fretless intonation.... drawing the line!?

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by reddog, Jul 2, 2018.

  1. Ekulati

    Ekulati Supporting Member

    Jan 2, 2016
    Richmond, VA
    The main reason people like DB and fretless is because 90% of the notes are slightly outta tune. Gives it that, oh I dunno, down to earth mojo.
  2. rwkeating


    Oct 1, 2014
    If you look at the fingerboard or look at a tuner, either way you are using your eyes to check intonation. As @rashrader said, compare what you are playing to open strings (when you can.) Another way to practice is to put on a drone tone. For example, put on a drone C note and practice a C major scale listening and adjusting to be in tune. Mix it up. There are lots of possibilities.

    And I wouldn't get to hung up on the look/no look thing. If ya gotta look to make the music, then ya gotta look. In the mean time, keep practicing :)
  3. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Jaco even looked at the open strings!

    The Chuck likes this.
  4. swarfrat


    Sep 23, 2014
    i'm one of those weird people who never learned to whistle, and I've tried. My pitch singing is way better than your average non singer, mostly from singing to my kid every single night the first 2 years of his life.

    When i do try to whistle the only way i can get anything at all is tongue whistling. I wonder if it has anything to do with the tongue rolling gene.
  5. Don't ruin your fingerboard with ink or any other permanent marker. Take Scotch tape and wrap it around the neck so the upper edge is where the fret would be. You can write on the tape and when you have gotten confident enough that you no longer need it, just peel it off. The sticky residue is easy to remove with no lasting effects. My elementary school violin teacher taught me that one. (Thanks, Mr. Amato, wherever you are!)
  6. thmsjordan


    Jan 10, 2010
    Eschew Obfuscation
    I wanted to add a little something here. I am 58 and classically trained. I play a lot of orchestral gigs in addition to a lot of electric work and doubling, and I gotta tell ya - some of the ideas I see in here would make a classical teacher go into high gear to correct. In fact - their advice was quite the opposite of some of the things I have seen here. Please consider for a moment that in the classical string world, proper intonation is an extremely important thing since you are playing the exact same part as the other players in your section, and techniques have evolved on how to get good intonation that are time tested and that work well if you use them.

    Let me debunk one statement>>"Use your ears - not your eyes"<<

    Well, okay, let me debunk half of

    No offense, and I am not trying to flame anyone here (love you all - really), but I think this is totally wrong and so did all the very talented teachers I studied with. If you look in any classical teacher's studio the one thing that seems to always be present is a mirror. My teachers, along with my violinist, viola, cello, friend's teachers all had us play in front of a mirror. The idea was you use your ears AND your eyes. You can check yourself in the mirror for any postural or physical issues that could cause problems. It is amazing how many problems you can correct by just watching yourself. Also - when you are working on intonation, hand shape is paramount, and training this into your muscle memory is critical. Looking at the mirror, you can make sure you have good hand shape and proper technique You see how it looks when it is right and then you can start to internalize what the tactile feeling is that accompanies that look.

    Now you are using your ears, your eyes, and your sense of feeling/touch. Pretty cool, Neh?

    Eventually you need the mirror less, but always coming back to it from time to time is useful to check for any newly acquired bad habits. These problems are much more intense when you are holding a bow and you have to worry about the bow placement, bow skating, right hand position etc. However, these left hand techniques will work for the fretless electric player very well. I encourage you to try.

    I would suggest that using a mirror can be very helpful in so many ways. DO NOT turn out the lights and practice in the dark. Rather look at yourself as you play. You might be surprised at what you find, both good and bad. (You can play in the dark for fun, but don't forget the value of watching yourself in a mirror.)

    Stepping away from the soap box now.
    McFarlin, Afc70, oren and 14 others like this.
  7. MVE


    Aug 8, 2010
    Might I also suggest you double check your bass’s setup intonation. It is important that the string to string intonation be dead on or it will be very difficult to play anything in tune, unless it’s really really slow. ;)
    Take a guitar capo and use it to finger all four strings at the exact same point while adjusting your saddles. Oh wait, does your Wish bass even have adjustable saddles?
    +1 on using a pencil to mark the top edge of your fretboard.
    Don’t listen to all the people telling you, “...the only way to learn fretless is by ear.” If it works for you, great. But if lines work for you, that is great too.
    The only real truth is that it just takes time, a lot of time. It took me 5 years of practice before I finally had the balls to take the FL to a show.
  8. Lackey


    May 10, 2002
    Los Angeles
    Lot of weird / dare I say naive comments here regarding lines and/or looking at the fingerboard. First of all, Gary Willis uses and recommends lines, and he is often looking at his left hand - and he is one of the absolute best if not the best fretless player out there - and extremely precise intonation. Jaco had lines, and he looked all the time too.

    If you are moving your hand around and not just sliding to a note, it helps to know what to aim for. That's what lines and looking are for. Now, you will need to fine tune with your ear, because your fingertips are always rolled at different angles depending on hand position, and each finger has its own meat/bone ratio etc..

    I've played lined fretless for years, and I can play unlined quite well, its more learning the nuances of the new bass for me than a shift to the unlined fingerboard. You can develop your ear just fine with lines. It just takes practice and being critical.

    I'll leave you with Gary;
    Afc70, MVE and GazzBass like this.
  9. Whippet


    Aug 30, 2014
    I forgot to add one thing. This is really crucial. When adjusting the intonation, try not to do it by spreading or contracting your fingers. Rather use more of your wrist movement.

    This is really crucial when using a 5 or 6 string bass because the neck is wide. By moving your wrist, it keeps you from straining your fingers and your upper wrist/palm. If you keep adjusting by using your fingers, you will eventually get tendonitis. A little bit of correction can be done just by rolling the finger up or down, but excessive usage of this will end up giving you pain.

