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Fretless better for ear training?

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by LakeEffect, Mar 18, 2013.

  1. LakeEffect


    Feb 21, 2013
    Just a question/idea I was tossing around as I played a friend's fretless, would ear training be a quicker (albeit not necessarily easier) process on a fretless?

    I thought that maybe, given the necessity and the fact you have more room to improperly intonate. I am a beginner/intermediate bassist who does not know very much theory, nor can I identify keys etc.. yet. It is, however, something I am working on and am serious about learning.

    I play a fretted instrument and he offered to swap with me for a few weeks if I wanted to play around on his fretless (he has other basses so it's not a very significant sacrifice to him).

    Any thoughts, should I grab it for a few weeks and work on theory to really drive the points home and try to "get my ears right"? I'm all for it if it would help, I would rather pass and not bother if it wouldn't.
  2. DiabolusInMusic

    DiabolusInMusic Functionless Art is Merely Tolerated Vandalism Supporting Member

    Fretless will definitely improve your ear, especially if doing double stops.

    My recommendation to you, and this is where I start all my students, especially those wanting to improve their ear, is to learn your intervals. Not only to name them but to be able hear them.

    Singing also helps this greatly.

  3. LakeEffect


    Feb 21, 2013
    Thats what I was thinking. I have tried to sing as I learn keys and I see it helping a little bit (I'm ok with that, I know its a process).

    To your point, that it is better to be able to hear them than name them, I thought fretless would be advantageous in that you cannot "miss" and still sound good - forcing you to pick out the difference and correct your errors. Is this part of why playing fretless would help with ear training?
  4. I'd take him up on the offer, since it's there.

    That said, I don't know if it's the time on fretless that will help to improve the ear, or the time improving the ear with fretted instruments that will help to improve the fretless playing.

    I didn't start playing fretless bass until after studying music through college, with all of the ear training and theory that was involved. Not having ever studied things like violins as a kid, the whole concept of trying a fretless stringed instrument was foreign to me. I played brass instruments mostly, and picked up bass guitar (frets) in high school on the side.

    Over 10 years ago now, I bought my first fretless bass. Today I own two fretless fours and will never be without one (God willing). My 5 has frets for use in some situations.

    If you have a good ear to begin with, then a fretless bass can open up many possibilities for you. If you're worried about the quality of your ear, then it might be more frustrating than it's worth. You'll know better after working things out for a week or so with the loaner bass.

    Like you said in the OP, there is a lot more room for incorrect intonation...there is also more room for unique/beautiful/musical sounds that come naturally, and, no fret noises is a plus. ;)

    If you wind up playing it in front of anyone, ask them for feedback. If they don't mention the intonation, there's hope that you're on the right path.

    All the best,

  5. 90dphillips


    Jan 11, 2012
    I played Fretless as my first bass and it accelerated my learning curve a ton. Going to fretted was akin to a baseball player who swings a weighted bat around before his regular bat so that his swing comes more powerfully.
  6. LakeEffect


    Feb 21, 2013
    Right on, thank you for the perspective everyone. Exactly what i needed, from some folks with more experience than myself. Think I'll give it a shot.
  7. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    The best instrument for ear training is a piano or keyboard.
  8. MonetBass

    MonetBass ♪ Just listen ♫ Supporting Member

    Sep 15, 2006
    Tulsa, OK
    Let's talk about the difference between:
    1. Ear training, which is identifying intervals and chord voicings.
    2. Intonation ear training, which is getting the notes in pitch.

    Obviously those are two different things. Depending on which one you mean to develop, you should use a piano or keyboard for #1, and a fretless bass for #2.
  9. LakeEffect


    Feb 21, 2013
    Yeah, I see where my description failed to address the distinction, and I'm sure you are correct.

    Unfortunately, more musical equipment is not an option at the moment, i've already reallocated enough student loan funds. So I'll have to make do with the essentials (as I see them), B through G.
  10. kirkdickinson

    kirkdickinson Supporting Member

    Use your computer. Play a midi file of scales or some other exercises and follow along with the fretless bass.

    Will help with timing and intonation.

