correcting pitch on fretless on double-stops, chords etc.?

Discussion in 'Ask Steve Lawson & Michael Manring' started by The Mock Turtle Regulator, Nov 30, 2002.

  1. a tangent to the lined-vs-unlined thread, and a followup to a comment by Steve that both he and Michael find they bend/slide some notes into tune to compensate for inaccuracies/limitations in the equal temperament system;

    what particular instances do you find this necessary?
    on my defretted Hohner acoustic (=lined) I find that the sixth interval often sounds flat, and find the upper note has to be slid slightly up past the line.
    similarly on fretted the sixth interval sounds flat.

    a bassline that bugs me in this area is "from the edge of the deep green sea" by the Cure, in which seventh, sixth and fifth intervals are played between the A and G strings - D on the 7th fret of the G string against G on the A string sounds flat.
    even if the D is played on the D string it still sounds flat-
    are there particular chord progressions in which anomalies like this tend to occur?
  2. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    For me, thirds and sevenths tend to prove the most alterable (and, to be honest, I don't notice it that often...) - I can't even remember which ones it is, to be honest, it tends to be a little more intuitive than that... actually, the thirds on dominant seventh chords are very slightly flat, and sharpening them a tiny amount increases the tension very slightly, 'pushing' back to the tonic...

    For the most part, I'm happy enough just to focus on playing in tune, and the minute cent here cent there details take care of themselves intuitively... I guess it shows that it works in that I find I notice it far more on fretted bass than on fretless, so I find I sometimes have to pull notes sharp, or move certain intervals to make them work...

  3. Michael Manring

    Michael Manring TalkBass Pro Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    The equal temperament system is a compromise and if you spend a lot of time working on intonation you'll notice its shortcomings. For me the biggest challenge is in dealing with major thirds. Since major thirds occur relatively low in the harmonic series and the equal tempered major third is pretty far off just intonation, you can hear the beating of the partials in an equal tempered major third pretty clearly. This makes things a little tricky. If I'm playing with musicians who play equal tempered instruments I will generally try to use equal tempered intervals, but if I'm playing solo I will usually try to adjust to using more just intervals, because it simply sounds better to me. However, at this level intonation becomes a pretty difficult and subjective venture. If I'm playing a double stop – say a major tenth between my open D string and the F# on my G string – in an ensemble with equal tempered instruments, I usually find it sounds less offensive to use the just interval so that I'm in tune with myself rather than with the other instruments. There are other intervals that are challenging, too and some instruments are just murder to try to play in tune with. It's important to note that this is pretty esoteric stuff, so try not to worry about it too much until you have a good grasp of intonation in general. Fretless bass is a tough instrument to play in tune and we're all used to hearing fretted bass, so the standards are pretty high. As always the best advice is to just listen very carefully and strive to do what sounds correct to you.
  4. thanks for the answers, guys.

    but overall I have to admit that re. chords I'd use a fretted bass anyway, as apart from simple doublestops on adjacent strings eg. thirds, fourths and fifths I find the extra stretching needed to get them in tune on fretless (just to the lines) is awkward.
  5. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    What is...
  6. wulf


    Apr 11, 2002
    Oxford, UK
    Lots of links out there if you do a quick bit of Googling (or even search on Talkbass).

    Wulf ;)
  7. moley


    Sep 5, 2002
    Hampshire, UK
    Well, it's the system by which the frequencies of the notes are determined. Now, for any given pitch - if you double the frequency, you get the same note an octave higher - and if you half it you get the octave lower. That's always been the case. It's how the pitches in between are worked out that is important as far as equal temperament is concerned.

    Equal temperament is the standard system, and has been since Bach's day. As you may have noticed, harmonics (other than the octave ones) are out of tune, the 3rds in particular. You can hear this for yourself - get your bass, make sure it's in tune, and play one of the harmonics, e.g. 9th fret on the G string - the note you get should be a B. Compare the B to the B on a piano. You should find that the harmonic is flat.

    The harmonic you get is actually a natural 3rd - that is what a theoretically 'perfectly in tune' 3rd would sound like. You'll find the harmonics that represent the 5th are out of tune too, compared to the piano. However, when pitches are worked out this way, you'll find that the intervals are not equally spaced - that is, a semitone is not a constant amount. The consequence of this is that, playing in some keys causes a lot of dissonance, and sounds awful.

    If the scale were set up this way, for example on a piano, appropriated to C (i.e. subsequent notes are in tune with C, so C and E make a 'perfect' 3rd, etc. etc.) you'll find that the further you get from C major, the more dissonant the sound gets. So, playing in F# is awful!

