Basic fretless cliches or style guide?

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by Oleg BassPlayer, Aug 13, 2017.

  1. Oleg BassPlayer

    Oleg BassPlayer

    Feb 4, 2016
    Not a long time ago I got a fretless bass and started to learn to play it. Last week I took it to a rehearsal with my band and we played some of our material which was written for the fretted bass. What I noticed (besides being bloody out of tune half the time, but that is another story) is that my lines didn't sound like fretless, they were like the fretted bass with the timbre of fretless if you know what I mean.

    I tried to embellish the lines with slides and vibratos. At that point, it was already heard that it's fretless, but I still wasn't satisfied with the results.

    What are the basic must-know techniques and tricks (or even cliches) that I can use to utilize the full potential of the fretless bass?
  2. twinjet

    twinjet Powered by GE90s; fueled with coffee. Staff Member Supporting Member

    Sep 23, 2008
    Sliding up and down to every note

    Positioning. If people can't tell you're playing fretless, that means you're probably doing all right.
    When to mwaaaaah
    When to slide
    When to vibrato

    Basically all comes with time. All that cliché stuff was fun in my practice time, but not exactly applicable in a live setting. Just sounded sloppy. Other, more experienced fretless players will chime in and potentially disagree. Simply my two cents.
    J_Bass, JimmyThunder, zontar and 5 others like this.
  3. BAG


    May 5, 2014
    New Zealand
    I'm currently stuck between playing my fretless just like my fretted basses and trying to work out ways to insert slides from chord to chord to get some glissando and mwah into my fretless playing. The problem for me is that the more i try to slide etc the worse i play. I should just play it like normal but i also want to hear those slides that make a fretless stand out from the crowd.
  4. Skeptismo


    Sep 5, 2011
    Getting the mwah right is critical. You might need to adjust your action and neck relief to get the bass to really sing for you. I've found that when you get that straight, the rest follows.
    zontar and Mystic Michael like this.
  5. Mushroo

    Mushroo Guest

    Apr 2, 2007
    Years ago, my fretless teacher gave me excellent advice: "try to make it sound like nobody can tell you're playing fretless."

    If you want to sound like a "fretless cliche" then learn some Jaco Pastorius bass lines. It doesn't get any more "cliche" then Jaco.

    However, my advice is to forget all that and learn how to play in tune. There is no better use of your practice time right now, I promise. Is your teacher giving you good exercises to help your intonation, or do you need our help with that?
    ONYX, zontar, MonetBass and 4 others like this.
  6. BAG


    May 5, 2014
    New Zealand
    I've never had a teacher outside of youtube. What would you suggest?
    My ear is not very good. I can always hear when something is off but can rarely tell you if it's sharp or flat. This means i need to use position markers a LOT or I'll play off. If i keep an eye on the markers I'll play pretty well.
  7. Mushroo

    Mushroo Guest

    Apr 2, 2007
    I would suggest finding a good teacher. ;) But if that is not a possibility for whatever reason, read on...

    I recommend relying on your ears, not the markers. The lines will get you "in the ballpark" but they are not exact. Here are a few beginner ear training exercises to get you started:

    Sing along with all the music you hear, all day long. (When it is socially acceptable to do so.) If there's no music playing, then sing a capella. Imagine you are on American Idol singing your favorite song for the judges. Or imagine you are singing the national anthem in a crowded stadium. Bonus points for joining a church choir, community chorus, musical theatre production, etc.

    Record yourself playing the 12 major scales on your fretted bass, very slowly and with a metronome or drum machine. Listen back to the recording and play along with your fretless bass. Use your ears (not the markers) to play in tune with the recording. If you need suggestions for fingering patterns, check out the Simandl book for upright bassists. Once you can play the 12 major scales in tune, move on to more difficult scales and exercises.

    Turn on the radio and jam along. Try to play in tune with the band. For a beginner, maybe don't dive in to the prog rock station, better to start with simpler songs like oldies, pop, soft rock, etc. One hour of this exercise a day for a year, and you'll have a good ear. Ten years and you'll have a GREAT ear.