  11. LakeEffect


    Feb 21, 2013
    That is a great idea, you wouldn't happen to have a good source for these types of files would you?
  12. JoeWPgh


    Dec 21, 2012
    I'm not sure about 'ear training' but it will train your brain to hear better. If you can't hear the note in your head, your chances of hitting it tune go way down. It's a very good thing.
  13. If it's intervals you're learning to hear, the fretless won't be much help. You have to hit the intonation dead on to make the intervals easily identifiable. A 6th 20cents flat isn't going to be very useful to you in terms of ear training.

    A piano or *in tune* fretted instrument is much better for developing interval recognition.

    IMO, interval recognition is a CRITICAL step to intonation recognition, which you need on the fretless. You'll have no idea how in tune you are if you can't recognize the intervals that you're tuning to.
  14. PlaysAJunker


    Feb 21, 2013
    I think what helps you get started with ear training is learning to identify intervals within the octave (assuming you know the difference between major triad/minor triad/diminished triad). After you have that nailed move on to recognizing "jazz" chord voicings (min7 maj7 dom7). Then learn those, but inverted (so, off the 3d, or off the 5th, or off the 7th).

    (Then you add tensions to those chords. Learn what a min7flat5 sounds like resolving to a dom7flat9flat13. Learn what a maj7sharp11 sounds like.)

    "Ear training" (or at least the ear training taught at Berklee) is about being able to identify harmony by ear. Transcribing music also helps, even though it's frustrating.
  15. unclejane

    unclejane Guest

    Jul 23, 2008
    In my experience, the only thing the fretless really buys you in terms of learning, is the skill of intonating a fretless instrument. That's ear training of a sort, but something that's really only required on the FL.

    All the fingering patterns, shapes, how things sound etc. are basically agnostic about whether it's a fixed-intonation instrument like the fretted or, how would you say it, a continuous-intonation/player-intonated instrument.

    So ultimately, it doesn't make that much difference for learning things. The fretless simply imposes the requirement for being able to intonate, a skill that's specialized only for that instrument (or other fretless instruments, etc).

    I prefer the FL only for practical reasons - namely, tone, physical accommodation of injuries, etc., and simplicity of dealing with the instrument itself. Apart from that, you can learn on either one equally well, IMO...

  16. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    In my experience, piano players usually have the best ears on the bandstand, and their instrument is not fretless.

    That being said, playing fretless is FUN and you should definitely go for it!!!

    The best exercise I know for ear training is to play simple melodies that you can sing, from memory (without using a CD/recording for reference). For example: Happy Birthday, national anthem, nursery rhymes, children's songs, Christmas carols, "Doe a Deer" from Sound of Music, etc.
  17. Lo-E


    Dec 19, 2009
    Brooklyn, NY
    I agree with Shane here. Each feeds the other.
    What the others have pointed out about the difference between ear training in regards to theory as opposed to ear training in regards to intonation holds true. It's really two different skills that you could work on together or separately with equal effectiveness.
    Time playing with other people is also great ear training.

    As Mushroo points out, though, fretless is fun and gives you tonal possibilities that a fretted bass won't (and vise-versa) and can lead you to different phrasing when you play, so if you have an opportunity to play one for a while, go for it!
  18. MonetBass

    MonetBass ♪ Just listen ♫ Supporting Member

    Sep 15, 2006
    Tulsa, OK
    Go to www.musictheory.net, click on "Exercises" and near the bottom there's a "Interval Ear Training" exercise. Give that a go.
  19. LakeEffect


    Feb 21, 2013
    Thank you! Really appreciate it, there are so many of these websites its hard to find specific things sometimes.
  20. Anonymatt


    Jan 3, 2009
    Brooklyn, NY
    I got into bass because I thought Jaco was the ****. So I played fretless for about three years before really getting into fretted electric. When I started playing fretted I realized that I was already kind of a mother****er on it and had a stronger deeper tone than other guys who had just been playing fretted bass a few years. I don't feel like I'm bragging, because I think it's just a fact that, while playing fretless, your left hand gets stronger and you begin working fretted basses to get your intonation right (because most fretted instruments I've played are not quite right in all registers).

    That said, I only stuck it out for those few years because I was in love with the sound of the fretless, and only later found that I would still have a unique sound on fretted. If you're not wayy into it, it's just gonna be a drag.

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