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practicing intonation on fretless


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I just got two things: the Simandl book, and a chromatic tuner. It occurred to me that the thing to do was to do Simandl on fretless, killing two birds with one stone--learning the method, & 'shedding intonation. Right now I'm using the tuner to make sure that my fingers are learning the right places to be in each position (then practicing the position exercises faithfully). I think this will work well.


A few questions:


1) Has anyone here tried this, specifically? How did it work? Any pointers?


2) It's a bit much to expect every note to sound right at dead zero in tune on the tuner; there's got to be a "window" of functionally acceptable intonation. How many cents off in either direction is too many? (Things definitely get noticeable at about +/-20.)


3) On fretted I usually use both 3- and 4-digit fingerings; Simandl's positions, of course, are all based on 3-digit fingerings. (A great thread on this a while back, btw!) Would it be better to stick with the 3-digit concept more strictly on fretless? It seems to me that this would both build a more reliable muscle memory of positions (leading to more reliable intonation), and avoid iffy notes played by a stretched-out 4th digit (also leading to more reliable intonation).


I just love the fretless bass. I could even see it becoming my #1 bass. My intonation is pretty good (I thought it was; the tuner is confirmating that it's pretty good, although not at all perfect). I'd like to be dead solid on the thing. Can I get an "amen"?

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I don't know anything about the "Simandi" method, but on fretless, I definitely use my pinky less. Big slides up the neck I tend to do with my ring finger the most, and sustained notes, I tent to play with my ring finger as well, since I can get the best vibrato with it. It's a little harder to rock your middle or index fingers back and forth in place. I only use my pinky when I reallly need it for a four-fret stretch.


I had the frets pulled from a fretted neck on my first fretless, so I had cheater lines to learn intonation by.



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The way to improve your intonation is by critical listening. If you have friends that will tolerate your getting your pitch together during rehearsals, great. You have to know what a note sounds like when it is in tune, not as easy as it sounds. You may not be playing the root of the chord (it happens). If you play in a band with, let's say horn players, the pitch can and will shift considerably.

The tuner thing could work against you. You get used to using your eyes and not your ears. Also, if you try it on the gig you will find that the tuner is not nearly fast enough. Practicing to a reference pitch would give you a better idea about your intonation.

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I would advise against a tuner, since on fretless you won't be working with tempered intonation. That's the tough thing about fretless instruments...if you play a A# in the key of F#, it won't be in the same place as the A# in the key of B would. Use those ears.


Practice to a drone tone or a sustained chord on a keyboard...or with records. Listen carefully.

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When I read this, the first thinks that came to my mind, BenLoy said. Both things he said are exactly the way I think.


As far as keeping to Simandl fingerings...If you do this, you'll find yourself shifting up and down the neck often...like all the time. Not a bad thing, but not as necessary on electric. You might try playing exercises with Simandl's concepts, and then change to a more idiomatic string crossing way.


To continue BenLoy's idea about the drone...


Every interval in the major scale bears a unique relationship to the tonal center...that is...the root.


If you have access to a keyboard try this...use a sustained stop, like organ or strings. Hold down the root of whatever key you are practicing...tape it down. Now, play a Simandl exercise slowly, tuning each note to the drone note. Some will clash...they aren't harmony. Accept them in all their beauty.


Also...one of the big problems in learning to play a fretless instrument is "static" practice. In other words, you miss a shift, a note is badly out of tune, so you stop time and make a small correction. That is not helping you.


What you need is "dynamic" practice. You miss a shift, a note is badly out of tune you back up and play both...in-tune note to out-of-tune note until the problem is fixed. Do it "in time" (like with a metronome...also called "in tempo") rather than without counting. I call this "2 note" practice.


Then, add more notes before and after the trouble spot...all in-time.


Also...practice everything you do without looking at fingerboard. Trust you ears...you'll find that already you will play in tune better with your eyes closed.

"Let's raise the level of this conversation" -- Jeremy Cohen, in the Picasso Thread.


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I read something somewhere (yes, I realize how useful that is to you! ;) ) that Steve Bailey recommended practicing fretless in the dark (!) to force you to use your ears and your fingers to hear and feel where you should be playing the notes.


If I can figure out where I got that from I'll post a link or a reference. Wish I could be more specific!


BTW, I played in the dark with a drummer once (fretted, though, not fretless) and it was a great listening experience for both of us.





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Thanks for the reality check. I think the best thing is to keep it simple. The tuner is most useful, I think, as a reference for checking from time to time to see whether what sounds to me in tune really is, e.g. on octaves. It seems that my ear is trustworthy, so now I've got to work on trusting it. As for positions, it's probably best to be able to play both 3- and 4-finger positions, & then just incorporate what works.
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