    This is actually how tuning used to be done, up until Bach's time. As such, there didn't used to be pieces in keys like F#, it sounded too bad. Then, equal temperament was introduced. The idea being that the semitone was made a standard size, so that whatever key you play in, the intervals are always the same. The consequence of this is that the intervals are not perfectly in tune. For example, play a 3rd on a piano - and you'll hear a slight 'beat' - that is, the notes sound out of phase. This is because 3rds were made slightly larger for equal temperament - 3rds are literally not in tune. But, this means that you can play in any key, and the intervals sound the same. So, now, the size of a semitone is standardized - if you multiply any frequency by the 12th root of 2 (2 to the power 1/12), you get the note a semitone higher.

    However, as I said, this means that notes are not in tune, particularly thirds. This is an issue with fretless - because you're controlling the tuning yourself, using your ear as a guide. Suppose you're playing the interval of a 3rd on the fretless. Now, naturally, you'll try to adjust your fingers so the interval sounds in tune - however, by this method you may get the 'perfect' 3rd, which actually isn't in tune by the equal temperament system. So, your third will be slightly flat in relation to other instruments you're playing with.
  8. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002

    That's fkng revelational!!!

    I've had a fretless for about 2 months and have been having a terrible time with intonation... obviously I have huge intonation problems in general, but :D

    ...I had noticed that my ears had a tendancy to prefer some notes to be played a little sharp, especially in the higher registers where the notes are more audible.

    I even spent hours plugged into a tuner making sure the bass was totally 'in tune' - then wondering why the tuner said a note was 'in tune' but my ears liked it a tiny bit sharper.

    Bloody hell, that is so mad. I thought my ears were a bit screwed and that for some bizarre reason I prefered notes to be on the sharp side. That's really made my day actually :)

    Thank you very, very much! :)
  9. Fishface


    Jul 26, 2002
    Denver, Colorado
    Soooooo... When I play out of tune with everybody else I'm, in reality, playing in "tune". :D j/k

    But seriously, I've heard the same things in playing sometimes, but could never understand why. This helps to answer some questions.

    I learn something new everyday!
  10. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Yeah but if you ever play with other people then you are going to have to be in tune with equal temperament - unless you play Japanese Classical music!
  11. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    Well, yeah obviously, but it does explain why I spent hours playin the same three notes over and over and questioned the integrity of my nice Boss tuner!
  12. equal tempered doesn't mean that the band members don't throw stuff at each other?
  13. Dorminator


    Oct 22, 2002

    I am not sure that I can answer this question totally correctly, but I will give it a try.
    also you can check out this site (I hope I copied it right)
    or predaina custom basses if the url doesn't click

    as far as I can remember 'equal temperment' tuning refers to dividing the string length 'exactly equally vibrationally' so that all the steps and half steps and quarter steps etc are mathmatically half then half then half etc.. (this doens't mean that they are 'in tune' the way we want to hear the notes) and well tempered, adjusts the tuning of each note slightly different... a couple of vibrations up or down for sharps and flats, so thirds and intervals other than 'perfect fifths' are subject to tiny changes. String instruments playing with pianos or key boards often have to make very subtle or not so subtle adjustments according to your ear to the piano since it's tuning is stationary. A lot of the time this adjustment is done and we don't even realize we have done it... a natural and very quick intuitive adjustment so the vibes are closer together.
    then other times we can't figure out why we are out of tune (or why the piano or keyboard is)

    Historically Even tempered tuning was used and found to be a pain in the a$$. so well tempered tuning in the outcome of that.

    anyone please feel free to offer more explanation or correct me if I am way off bass.

    Hope that gives you some idea Howard ...

  14. Dorminator


    Oct 22, 2002

    where was your post when I needed it?

  15. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    It's not particularly to do with strings - brass players have to think about this as well. So I have talked to the Trombone player in our band and he can play in "Just" temperament and mentioned how intervals require different approaches on Trombone in different keys.

    I don't think this was a "pain in the ass" to anyone except manufacturers of keyboard instruments!! ;)

    Seriously - composers before Equal Temperament mentioned how each key had its own character and this gave them range for expression of different emotions - basically, Equal Temperament tends to make each key sound more like every other - reducing possibilities for composers.
  16. moley


    Sep 5, 2002
    Hampshire, UK
    He says he can play in "Just" temperament, what he means is, he can't play in tune :D
  17. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Well - he has called his Trombone(s) : a variable pitch approximator, before!! ;)
  18. moley


    Sep 5, 2002
    Hampshire, UK
    LOL! Though for most trombonists I've played with, even variable pitch approximator is putting it kindly! It implies the pitch is somewhere close to correct :D
  19. Dorminator


    Oct 22, 2002
    "Seriously - composers before Equal Temperament mentioned how each key had its own character and this gave them range for expression of different emotions - basically, Equal Temperament tends to make each key sound more like every other - reducing possibilities for composers."

    So true Bruce...I totally agree. Even still each note has it's own 'feeling. I wonder just how sophisticated our ears would be now if we hadn't 'leveled' the playing field?

    and Hey Moley... how's the finger? :- {
  20. moley


    Sep 5, 2002
    Hampshire, UK