Another Fretless Intonation Question

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by paintballjunkie, Mar 13, 2006.

  1. paintballjunkie


    Jul 27, 2005
    I've been playing scales using my tuner and most of the time i'm within ahout + or - 5 cents of the pitch. Should I being striving for total accuracy on every note that I play? Because if so, that seems a little impossible to me right now.
  2. MichaelScott


    Jul 27, 2004
    Moorpark CA
    Just play on the lines.
  3. A good rule of thumb, if it sounds good to you, the musician, it sounds good to the audience.

    Thats my personal approach, although i do go for complete accuracy
  4. Zachass

    Zachass Peavey Partizan

    Forget using your tuner, just use your ears. It's the only way to really learn intonation and its a better indicator of how you're doing. If it sounds out to you, fix it, otherwise its good.
  5. Bassist4Life


    Dec 17, 2004
    Buffalo, NY
    There are a lot of things that have an impact on your intonation. One of them is how hard you attack the string. If you pluck the string hard, you will notice that the pitch goes sharp, then flat, and then in tune. Be aware of little things like this.

    A great resource for fretless playing is Michael Manring. Check out his "Ask a Pro" forum and you find some helpful info. Also, there are some great interviews with Michael on the Internet where you can pick up some fretless playing tips. I learned that Michael practices with a tuner a lot.

    Gary Willis is another guy to check out on fretless playing. He has a very strong understanding on the issue of fretless intonation.

    I hope this leads you in some good directions.

  6. paintballjunkie


    Jul 27, 2005
    so even they don't have perfect intonation?
  7. GSRLessard14

    GSRLessard14 All-Things-Claypool Enthusiast

    Jun 23, 2005
    Newington, CT
    Really? I thought that the lines on a fretless are where the frets would be, so you would place your finger so the edge of your finger is right behind the line, as you would a fretted bass.

    Are you supposed to play directly on the line?
  8. frets=the note being played, note that the tone you get on a fretted bass isnt really relative to where your funger is behind the fret(not true just a generalization dont bash me) i play fretless, and the lines are pretty much a "guide" worry about what sounds right to you, not exactly super perfect pitch.
  9. It depends on the bass, and on how it's intonated. Regardless, just playing on the lines won't give you accurate intonation. Only your ears can do that.
  10. beattycx


    Mar 14, 2006
    Tune your bass by ear all the time

    Use a tuner for the low string, then tune the rest by 5-0 or 5-7 harmonics. When you do this, listen to the notes/harmonics you've rung and how they lay on top of each other. If you hear the harmonic rise and fall, they're out of phase, or rather you're out of tune. I'm sure you know all this anyway.

    Regardless, it's the same for playing fretless. Play with recorded music or other people and listen very carefully to what you're playing.

    Eventually, it will become painfully obvious to you when you ring sharp or flat, just like when you tune up (by ear). You'll hear that awful "wawawawawa", then you know when to compensate. If the "wawawawa" is slow, you're close. If it's fast, you're more than an eigth of a step off, try again.

    In summary, you have to train your ear to be able to discern when your note is out of phase with whatever's going on around you, then adjust. As you get better and better at playing with correct intonation, then muscle memory kicks in and you'll be playing in tune easy.

    Edit: wanted to add, use your opens to check intonation. Obviously you can't always do this depending on the key but still.
  11. Bassist4Life


    Dec 17, 2004
    Buffalo, NY
    Having great intonation is something that even the best musicians work hard to have and keep. I am a public school orchestra director and I deal with intonation issues all day long. My primary instrument in college was double bass (classical). Every musician in the music department (not just the students) worked hard on intonation daily.

    Something to keep in mind, intonaton is relative. The Major 3rd interval drives me nuts on my fretted bass. When I play Major 3rd's, they sound really out of tune! I need to bend the root note up to hear the Major 3rd in tune (and the intonation on my bass is adjusted properly).

    For example; if there are two trumpets playing a Major 3rd, the person playing the 3rd needs to play it just a little bit lower than normal to sound in-tune. Unfortunately, you can't lower the 3rd on a fretted bass. This is why I am tempted to bend the root up until the Major 3rd is in-tune.

    I've seen (in a video) Bill Frisell push on the back of his guitar neck when playing a chord with open strings because he said, "It sounds out of tune."

    I read in an interview that Michael Manring plays intervals with a "drone". I used to do this when playing scales on double bass. I would make my keyboard sustain a "C" using the organ setting while playing a C major scale over it. You can really hear the intervals resonate in this way. If you record yourself while doing this exercise, it will be a real eye-opener. Give it a try. Try not to judge yourself harshly. Be aware of the intonation and fix it.

    As Todd Johnson says to almost everyone in his forum, "Play slow."

    Hope I helped a little bit.

  12. Joebone

    Joebone Supporting Member

    Oct 31, 2005
    Los Angeles
    I am not much of a bass player, and don't have fretless chops, but I have played some trombone over the years, and suspect that what's going on here is the difference between what frets dictate as compared with the realities of a given note perhaps being in a different place depending on what key you are in.

