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MacDaddy

Playing fretless bass?

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34 minutes ago, paul_c2 said:

I'll go against the grain and say DON'T use a tuner. Learn what an interval should sound like, and learn how to recognise when its off, and in which direction. It will improve your "ear" which will help in so many other ways - you'll be able to recognise/transcribe stuff MUCH quicker, you'll demystify the harmonies of songs, you'll improvise better etc etc

This is true. I do have a tuner that’s on all the time but I find myself referring to it rarely initially it gave me confidence but you are quite right, nothing beats actually refining your musical ear. A tuner can be a tool to achieve this refinement rather than something to rely on instead of improving one’s ear.

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Guest subaudio

Steve Lawson has a great tip for fretless.

Don't correct out of tune playing by attempting to bring the out of tune note into tune. You will get good at fixing out of tune notes but not good at playing in tune in the first place.

There will of course be an initial getting used to fretless in the early stages, but once you start serious work, get used to hitting the note in pitch first time using your ears and technique.

As someone else said, open strings are a great help for reference, not only for the same note but also intervals and extended chord tones.

Posture is also important, a good solid, relaxed open posture really helps on fretless and double bass.

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Some late thoughts on this.

I can play fretless but I am not brilliant at it, but I have a decent ear and no-one has ever told me I'm playing it out of tune (even when I have been!)

First, accept that its harder and that lo and behold you won't hit notes dead in tune every time (that's why Leo invented the 'precision' bass LOL!

The secret is in putting your fingers into the right place NOT constantly trying to adjust to get dead in tune. Even on a fretted bass strings typically sound high and drop in pitch a bit, this seems even more true of a fretless and also the timbre of the note changes. These things not only give fretless playing its distinctive sound (apart from slides etc) but help to cover small errors.

My bass only has side dot markers. I've set the intonation so that I'm in tune when I play dead in line with the marker. With the amount of adjustment on any fretless you can can move this 'right spot' around a surprising amount by fiddling with intonation.

I play one finger per fret, and try and hit just behind the fret in all positions (I have big hands, my one big advantage!) It makes a bit more discipline to keep accurate spacing on a fretless but its the only way to hit the right spot for unmarked notes. It takes time but try and get used to how your fingers need to close up as you move up the neck.

DO keep reference to how you sound and be prepared to shift your playing position a bit to keep in tune rather than fudging individual fingers.

In summary, I'd say fretless is really about developing 'muscle memory' as much as your ear and don't expect to find it easy, I feel it is a lot harder. If you despair - think about violin, no markers and you need to be about three times as accurate in placing your fingers to be as accurately in tune (no wonder violinists always use vibrato!)

 

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There's a lot of good advice and tips here - I've played fretless off and on for many years and it took me a while to figure out why I was often a tads sharp. Placing the centreline of my fingetip 'correctly' is a little sharp because my finger is a lot thicker than fretwire ! So slightly back and all is good.
Personally I really dislike lined fingerboards - tried one once and it just put me off and caused the problem above.
I have sometimes played/practiced in dark rooms - I really recommend that because it forces me to listen to pitch rather than look at it, and I think it helps develop muscle memory - the holy grail even on fretted but essential on fretless.

One other thing maybe - find a fretless you like and stick with it. How it sits against you, neck profile etc all inform your muscle memory. Switch basses and some errors creep in. OK- you adjust and fix them but feeling at one with your chosen bass does help a lot I think.

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Yeah it really helped going from a Jazz to a fretless Jazz - same body dimensions etc meant it was quite easy to "get" the intonation more/less right straight away.

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The problem with fretless is not looking at your hands. Any one can play it when checking your fingers visually all the time as nearly everyone does. I'ts a bloody nightmare playing in the high registers and not looking. If you're playing a reading gig even if it's just chord charts it's VERY DIFFICULT. Even Jaco P. had a fretted bass for those situations. I notice that Jeff Berlin now plays fretted all the time. NOTHING sounds worse than a bass player a little out of tune on a gig and it is so very easily done.

As for the tone and freedom etc.. I'ts a matter of taste but I hear a lot of guys on fretless who sound thin and average. However Jeff Berlin sounds beautiful on his fretted in my opinion. I feel liberated when I play my fretted. No fear of being out of tune so I can focus totally on note choice and go for some complex fingerings/stretches without restriction. Frets are absolutely liberating as far I am concerned. I do a lot of reading for fun and half of the stuff I read would be a lifetimes work to get accurate intonation for little or no benefit. Double bass intonation is hard enough but it's even harder on fretless EB because of the way we play horizontally and with the bass moving around on a strap.

Bass players have a snob thing going on about fretted/fretless/line markers etc. Playing an unlined fretless means your top dog even if you're shite and have to look at your hands all the time. Lined fretless comes second because it doesn't look cool and you don't know where to put your fingers. Fretted, third because you are obviously incapable of playing a fretless and clearly a beginner who can't do over the top vibratos and silly old hat sliding harmonic party tricks.  There! Got that off my chest!  (PS I played fretless and EUB for many years but genuinely found it limiting). 

