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Learning to play fretless


Tim Mayock

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I just bought a fretless bass. I have been a fretted player forever. I usually play folk rock pop stuff. I would like a educational jazz video if anyone can recommend one. I want to get advice as to what practice techniques may help me. Does practicing with a tuner in line help? Do fretless players usually watch their left hand? I bought a Rick Turner Renaissance bass with fret markers.

 

Thanks in advance

 

Tim Mayock

http://www.themayocks.com

 

Hear The Mayocks on Rhapsody and Itunes

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In my expereince with frettless basses it is imparitive to keep intonated. There is almost nothing more agrivating than a frettless bass player who is out of tune with the rest of the band. I assume you already know this but I had to post it due to these kinds of situations I have been placed in.
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I don't play a fretless, but I would imagine it's just a case of getting the feel for where each fret is, like you would play a fretted without constantly looking at the neck and knowing which fret you would be playing, if you were playing a fretted.

Also having a good ear would also help greatly I would have thought, so you can tell easily that you're playing the note your intending to play.

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Other than for tuning the bass I don't see the tuner inline as having any value. The ear is the best judge of being in tune with the rest of the music that is being played. If your tone is dark and thus the upper midrange isn't helping you tell, you should still be able to tell whether your lower overtones are centering with everybody else's chords and notes.

 

I went to fretless almost immediately when getting into bass. I'd say what helped most was playing with others, practicing using good fingering technique (don't use that #3 finger alone so often like gutarists do - check out Simandl), learn to make good tones at slow speeds (combination of relaxed fretting hand, good use of plucking hand, and a bass that is set up properly for your physical approach as concerns truss rod and bridge), and playing the bass a lot so that "muscle memory" was established to easily get me in the vicinity of being in tune when I wasn't looking at the lines.

 

I also spend a fair amount of time playing alone making sure my relative positioning anywhere on the neck doing double and triple stops produces mellifluous sounds. That too builds muscle memory I think, so that in a band context the chords are not jarring. Today, my biggest challenge is playing tunefully on the upper reaches of the neck, nearest the pickups. There, very small movement of a finger can affect the tuning more. The fretlines are close together, and it is sometimes obvious that I could stand to get more accurate here - especially when playing double and triple stops.

 

Have fun, it's all good! Just put the time in noticing what is going on and making improvements : }

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Yep, practice practice practice is the key!

 

If you've been using proper left hand technique (1-2-4 for rhythm section playing and 1-2-3-4 for fills/unison lines/solos), and have been practicing your scales, you're ahead of the game.

 

The only real trick with fretless playing is listening. You need to be comfortable enough with you're playing that you're not thinking "am I out of tune???" and get nervous.

 

One of my favorite intonation exercises was first bestowed upon me by the great Ed Friedland:

 

Starting in the key of G, play diatonic root-5th-10th arpeggios up the major scale. Always play the root on the E string, the 5th on the A string, and the 10th on the G string:

 

G-D-B, A-E-C, B-F#-D, C-G-E, D-A-F#, E-B-G,

F#-C-A, G-D-B

 

Play each arpeggio up and down, using your first finger for the root. Practice this exercise through all 12 keys, and use the most economical fingering possible while keeping your wrist straight.

 

Once you get that down, add the 7th to the arpeggios as well. Have fun!

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Originally posted by BenLoy:

One of my favorite intonation exercises was first bestowed upon me by the great Ed Friedland:

 

Starting in the key of G, play diatonic root-5th-10th arpeggios up the major scale. Always play the root on the E string, the 5th on the A string, and the 10th on the G string:

 

G-D-B, A-E-C, B-F#-D, C-G-E, D-A-F#, E-B-G,

F#-C-A, G-D-B

 

Play each arpeggio up and down, using your first finger for the root. Practice this exercise through all 12 keys, and use the most economical fingering possible while keeping your wrist straight.

 

Once you get that down, add the 7th to the arpeggios as well. Have fun!

Oooooh, I like the sound of this one!

 

:thu:

spreadluv

 

Fanboy? Why, yes! Nordstrand Pickups and Guitars.

Messiaen knew how to parlay the funk.

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Originally posted by greenboy:

practicing using good fingering technique (don't use that #3 finger alone so often like gutarists do - check out Simandl)

While the rest of that post is spot on, I don't necessarily agree with this bit so much. I'd encourage you to use all 4 fingers when playing electric (URB is a different story). It will help you play all those silly fast bits.
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I use all four fingers. As I said I just don't use #3 AS MUCH as the typical guitarist. When I started out I did, and several times I eventually got into increased pain and swelling. This really hurt my triple stops and low position spread.

 

So I re-trained myself to use #4 in its place whenever practical and got smart about pivoting around my thumb. For awhile I was very strict with myself because Im knew I had to build a good habit. Now I don't have to think about it.

 

Precisely because I want to be able to play fast and fluid and last for 8 hours at a time, I use my #3 for when it is needed, knowing that it has liabilities. It's the nature of the design of the hand. Anecdotal evidence suggested to me back when I was starting that some players used all four fingers for years for EVERYTHING, and low position big spreads too, and some of them later on developed debilitating problems that really took them out of commission.

