One Man, Two Careers – Pick Technique – Play it Like You Hear it

This one definitely gets filed under ‘guilty pleasures’.

I originally knew Narada Michael Walden for his work behind the kit rather than his vocal efforts (his credits as a drummer include Mahavishnu Orchestra, Allan Holdsworth and Jaco’s ‘Come On, Come Over’) but here he is having a crack at a solo career.

Other examples of prominent musicians that have had parallel careers on two different instruments include Dave Grohl, John Paul Jones, Phil Collins, Gary Husband and Marcus Miller.

What? You mean you don’t remember that time when Marcus Miller was a singer?

There’s a reason why this record is always in the bargain bins…

On the subject of singing drummers, have you heard Abe Laboriel Jr sing? Not too shabby.

Back to the point, if there ever was one. Learning a second (or third) instrument can seriously expand your musical horizons – get familiar with the piano is an excellent way to ‘see’ harmony laid out in front of you in a way that bass (and guitar) don’t provide.

The bass on ‘I Shoulda Loved Ya’ comes courtesy of T.M. Stevens wielding a pick to great effect:

GOTW I Shoulda Loved Ya

The key to this style of picking is to maintain a constant up and down motion with the picking hand to create the steady stream of semiquavers. Think of your picking hand like a pendulum, always swinging back and forth – once you get the hang of this ‘perpetual motion’ you can simply choose the subdivisions that you want to pick out.

Other masters of this style include Bobby Vega, Anthony Jackson and the late, great, Bernard Edwards; check out his part during the prechorus of Diana Ross’ ‘I’m Coming Out’, which features his signature ‘chucking’ technique (using fingernails to emulate the sound of a plectrum).

Fingers? Pick? Thumb? Tapping? Which Should I Work On?

Bassists have many options when it comes to striking the strings, which is something of a mixed blessing – how do you decide which one(s) to focus on?

Your decision is made by the answers to these questions:

  • How do I want to sound?
  • Do I like the sound of the technique?
  • How often am I realistically going to use this technique?
  • What techniques are musically appropriate to the repertoire that I perform?

Your musical output should always inform your input; you are what you practise. When I was a teenager and didn’t have any idea of the skill set needed to become an effective freelancer I spent (wasted) a lot of time in front of my Stu Hamm and Victor Wooten VHS tapes honing my slap and tap skills because that’s what I thought skilled bass playing sounded like.

How many times in the last decade have I used my flamenco slap licks or 8-finger tapping on a gig? I’ll let you make an educated guess.