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One thing I found REALLY weird.

At school I was useless on violin, even with little plastic markers taped on the fretboard.

After learning fretless bass I can play violin in tune, not very well because my bowing technique is absolutely shite, but pretty much in tune!

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There's a world of difference between a bedroom fretless YouTube virtuoso and a proper working musician. I don't kid myself. If you cant play the whole instrument in tune without your eyes glued to the fretboard.....you're not a fretless  bass player. 

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2 hours ago, md54 said:

.....you're not a fretless  bass player. 

I guess that is a harsh truth, but it doesn't mean you can't be. I don't think Jaco or Pino were born with some enhanced motor skills us normals just don't have. There was a time when those guys couldn't play.
I've found some good tips and insights here - it's a hill to climb and there isn't a top (I think Andy Summers said approximately that once).
My cup's half full and I enjoy the climb.

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6 hours ago, md54 said:

There's a world of difference between a bedroom fretless YouTube virtuoso and a proper working musician. I don't kid myself. If you cant play the whole instrument in tune without your eyes glued to the fretboard.....you're not a fretless  bass player. 

That’s [email protected]&£@&ks. Just because I don’t climb Mount Everest doesn’t mean I’m not a walker. There are plenty of people on here who don’t play past the seventh fret on a fretted bass but it doesn’t mean they are not bass players. 

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8 hours ago, md54 said:

There's a world of difference between a bedroom fretless YouTube virtuoso and a proper working musician. I don't kid myself. If you cant play the whole instrument in tune without your eyes glued to the fretboard.....you're not a fretless  bass player. 

It would be interesting to know which group you are in. 

Also as an additional point, IMHO of course, if your (fretted) technique is solid then there won't be any troubles transferring - it just takes a bit more concentration or skill, but is perfectly achievable. I've played lots of instruments and if you were to have an arbitrary easy-hard scale, it wouldn't be that hard, or that much harder than a fretted bass guitar.

If your (fretted) technique is weak though, the faults will soon be exposed on a fretless.

It would be interesting to hear from anyone who started out on fretless. I guess starting out of DB then transferring to bass guitar would be vaguely similar too.

 

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7 hours ago, paul_c2 said:

I've played lots of instruments and if you were to have an arbitrary easy-hard scale, it wouldn't be that hard

Totally agree. Midway through my bass life I broke off to study and play flamenco - for difficulty I would personally mark that 5* (out of 5) - the great players were born into flamenco families and started when they were 6. We have kids at school given a violin or 'cello to learn - they aren't scared of the fingerboard. OK it may not be pretty at first but where did all the orchestral standard strings players start?

So, regarding fretless there's sound advice here to check your fretted L/H technique for precision (pardon pun), forget slides and vibrato - work on accuracy. And one of my favourites - look away, turn off the lights, play blind. It does come.

Playing on pitch doesn't make you a great musician, but the great musicians have had to put the work in to make the sounds they hear in their heads. There's no magic or particular gift - it's just graft. (all IMHO of course).
 

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19 hours ago, md54 said:

There's a world of difference between a bedroom fretless YouTube virtuoso and a proper working musician. I don't kid myself. If you cant play the whole instrument in tune without your eyes glued to the fretboard.....you're not a fretless  bass player. 

That's a bit unfair. There's clearly a continuum between dabblers and virtuosos. I guess most people who have played a bit are like me, they can cope eyes off while playing in a position, but need a look when shifting it. I don't pretend to be anything more than a basic fretless player, and really don't want to put in the vast amount of practice to build up the muscle detailed muscle memory but that doesn't mean I shouldn't play the thing.

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I occasionally look at my left hand when playing fretted, never mind fretless, but I’m not glued to it with either flavour. Two extremely famous and proficient fretless players had/have lined fretboards (Jaco and Gary Willis), you can bet you life that they looked/look. Ultimately, you should be able to hear if it’s right, but I’ll take all the help I can get to make it sound correct.

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Practice with something to reference - one other instrument (so get a keyboard and play single notes, then play along with it playing various intervals - start with octave, then 5th, 4th, 6th, 3rd and finally 7th and 2nd) or an open string. Your ears can lie to you if you initially try to reconcile one fretted note with another, so it’s important to get used to playing with a reference point you know is in tune. It’s partly muscle memory and partly ears. Also, don’t underestimate a consistent fretting hand method - so shift up and down with the same finger and get used to playing a phrase starting on your first finger, then 2nd finger, and finally 4th finger (of fretting hand and internalise the shape, and consistently placing fretting fingers in the same place relative to fret lines (or with ears if unmarked). Hearing whether you’re in tune or out of tune is easier higher up on the neck so it may be better to start at the 12th fret rather than the 1st fret.

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Guest subaudio

Why is it wrong to look at the neck?

Watch any top of the game classical or jazz musicians or indeed any musically complex genres, they are intensely focused on what they are doing, what their hands are doing.

Its such a nonsensical, arbitrary thing to say you can't look at the neck.

What are we supposed to look at?

Your confusing being a performer with being a musician.