    Consider the piano - which is tuned to an "even-tempered" scale that reflects well-considered compromises concerning relative pitch. But if you follow the mathematical relationships as cycles per second double for octaves and do whatever else they do throughout the overtone series (sorry, I'm too innumerate to give you the details at this time of night) and other overtones fall into place accordingly, you will find that a single "note" may actually be in two different places,depending on what key you are in; that Fsharp and G flat may actually be different critters! So while certain chords on a piano may feature "beat" frequencies as pitches that are just a wee bit off interact and generate a rhythmic pulse, a fiddle section playing that same chord, in tune, will give you a big fat cloud of sound with even-order harmonics predominating, and no beats.

    I'm assuming that the convention of frets reflects compromises similar to piano tuning - selecting fixed relative pitches that do pretty well as you cycle through various key sigantures. But this is not the same as unfretted string players -- or trombone players! -- making the microadjustments that permit truly accurate intonation in a given harmonic context.

    So I'd think that working with a tuner on occasion could be a useful learning tool, but at the end of the day you have to let your ears govern finger placement in each playing context. And on fretted basses, I sometimes find myself pulling or babying certain notes just a wee bit to bring them better into my sense of "tune," even if the open strings check out as "in-tune" relative too each other. I suspect many other players do the same thing.

    This has me thinking I should pick up a fretless and start messing around...
  13. Geo313


    Jul 17, 2004
    Something I do to practice and try to get a more accurate intonation, is to pick a scale or mode and play each and every note of it "against" the open string that works as the tonic. You can do this ascending and descending on the same string as in the example I uploaded here, which works more in a melodic way. You can also play the open E and start playing the rest of the notes on any other string, i.e. E (open), F# (9th fret A string), E (open), G# (6th fret D string), etc. without tuner. Doing it this way you have the plus of letting the refference (open) note ring, so you work more harmonically. If you did some ear training, trust your ears.
    With a little of dedication and work you can figure out a whole bunch of "your very own" practice exercises like these ones I mentioned... hey, I didn't invent this, sure someone did it before.

    Attached Files:

  14. amper


    Dec 4, 2002
    If you do this, you will end up with strings that are not intonated as well as they could be, because tempered intonation has intervals that not quite perfect, while tuning with harmonics will cause you to adjust your strings pitch until they are tuned to perfect intervals.
  15. amper


    Dec 4, 2002
    Yes, you should be striving for perfect intonation. You will probably not ever have perfect intonation, but if you strive for it, you will eventually get close enough that it won't matter.

    Which is to say, like some many others...use your ears. Your ears are your friends.

    Bear in mind that you should be taking advantage of the ability of a fretless instrument to allow you to make micro-adjustments to your intonation, whereas with a fretted instrument, you are always "stuck" with tempered intonation.
  16. Blues Cat

    Blues Cat Supporting Member

    May 28, 2005
    Katy, Tx
    I played w/an orchestra 2 weeks ago, full horns, grand piano & tympany. I found I had to shoot a little flat compared to when I play w/an all guitar band w/my fretless. I made the adjustment pretty quickly & the music degreed directors didn't say anything about my intonation which I'll take as a compliment.

    Is this common?

    If I had a fretted bass I would have had to adjust my tuner down & retune I'm speculating.
  17. BMGecko


    Sep 5, 2002
    Albuquerque, NM
    Try for all the accuracy you can handle, and all the accuracy that people you play with demand. Fretless intonation isn't that hard to get, if you take the time to play all you can.

    I've played fretless since '89, and I once had a friend who commented after a gig that it didn't SOUND like I was playing a fretless. He thought I should be using the fretlessness of the bass much more. I took it as a compliment, though it wasn't intended quite that way.

    Singing along with scales, arpeggios, lines you come up with, scatting, and such can help. You've been hearing and talking (and perhaps singing) since you were a child, all that background can help you if you truly "find your voice".

    You can also try playing chords and double stops to check your intonation, as well as building your own ear to how different intervals sound. When playing chords, try playing the inversions, those are fingerbusters and they will improve your intonation because you have to use different finger pressure and placement to get the "proper" sound intended.

    Playing with chords also helps your ears to hear the harmony, which will help your songwriting/composition... I'm getting well off subject.

  18. Otso


    Mar 6, 2006
    One practice I have used while playing the violin, is to pick a tune which you know very well, at first play each note in same length and have a small pause between each note, during which you sing the following note in your head. After you get the intonation accurate that way, then play the tune with the correct rhythm.
  19. anonymous278347457

    anonymous278347457 Guest

    Feb 12, 2005
    ive always wondered why it oscilates when its out...
    im sure it has something to do with the slightly differant wavelengths or something right?
  20. It's what's called a "beat frequency". If you have a 30hz tone and a 31hz tone and start them out in step with each other, the 31hz tone will vibrate slighty faster. If you plot out the sine waves, you'll see that the tones go in and out of phase with each other at a 1hz rate, or the difference between the two frequencies. If you're dead nuts on with both tones, they'll keep in step with each other.