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PatrickJ

Getting Started with Fretless

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Posted (edited)

For 2021 I've decided I want to go fretless, it's something I've been thinking about for a while and I figured I'd give it a go.

I'm currently borrowing a unlined fretless from another member of this here forum and had a play with it last night - actually finding the notes wasn't as challenging as I thought it would be, but I say that after only playing some relatively easy things down in the money zone.  I've not started to get up in the register or playing any thing complex.

My main worry with playing fretless is not having a strong enough ear to be able to hear that I'm marginally sharp or flat on a note.   Does anyone have any tips / exercises for improving intonation and getting to grips with fretless in general?    Slides, vibrato, harmonics etc. will all come later for now I just went to get a really good feel for fretting the right pitches.

Edited by PatrickJ

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I got my first fretless a couple of months ago, and had similar fears. In fact, coming from the drums I think I have really terrible pitch sense, but I've found fretless easier than I *imagined*; I'm also playing unlined, just side dots.

I find I can hear when it's 'off' from the beating, or the angry cat sounds and rolling my finger is often enough to bring the note in.

I think it's a great idea to stay off the slides and the vibrato as much as possible because that doesn't help with accurate stopping and getting used to the way the 'notes' get closer up the dusty end is super important. She says having spent a week tabbing out 'Flight of the Cosmic Hippo' which is of course a total slide-festival.

I've found it useful to 'find octaves' all over the neck, you can SUPER hear whether they're 'in' or 'out' and they help with knowing where the edges of 'boxes' or whatever are and how they shrink as they go up the neck.

I'm sure people who can play will have better advice, but as someone learning the same those are my thinks.

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I've heard people recommend playing with a tuner, but I'm not a big fan of that because it becomes wasy to rely on watching it rather than using your ears.

I'd suggest finding a way to hold a chord and play scales and arpeggios over it. That way you can hear when you are slipping out of tune.  I'd also recommend using open strings as a way to reorientate yourself, as you know they will be in tune. Double Bass players do this all the time.

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Posted (edited)

I’ve just jumped back into the bass after 20 years + away. 
I have also gone fretless after always being intrigued by it and loving the sound.

I did get fortunate and got a lined model I’d always admired but I do have an unlined arriving tomorrow,  I digress 
 

I’ve been an admirer of Tony Franklin for a good while and after watching through his videos on YouTube decided to purchase his fretless foundation  on ‘TrueFire’ 

I wouldn’t call them ‘lessons’ as much as ‘Guides to improving’ exercises. His easy manner and attitude have certainly helped  me more in the last couple of weeks than any pitch perfect practice by the book. 
 

It is of course necessary to hit the right note at the right time  but as it’s pointed out in one of the lessons if you miss a note, play it with conviction “that’s rock n roll” 

 

I’m not affiliated with TrueFire or have any gain from linking this video, it’s just given me a more relaxed mindset to the fretless ‘scary unknown’ bass 

Edited by Bunion
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One thing I forgot to add, I’ve found that you need to have ‘soft fingers’ on the left hand for that mwah. Also playing over the neck with the right hand is the sweet spot softly or digging in. 
Round wound strings are key too, medium/ light strings are best I’ve found. 
Dean markley sr2000’s are good

DR high beams work well too

I've found I like the DR low riders best though YMMV  but the strings can make the bass sing. 
 

I got my stingray with flats and just didn’t like it at all. 



 

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Thanks for the tips so far guys.

This afternoon I created a track that just plays the chords from the C Major scale and I'm playing the arpeggio's over them, slowly.  Happily I'm able to tell when I'm sharp / flat better than I thought I would be able too.

I've also strated to play them over an Autumn Leaves backing track - a nice little work out.

Up to about fret 10 I'm doing OK.  Beyond that I'm struggling with the finger placements.

@Bunion that TrueFire course looks pretty good.  It's only $16 at the moment so I may give it a go.