    You are lucky because you are self-aware of your greatest musical weakness, so you know exactly what you need to work on. Most people need a teacher's feedback to point them on the right path. Good luck! :)
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2017
  8. DiabolusInMusic

    DiabolusInMusic Functionless Art is Merely Tolerated Vandalism

    This is good advice in my books. I was actually laughing with my old guitarist yesterday how my upcoming fretless will give me more hassle at jams. My current fretless has lines so people do not often notice it is fretless. I brought it to practice for a month or two before my drummer got close on break and actually saw the neck, he was surprised.

    I would echo all of the above and add practicing to a droning note. It will help train your ear. On that note, learn your intervals if you do not already. Start working on your singing when you work on your fretless playing, knowing your intervals really helps in my experience. They will both improve more quickly by training them in tandem. Working on double-stops and chords will help too. When you first play them, you will really notice how bad your technique/intonation is, at least I did.
    LeeNunn and Oleg BassPlayer like this.
  9. Oleg BassPlayer

    Oleg BassPlayer

    Feb 4, 2016
    How is mwah different from vibrato? I've watched a few videos on Youtube about how to mwah, it all looked like a slow vibrato to me. Am I wrong?
  10. twinjet

    twinjet Powered by GE90s; fueled with coffee. Staff Member Supporting Member

    Sep 23, 2008
    Mwah is the colloquial term for the sound of a sustained note on the fingerboard. No finger-wiggling business going on. Try depressing the note and keep your finger there without moving it. Congratulations, you got mwah.
    Mushroo likes this.
  11. RBrownBass

    RBrownBass Thoroughly Nice Guy Supporting Member

    Aug 22, 2004
    This advice ignores the point of playing fretless. Your teacher probably should have said, "Play in tune" and left it at that.
    Mystic Michael likes this.
  12. Mushroo

    Mushroo Guest

    Apr 2, 2007
    It's funny you mention that. The teacher in question (Michael Manring) is known for having a somewhat "Zen" teaching style. When I asked him your exact question,"How do I get better at playing in tune?" do you want to know his advice for me?

    "Practice with a metronome." ;)
  13. RBrownBass

    RBrownBass Thoroughly Nice Guy Supporting Member

    Aug 22, 2004
    Wow. Much as I love Manring's playing, I don't think that's how he got his tone...
  14. Must be a wax-on, wax-off kinda thing.

  15. Nev375


    Nov 2, 2010
    Mullet optional.

  16. tbplayer59


    Jan 20, 2013
    Years after I became a bass player, I learned that two big acts of my teen years had bass players who played fretless - Peter Frampton and Bad Company. You wouldn't know it without a super close listening. That's how good they were.
    JMacBass65 likes this.
  17. jaymelewis


    Jan 6, 2010
    Fillmore, CA
    Get with a teacher and study either cello or double bass. You'll learn about playing melodically in a way that you never could have imagined!
  18. bikeplate

    bikeplate Supporting Member

    Jun 7, 2001
    Upstate NY
    Job #1 is playing in tune and supporting the song. The rest will develop as you get experience without frets. Don't overthink it
    zontar likes this.
  19. Play along with drones.
    Practice single-string scales and modes, being careful to shift 1-1, 1-4 or 4-1 whenever you can.
    Practice playing octaves in tune.
    Don't worry about style until your intonation is accurate.
  20. BassUrges


    Mar 14, 2016
    I got my fretless 16 months ago and for a long time I had EXACTLY this problem. What helped a great deal was playing SLOWLY against a drone. The Tonal Energy Tuner app has a very good drone.

    I used the Suzuki Method recordings and books as source material both for learning songs by ear and as repertoire to play against a drone.

    Also, I bought a long-scale hollow-body and a bow, so I have all the unlined intonation practice I want these days.
    AB Nate likes this.