touching is the bottom of the thumb muscle. With certain large-limbed people, you may have your right wrist touching somewhere too, that's fine. You're going to play that C bass note with all quarter notes (all down beats) while patting your left foot -- both hand and foot moving up and down together. You want to use gravity to let the weight of your hand "play" the down beats, not a "push" feel at all, but let your hand FALL on the down beats, (you can play harder later, keep the action of the down beats "light" right now to get the feel of using the pick on down beats first). Use the gravity and let your right hand FALL on the notes every note, foot patting at the same time. Then play 8th notes, down and up beats with down and up pickstrokes, but this will be a little more effort now for playing the UP beats. The muscle just above the pinkie and wrist will now get a workout for the first time (it will be sore for about 2 days and will go AWAY forever, if not, you're doing something wrong, this is the ONLY time you will have a little soreness at any place is that unused little muscle which after 2 days of playing, the little bit of soreness will go away forever, and you'll play with strong up-beats then). Once you get the hang of the right hand "falling" on the down beats (you'll automatically play harder on the downbeats the more you play, don't worry about that right now), and picking up on the up beats, then vary the pattern (still one note) on "C", go to down-up up-down-up up-down-up, up-down-up, up-down-up etc. playing on the up beat then down beat then up beat again in the pattern (an 8th rest between the patterns to keep the tempo the same). Then do a shuffle blues line of R R 8 8 b7 b7 5 5 (best key is C at first then try it in G), on your strings, heeding the dow beat and up- beat pickstroking. Take your time with this, important to have patience. If you get frustrated, take a break, come back later to try again. Notice how your right hand lifts slightly and "hops" over the strings, from the pivotal wrist (the wrist is ALWAYS held FLAT almost on the strings), with the forearm maybe moving ever so slightly (less is better). Feel the power of the strength in your wrist! Between the grasp of the thumb and the index finger (with the thumb curved in toward the index finger, you have the most pick on the strings). Be sure to use a HARD pick, (see bottom), and the relaxed flat wrist, there's a ton of power there, it's the strongest, easiest, most accurate, fastest, most powerful, and most relaxed way to really pound that bass. I used to keep my strings pretty high (always a Fender Precision back then, with medium flats) in the studios too, as I'd quickly bottom them out, if I didn't. The hardness I was able to play with a pick, 12-16 hours a day was easy for years (lack of sleep tho' was tough) and never get tired of playing a horde of funky 16th patterns most of the time too. The intensity for recording on a record (and even a TV film and movie) is HARD!!

Much harder than any live gig I've played, so I had to keep my strings very high back in those 60s days, something I don't do nowadays but yet, my strings are higher than most bass players'. Leo Fender put my picking on the oscilloscope around 1981 (he was very curious), and he said that my way of picking was the "hottest" he'd ever seen, the lines were way above the famous finger players he'd also put on the scope, he was amazed at how high and fast it peaked, he had never seen that before. So the impact of the pick (whether you use highs mids or lows, I only turned the treble about 1/4) was the strongest, plus with the highs turned down on the bass and the amp (it was different in those days, I played according to the sound the artist/arranger/producer wanted, from very high "Mission Impossible" to very low "Across 110th St." Motown things, where people swear up and down I'm playing with fingers). You can hear this difference on my CD "First Lady On Bass" (Hot Wire Records in Germany, good-selling is in Tower Records) -- also on the CD is a cut from "Wonder Woman" TV show I did in the 70s, plus a Public Radio interview, talking about my early jazz guitar work, and demonstrations of my bass playing. You can also hear all the different sounds in "library" on my web site, you're free to sample anything you want. For the 8/8 (doubletime feel), simply double up on the pickstrokes, same thing, but now you have 8 beats to the bar instead of 4, works just fine. You can pat your foot to 8/8 at first to get the feeling of the strokes, and later only to 4/4. For triplets, it's down-up-up to about 126 (quarter notes) in tempo, then use the down-up-down up-down-up method of tremolo type picking for 128 and faster tempi, it's simply a tremolo thing then. The way to practice triplets (to get the accuracy and feel of the natural triplets playing with the pick) is to play HARD on the downbeats and VERY LIGHT on the 2 up beats, you start getting the feel of them then, and then later on "harden up". Practice at very slow tempos at first. When I played here and there at the last NAMM Trade Show, many former slappers were wanting to play with a pick, as they saw the logic and speed plus the HARDNESS you can play with a good hard pick, the sound is amazing, plus the metric clean speed is there for all the 16ths without any tiredness or work, you can play that way all day long. Not advocating funk with a pick, depends on your personal taste, but once exposed to the way I play, it seems that everyone wants to use the pick then, they hear the great bass sounds (no I don't get that "picky" sound normally, and the pick helps to define the bass sound naturally too I believe in recording). Remember the softer the pick (worse picks to use are soft picks), the more you're going to have a bad picky "scrachy" sound, especially with thicker roundwound strings. Never use a felt pick, those are for ukes. Flat strings are best to use with the pick but you can get away with using a HARD pick on roundwounds if they are tightly wound, and not gargantuan strings. The kind of pick you use is important, plus the shape (teardrop I find is the best, less pick to wave in the air, fastest, cleanest sounds, fits most hands, even the biggest). If a pick starts slipping in your hand, you're simply holding the pick too tightly, keep it relaxed, you'll automatically "harden" up the sec you hit that note. BTW, I read some of Lane Baldwin's poetry, man this guy is a killer poet. I've always read Walt Whitman, Poe, Browning, e.e. cummings, so many others in mostly my youth. In school when they were reading "Lorna Doone" (I'd get done with that thing fast for the book report), I'd drag out some Bret Harte, Dostoevsky, etc. to read for fun) -- so for those of you who love good poetry and good feeling in the poetry as well as good style and heart, then get Lane's book, he's a winner. For a free Carol Kaye pick, please send 2 stamps to: 4140 Oceanside Blvd. Ste. 159-297, Oceanside CA 92056-6005 Carol Kaye >>>>

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