Yes, in contemporary music, relating to the audience is an important skill but how many punters or musicians rate a musician by how much relative time they spend looking at the neck?

It's a non starter for assessing skill, how often a player looks at the neck is simply not relevant.

 

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23 hours ago, md54 said:

There's a world of difference between a bedroom fretless YouTube virtuoso and a proper working musician. I don't kid myself. If you cant play the whole instrument in tune without your eyes glued to the fretboard.....you're not a fretless  bass player. 

 

A conversation I am fortunate enough never to have had ...

Random person: 'You're trying to play fretless bass [or upright bass, delete as applicable].'

Me: 'Thanks for noticing.'

Random person: 'But almost everything you played was well down below the E on the G-string.'

Me: 'That's true.'

Random person: 'And you didn't close your eyes and I definitely saw you look at the fretboard fingerboard.'

Me: 'So what?'

Random person: 'It means you're not a fretless bass player.'

Me: 'Whatever ... and don't bother coming to our next gig.'

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On 10/10/2018 at 11:11, MacDaddy said:

Anything else I need to know?

With roots, octaves, fifths, your intonation needs to be more exact. With thirds, especially if you are playing blues or related music with another 'fretless' person, e.g. slide guitarist, it can get spicy, maybe in a good way. I'm not sure how this is real but it is my experience that you can take liberties with a third that you couldn't with a root.

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1 hour ago, EssentialTension said:

With roots, octaves, fifths, your intonation needs to be more exact. With thirds, especially if you are playing blues or related music with another 'fretless' person, e.g. slide guitarist, it can get spicy, maybe in a good way. I'm not sure how this is real but it is my experience that you can take liberties with a third that you couldn't with a root.

Probably because in just temperament some notes are quite far off from even temperament (e.g. fretted instrument). This is particularly true of thirds while the fourths and fifths are close in both approaches.

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There's a world of difference between a bedroom fretless YouTube virtuoso and a proper working musician. I don't kid myself. If you cant play the whole instrument in tune without your eyes glued to the fretboard.....you're not a fretless  bass player. 

Funny how many people misread stuff. Obviously players GLANCE at their hand when necessary. But that's all you can do for very short moments if your reading moderately difficult chords or dots. That's what proper musicians have to do in real life folks. You cant read a chart whilst looking at your hands guys. If you are purely an ear player and never read paper you have to be able to take your eyes off the neck and play in tune.

Any plonker can call themselves 'a fretless bass player' so if that's what you want to call your self then it's not illegal (perhaps it should be?). So I was technically wrong on that front. Any one who actually shares a house with a fretless bass can describe themselves as 'a fretless bass player'..... if they have picked it up at least once! Fretless bass BEGINNER or DUFFER would be more honest though. 

Intonation on a fretless EB is actually far harder than a cello/violin or DB because of the lack of reference points with the body of the instrument. However, a small number of people get it right. Most don't (me included). Whatever. I'll leave it up to you to decide whether you're a fretless bass player....... or a fretless bass poser. 

 

 

 

 

 

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4 hours ago, EssentialTension said:

 

A conversation I am fortunate enough never to have had ...

Random person: 'You're trying to play fretless bass [or upright bass, delete as applicable].'

Me: 'Thanks for noticing.'

Random person: 'But almost everything you played was well down below the E on the G-string.'

Me: 'That's true.'

Random person: 'And you didn't close your eyes and I definitely saw you look at the fretboard fingerboard.'

Me: 'So what?'

Random person: 'It means you're not a fretless bass player.'

Me: 'Whatever ... and don't bother coming to our next gig.'

 

Relax. I won't be coming to your next gig.

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I sense unease in your posts. I would like to think, if a poster - any poster - had greater experience or skill in an area, they would share their knowledge in a positive way, rather than belittle others. I think there's a danger of aloofness or even misplaced superiority. Reading between the lines (no pun intended) your knowledge is incomplete. And its true to say (hard to argue against) that "you don't know what you don't know".

On that basis, I am having trouble taking the above 2 posts seriously.

 

 

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Posted (edited)

Play lined or unlined fretless, play looking at every note or some or none, do vibrato and slides to your heart’s content or don’t, do whatever you like, but most importantly don’t ever be put off playing because you find any of the things people have said above difficult. I play lined fretless, I do vibrato and slides (not too much but I like it so why not?), I look at the notes but am beginning to look less but so what? It doesn’t improve the quality of the songs I play. Play whichever bass you want in the manner you fancy and feel comfortable with, one person’s method or technique is not another’s, and there is no definitive ‘right’ way to play or learn, do your own thing. I’m not having a pop at anyone or their advice, I’m just trying to stress that it’s easy to be put off by an apparent ‘orthodoxy’ but then I would say that, I’m an old punk who was told as a child and young teenager that I would never be able to play an instrument, let alone be in a band, for a multitude of reasons, all of which vanished when punk came along and suddenly I was in bands playing instruments. There is no right or wrong way with something creative, or maybe there is, just don’t ever think you are doing anything wrong if you are playing your instrument, by all means seek advice and try it but never worry about doing stuff your own way.

Edited by Frank Blank
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