    You'll know what I mean when you practice day in day out.
    Matthew_84 likes this.
  10. Ric5

    Ric5 Supporting Member

    Jan 29, 2008
    I disclose nothing
    I actually did that on my frankensteined fretless jag bass … the neck is already cracked and I don't like unlined fretless basses.

    If your bass is worth a lot then you make want to do it correctly and not use a sharpie.
  11. Most of this thread: um, wow.
    thmsjordan likes this.
  12. Thumpin6string

    Thumpin6string Supporting Member

    Apr 25, 2013
    Shoals Indiana
    Just another side note. Sharpies are permanent, so if you make a mark you better like it.
    thmsjordan likes this.
  13. MDBass

    MDBass Supporting Member

    Nov 7, 2012
    Los Angeles, CA
    Endorsing Artist: Dingwall-Fender-Bergantino-Dunlop-Tech 21-Darkglass-Nordstrand
    The lines don't tell you where the notes are: your ears do.
    Matthew_84 and SteveCS like this.
  14. SteveCS


    Nov 19, 2014
    Hampshire, UK
    Well firstly, I agree on using a mirror to iron out physical constraints, and with using visual markers when first starting out. But you are talking about a very different context. Thankfully the string bass is littered with physical landmarks to get you in the ballpark. In the orchestra, a few cents either way adds to the lush thick chorused sound of the string section. In the orchestra section you are relatively anonymous ond most of the audience is there to see the director and hear the music, not watch the bass player - you do not have to directly engage with the audience so you can indulge yourself with looking at the fingerboard.

    The electric bass player is rarely in a section with others playing the same part where you can't reliably hear your own intonation.
    In my band its just me, and a few cents either way is simply not good enough. People don't want to see someone staring at their fingerboard, and they don't want to spend all night wincing.

    In the end, pitch as percieved by the ears trumps notional pitch dictated by visual aids. It has to in order to be called music. YMMV, maybe...
  15. mmon77

    mmon77 Supporting Member

    Jul 9, 2008
    Southern MN
    I think that most people who've played the bass for any decent amount of time probably don't need lines/dots as much as they think they do.

    I know that when I got my fretless, it was daunting at first, but most of that was in my head. Once I let go of the fact that it was a fretless, and just played the darned thing, it really wasn't that bad of a transition.

    If you get a fretless the same scale as your fretted bass, your fingers already know where they need to be for the most part. The rest, like everything else, comes from practice. There are no shortcuts.
    Matthew_84, mrcbass and MonetBass like this.
  16. SteveCS


    Nov 19, 2014
    Hampshire, UK
    A few observations.

    Firstly, there are so many chorus/modulation/delay effects on everything - bass and backing - it is impossible to really gauge intonation as any small errors are buried by the effects.

    Secondly, and notwithstanding, there are plenty of places where micro-adjustments can be heard - GW is clearly listening very hard.

    Thirdly, and this is the important lesson from the video, most of the (few) small errors I can hear are flat, with the correction being made by sharpening. This is important in our perception of pitch - approaching the intended pitch from below the reinforces the intent, even if you never quite make it. The second we play sharp we start to imply the next higher note, which causes a perception of dissonance.
    The great cellist Pau Casals taught vibrato such that variations were predominantly flat and assymetrical - pushing up quickly amd energetically to the intended pitch then relaxing - not pulling - back more slowly before pushing up again, and very rarely going sharp at the top of the push. GW is extending this idea to his pitch control in a very musical way.
    Matthew_84, Lofreck and mmon77 like this.
  17. Les Fret

    Les Fret

    Sep 9, 2009
    Best post in this topic. No need to read any further. I don’t get why most people are against lines for the exact same reason as stated above and stated by Gary Willis.

    You can not compare to cello and double bass because they have physical markers (thumb and heel position). I play both Fretless and double bass. Lines are not only to help intonation but also for navigating on the electric bass more easy. Most lined electric players play more in tune than unlined players in my experience.
  18. SteveCS


    Nov 19, 2014
    Hampshire, UK
    For me It's not about having a stance on lines, it's about prioritising visual or physical cues over listening...
    Abner likes this.
  19. Les Fret

    Les Fret

    Sep 9, 2009
    True but lines don’t mean you have to stop listening....

    And people with side dots also look.
    SteveCS likes this.
  20. Tom Bomb

    Tom Bomb Hypocognitive Supporting Member

    Apr 23, 2014
    Good thread. Cheers! Lots to contemplate :) I listen, predominantly, but, with a lined board I can also look too. Listening's the key, especially when eyes need to be elsewhere or you're in a low-light situation where you can be left a little short, sight-wise.

    There's another dimension, in my book, that deserves some attention — the 'feel' of notes. Touching bass ;)

    When you get it right, notes express a distinctly resonant and consistent vibe. You can feel it. With all your senses engaged, they're 'talking' to each other and teaming up. The sound of a perfect note does have a distinct feel, a tactility, always in line with the sound being made. There is a distinct smoothness to a well played note, or a chord that hits the mark, which registers through touch.

    Worth considering: because the vibe of a well targeted note sympathizes with the instrument and with the music in the room, it will noticeably smooth out and it'll get a little stronger and a little louder too, as a consequence. Feel, in this sense, can be understood as a conglomeration of all the senses: of mind, sight, sound, and touch. I believe you can literally feel this, in a certain sense. It's practical magic. Expression and feedback is what it's all about, learning how to receive all the information, and more fully understand it, and control it, in the moment of execution. Something else to think about, perhaps.
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