 

I also saw a grrrl who played guitar like this: great economy of motion, very facile, a real fine player. That helped me stick with the plan to re-build my habits.

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on very useful exercise for fretless is to record some exercises slowly on fretted bass, then double them on fretless. You'll notice that when you're spot on, they sound like one bass, when you're very slightly off it sounds chorused, and when you're miles off it sounds dreadful. Oh, and if you're using casette to record to, make sure you record tuning notes at the beginning as well, so that you've got a fighting chance of staying in tune if you play the tape back on a different machine... :) But your best bet is using a looper of some kind.

 

It's really important to record yourself when learning fretless. The human ear has an amazing ability to hear what it wants to hear not what's actually there. I've had students turn up telling me that their intonation was 'not a problem, we don't need to work on that', only to be horrified when I loop them playing and play it back to them... 'DO I REALLY SOUND LIKE THAT??????' sorry, you do... :D

 

Playing a lined fretless is a combination of three things - sight, muscle memory and your ear. The problem with relying fully on your ear is that you end up correcting to pitch each time and never hitting the right note first time - so the second half of every note is great, but the first bit is out. No good. So while you're practicing these exercises, don't correct yourself. Listen. If you're off, be aware of how your hand feels - what's pulling you out of tune? Do you need to adjust your hand position, or is it going to require a slight position shift. Avoid stretching for notes on fretless, as when your hand is extended in any direction you have less control over what you can then do with the note. Pivoting your hand using your thumb as the anchor point is a much better way to get there.

 

Have fun!

 

Steve

www.stevelawson.net (lots of fretless recordings here... :) )

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One very simple bit of advice: you will always finger a note on a fretless slightly higher up the neck than on a fretted. Remember, on a fretted bass, you finger a note behind the fret, pressing the string onto it. On a fretless, your finger is the fret, so you finger directly on the fret line/position marker. If you finger a note slightly behind that point as you would on a fretted bass, you will always be out of tune. Bear that in mind.

"I had to have something, and it wasn't there. I couldn't go down the street and buy it, so I built it."

 

Les Paul

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About ten years ago I went from dabbling at the fretless to playing it exclusively. This ended up being both very tricky and rewarding as then I was playing in six different bands!

 

Nonetheless....I struggled with intonation for a while until I received a very valuable lesson from a very learned and famous bassist.

 

The lesson was: a great part of the appeal of the fretless, it's "sound", is not so much that strings in the wood thing, but rather that the fretless bass sound is an extension of the soul's voice. In that matter, one should stop worrying (fretting?) over proper intonation. As he put it....intonate with the heart not the mind.

 

Now, at the time, this all sounded a bit Obi Wan Kenobi to me, too. But it did really work. His advice was to not look at the fingerboard, to ignore the fretlines and not to be afraid of bad inonation; learn how to adapt your fingers to adjust intonation.........after all nobody is perfect all of the time, and no instrument, save for electronic ones, are truely in tune across their entire range. He advised practicing to a drone, using a drone from open strings to "intonate" the feeling of my playing.

 

Needlesstosay.....it worked. My intonation on the fretless was one thing which led to studio calls and recommendations which led to my work on commercial jingles, sessions and such.

Now I play an unlined fretless.......and yes, there are moments of questionable intonation, but I have learned how to adjust and adapt those....intonating with my heart, so to speak.

 

Max

...it's not the arrow, it's the Indian.
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Originally posted by Max Valentino:

... one should stop worrying (fretting?) over proper intonation....

Thanks Max - I don't play fretless, but I love a bad pun when I see one !!

 

Tom

www.stoneflyrocks.com

Acoustic Color

 

Be practical as well as generous in your ideals. Keep your eyes on the stars and keep your feet on the ground. - Theodore Roosevelt

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Just pulled my URB out of the closet yesterday, haven't played it in months. The first thing I do after a layoff is pull out Ed Friedland's "Building Walking Basslines" and start from the beginning playing along with the CD. Starting at the beginning keeps it simple and lets me warm-up and gradually get more intense. Playing along with the CD also gives me the reference to play in tune. It felt great to get the URB out, it seemed like it was time to do something different in my playing.

 

Wally

I have basses to play, places to be and good music to make!
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Thanks very much for your replies. I played the fretless on a bunch of songs last night at rehearsal. The bass comes with a light boingy set of strings on it. It responds to a light touch using your right hand as far away from the bridge as possible. I played using my thumb for some ballad stuff and that was very impressive sounding.If i play this as i regularly play freted basses it does a whaaaaaaaa that is a little over the top.

 

I found my head really locked into looking down at my left hand. I sing harmony on many of the songs I tried the bass on and was insecure when I had to look away from the fretboard to sing.