 

 

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Full confession: I don't really play much fretless, but I do play upright, which suffers from the same problem of not having any frets...

The way that I work on intonation is to use a drone; you can use Garageband or similar and find a synth sound that's as close to a plain sine wave as possible.

Make a loop of a sustained pitch and make that note your key centre, then work on playing the major scale in that key really slowly (minims/half notes at 40bpm is a good place to begin) and you'll begin to hear when each degree of the scale is in tune relative to the drone. Some notes of the scale (root, 4th, 5th, octave) will be easier to gauge than others. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Another key feature of fretless bass is vibrato - I learned a lot by slowing down recordings of Jaco (other fretless players are available) and really honing in on what his vibrato sounds like at 50% speed before bringing the tempo up.

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1 hour ago, Bunion said:

A great pedal for exactly that 

2BA80049-B4B8-4257-8884-11B1B0E0BC74.jpeg

Well, assuming you can play the reference pitch perfectly in the first place 

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Posted (edited)

The first thing to remember about playing fretless is that you are probably always going to be out of tune to some degree. Get used to it :lol: I have slightly been out of tune since 86.

Seriously, though. It is a constant concern. Hearing yourself on stage, making sure your bass is properly intonated, using your ears constantly not your eyes (using a tuner doesn't work EVER as it is always a few seconds behind you and what you are seeing is where you were two seconds ago and not where you are now - also lined fretlesses can be bear traps - don't trust the feckers), understanding that it may not be  you that is out of tune but it may be a saxophonist or singer clashing with the piano or guitar, understanding that there are ways that your tone can play tricks on your ears so you sound out of tune when you are not and in tune when you are out. The 'secret' of good intonation, and, yes, it is not hard to play in tune, is to understand that you NEVER EVER get to the point where it is not a concern. You will never have 'nailed' intonation. It requires your attention FOR THE REST OF YOUR PLAYING CAREER :lol:, not because you are in any way a substandard player but because that is simply how it is with fretless instruments.

Having played fretless bass with an orchestra (Karl Jenkins' The Peacemakers), I have sat next to a viola section. The simple fact is that, listened to close up, they are all slightly out of tune with each other. Nevertheless, the overall effect is not one of being out of tune but one of a subtle chorusing - the whole is greater than the sum of it's parts. With fretless bass (and double bass), you are constantly making microtonal adjustments to stay on piste. Sometimes this is a slight twist of the knee, at other times, you have one leg in the air and are flailing around like a crazy person. It only really matters if you are recording, otherwise, no-one notices you unless you catch fire.

Edited by Bilbo
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Posted (edited)

I’ve played most of my gigs on fretless, but I’ve now moved on to fretted/short scale... it’s an age thing.

My one tip is... practice in the dark. I started off relying on my eyes too much... an unlined fretless but with side dots. First gig I did under stage lights and the side dots disappeared. Much better to develop your ears and your touch anyway.

I have three levels of inonation errors:

1- only I noticed

2- the band notice

3- the audience notice

If you can keep to 1 with an occasional 2 then that’s a result.

Edited by Trueno

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4 hours ago, Trueno said:

I’ve played most of my gigs on fretless, but I’ve now moved on to fretted/short scale... it’s an age thing.

My one tip is... practice in the dark. I started off relying on my eyes too much... an unlined fretless but with side dots. First gig I did under stage lights and the side dots disappeared. Much better to develop your ears and your touch anyway.

I have three levels of inonation errors:

1- only I noticed

2- the band notice

3- the audience notice

If you can keep to 1 with an occasional 2 then that’s a result.

what about 1.5 The band are too polite to say they noticed and 2.5 the band notice and are really critical about it :P

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48 minutes ago, caitlin said:

what about 1.5 The band are too polite to say they noticed and 2.5 the band notice and are really critical about it :P

The rhythm guitarist was not shy about letting me know. In fact he used to mirror my notes when I was higher up the fret board so everyone could hear any intonation issues.

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