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Fretless Intonation

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by gonzo85, Jun 30, 2001.

  1. gonzo85


    Mar 25, 2001
    Hey everyone

    I've been playing fretless for about a month now--and honestly, my intonation sucks. I have the lines marking where the frets would be--they don't help much, though. Anyway, I love the sound and have the drive to learn to play this instrument properly...I'm just looking for practice techniques, if you have any. Thanks.
  2. Yvon

    Yvon Supporting Member

    Nov 2, 2000
    Montreal, Canada
    one month for fretless is not a long time.
    You will work on your intonation all your life.
    I, unfortunatly, don't have any exercise, but play it, alone and with a band.
    Do you have band in a box?
    That's what I do, I play with it, it help a lot.
  3. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Find a sound source that will create a continuous drone on a single pitch (there are some commercially available 'Nomes/tuners which will do this), and then practice your scales in the key of the drone. You'll quickly notice that the reference pitch helps you keep in tune, and you'll also BEGIN to notice that certain intervals like 3rds and 6ths intonate differently on a fretless than they do in tempered tuning (like fretted).

    Welcome to the shadow of the Dark Side!

  4. I just sit in my computer room and play along with mp3's. That seems to help.
  5. melvin


    Apr 28, 2001
    im guessing you have a mim standard jazz (fretless of course) i have that too. when i play i press down ON THE LINES. it works for me, and i play in the school jazz band and sometimes for the school choir, so i need the intonation VERY close.
  6. To add to what Chris said, you can record scales on a fixed pitch instrument (piano) and play along in thirds, fifths, etc.

    You seemed to understand to not rely solely on lines. You'll notice that your finger looks like it's not at the right place while your hear tells you otherwise. This is because your looking at your finger at an angle. It happens when playing in the lower or upper frets.

    Also, notice how your arm is placed in relation to your body, how it feels when playing a note.

    Basically, use all sense available to locate a note (hearing, sight, touch(muscle memory)). Obviously, only your hear can determine if the note is in tune, but your eyes and muscle memory can get you a long way. Soon enough, you'll be playing with your eyes closed.

    If you're a masochist, you can put different parfumes on the neck and use the sense of smell. :D
  7. nanook


    Feb 9, 2000
    That's one of the major drawbacks to a fretless bass. Even people who claim to play with perfect intonation are ususally off by a good 1/2 a note. By comparison, a high quality fretted bass has near perfect intonation.

    There are things a fretless bass can do better that a fretted bass but unfortunately intonation isn't one of them.

    The best cure for the problem is a lot of practice and a loud drummer.
  8. <i>By comparison, a high quality fretted bass has near perfect intonation.</i>


    A fretted bass is almost always out of tune because it is a tempered instrument. Another reason, but this is up to the player, is that many play behind the fret, apply too much pressure, causing the string to stretch, causing a higher pitch. Or, many simply bend the string, also causing a higher pitch.
  9. Pacman

    Pacman Layin' Down Time Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    Omaha, Nebraska
    Endorsing Artist: Roscoe Guitars, DR Strings, Aguilar Amplification
    But, since we play with tempered instruments (pianos, keyboards, guitars), that argument has never held much water for me. Sure, winds and brass can alter their pitch, but most of the instruments we play with will match what a fretted bass sounds like.
  10. Hmm... I've never thought of it like that Pacman. I forgot to think of the other instruments when thinking of tempered tuning. Nice one!
  11. You're absolutely right, Pacman. I didn't want to say that fretted basses are so much out of tune that it's painful, just that thay are not in "perfect" tune. Some notes never seem to sound quite right though, the seventh of every strings, for exemple.

    Incorrect technique is a greater factor for false intonation on both fretted and fretless.

    I'll add that if I were "usually" off by a quarter tone (half-note), I would've given up fretless a long time ago, and probably music altogether.

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