 

This is an awesome instrument! very acoustic sounding I would highly recommend this bass Rick Turner Bass

http://www.themayocks.com

 

Hear The Mayocks on Rhapsody and Itunes

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Excellent thread! Thanks to all for the advice. I think I'll spend some time this weekend playing these exercises and keeping these philosophies in mind. I definitely need work on my "intonation paranoia." :D

 

Thanks again!!!

 

:thu:

The Black Knight always triumphs!

 

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I like being devil's advocate. :evil:

 

If you play your fretless perfectly in tune, no one will even notice that you are playing a fretless. The out-of-tuneness is part of the character of the instrument. Within reason. ;)

 

Do we complain that a bassoon has a scratchy tone?

Or that a clarinet sounds like a different instrument in the low range than it does in the high range?

 

There is also something called "expressive intonation" where you play an F# higher than a Gb.

 

Just listen to yourself play and you will make the necessary adjustments.

 

And when you practice, make sure that there is a reference point, a drone, a record, an open string. I often practice sitting next to the piano. I will play a chord on the piano, hold down the sustain pedal and then practice something on the bass.

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I'd like to make a slightly outrageous practice suggestion.

 

1) Don't tune your bass before you start playing.

2) If it is in tune, make it a little out of tune, for instance: make the D string a little too high and the A string a little too low. (just a little).

3) Now play your bass. Play a tune or a bassline that you know. DO NOT look at the neck.

4) Listen to what you are playing and see if you can play it in tune.

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Anyone who has ever succesfully played in a wind or bowed-strings ensemble, big band, orchestra or sung in a choir learns that singing in tune is not just adhering to even temperament, which is not entirely consonant, but was developed to allow more modulation and thus free composers and players of the harmonic constraints of Just and Pure tunings.

 

A few years ago I posited on TBL that in such ensembles mentioned above that mixed roughly even temper-instruments (pianos and fretted instruments, which due to overtones, neck bow, stiking mechanism, and bending of string to fret) with voices, fretless, horns, non-fretted strings etc, that the BEST players worked to what the tonal "center of gravity" was at any given moment, and what was more apparent in the mix was what one would attempt to tune in consonance with.

 

...So, for instance, if one is playing in a big band sections are going at it and the piano and gutar is back in the mix, it is more likely that a GOOD horn player is hearing THEIR section and falling in with its tendencies toward Pure tuning, where the overtones of various chord voices are not beating against each other. Then, should sections drop out and that same horn player is going with the rhythm section, they tend more to conform with the "roughly" Even Temperament that is dominating, especially when playing lines that are shared with the others.

 

Big choirs also are really thinking about consonance in Pure and Just intonated terms, and often have no even-tempered instruments around to even worry about.

 

Of course my little observation was met with great debate from someone who seemed to be insisting that naturally-occuring overtone structures didn't MATTER, and that Even Temperament should ALWAYS be The Ideal regardless of an ensemble's instrumental/voice makeup, the sytle and period of music being presented, or the consonance shortcomings OF Even Temperament.

 

For us here: of course guitarists bend notes when they can, and tune for the best average to work around the flaws of physical instrument design, and to a lesser extent so do fretted electric bassists.

 

Ferinstances: Jeremy has remarked before about bending a Major Third harmonic (4th or 16th fret) by pressing the string lightly behind the nut to bring it into tune with what is going on around him. This is an example of adhering to an even-tempered ambience.

 

Sometimes a bassist will adjust to playing with say a sax section or sax or vocalist - either because he is exposed in unisons or complimentary lines and the other(s) are playing toward Pure tunings. Or, because they seem to have crap embrochures and plugged ears - and can't HEAR either ; }

.
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Maybe that isn't such an outrageous suggestion, Jeremy. I know I've not had time to tune my fretless at gigs for the first set when the club had some electrical or logistics problem (entire collection of power tools and welders on stage), blocked access for load-in, all windows next to the stage open in the winter, etc).

 

No biggie. Just use the ear, and feel the consonance (lack of beating against a barre-chord, etc) if you can't exactly hear what is going on that well. Made it through the first sets each time just beutifully - and anyway, the guitarists were beating against each other like huge moths trapped in a bugzapper. Finding WHICH guitarist was the guy to go with, or even individual chords actually negated any worries about ME being in tune ...Sometimes there WAS no right tonal center anyway ; }

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Originally posted by jeremyc:

And when you practice, make sure that there is a reference point, a drone, a record, an open string. I often practice sitting next to the piano. I will play a chord on the piano, hold down the sustain pedal and then practice something on the bass.

Great tip. I'm just about to jump into the fretless world (when I get the remainder of the balance for the Godin paid off next week) This is one thing I noticed while messing around with the fretless in the store. As I played a line I was familiar with, I started "walking" my way out of tune... just a tiny bit... but by the time I'd played it through a few times, I noticed that I continually compensated each time for the "new" root, and ended up being out of tune. Hope that makes sense.

 

I'm really looking forward to spending some time with this bass. Should have it in time to take to the ol' family Thanksgiving Eattoofugginmuch-athon.

-Mike

...simply stating.
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