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Fretless: listening to correct bad intonation

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by Rockin John, Aug 11, 2003.

  1. Jokerjkny's recent thread (and others before him) about lined and unlined fretlesses prompted this offering. It's the part where the discussion moves to intonation and listening to the notes whilst they're being played as a method of achieving correct intonation on the fretless.

    But, during a song, is there really time to listen to a note and correct it if it's sharp / flat? Surely, even crotchets being played at a quick-ish walking pace are coming too quickly to be corrected if at incorrect pitch?

    Or is it because there's a lot going on for me during a song, as bassist and lead vocals?

    Am I talking sense or have I wrapped the notion around my whatsits?

  2. Wrong Robot

    Wrong Robot Guest

    Apr 8, 2002
    Well generally speaking if you are only a hair sharp or flat it doesn't take a blink of an eye to adjust, and that can even add to the fretless sound.

    If you were seriously off, then you might have a problem, but depending on the music you could most likely gloss over that mis-note fairly easily.

    One thing about live performance is that since everything is happening in the moment, unless your audience is a bunch of bland music critics with perfect pitch, it's really easy to get away with wrong notes. :p but one should never live by that ;)
  3. Bryan R. Tyler

    Bryan R. Tyler TalkBass: Usurping My Practice Time Since 2002 Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    May 3, 2002
    I'm pretty much in agreement with Rockin John on the matter. I suppose the whole "learn to intonate by listening" thing is valid, but it's more of a practice situation than a live one. The only way to 'listen' to get your intonation correct is to hit the note sharp or flat and then bring it to proper intonation. You can't really put your fingers in the proper position by listening alone. I think that it has a lot more to do with muscle memory, as in knowing you'll hit the C dead on when your hand reaches a certain position. In a live situation, you can't just listen to all the notes and correct them as you go; you'll sound like crap. I think the deal is you have to incorporate listening for what you know is the right note and then have a corresponding muscle memory of where that right note is, which would need to be mastered in a practice setting. Listening won't do it alone.
  4. Thanks guys.

    I did wonder if the situation's more applicable to me because I'm lead vocalist, too. I've got to face the mic and the audience, of course, so I can't be looking at the neck too much. In a way that might be an advantage because I'm playing fretless without staring at the neck.

    Very occasionally I find I've gained half a semitone, probably because I'm concentrating more on the lyrics than on the bass. That error's easily heard and very quickly corretced (and I often smack myself in the mouth on the mic in the process, as I glance left and slightly downwards to look at the neck).

    Perhaps, then, when guys speak of listening they're talking about in the private practice sessions with a view to building up muscle memory?

  5. rllefebv


    Oct 17, 2000
    Newberg, Oregon
    Boost your midrange in the 500 to 800 Hz area... this will bump your bass in the mix and make it easier to hear and correct pitch inconsistencies, (IME anyway)... Of course, by nailing pitch during practice, you can't help but be better when playing live...

  6. furiously funky

    furiously funky Guest

    Dec 28, 2002
    i find that i have a lot of good answers for this kinda fretless stuff because of my violin training. On the violin, you need to be 100% in tune all the time or you get nailed. you can play in tune. I am not perfect, and i correct pitch all the time on both violin and on fretless bass. you would have to be perfect to not have to, but we all must correct pitch all the time, and i'm sure (unlike my violin teacher)most people will neather care or notice if you slightly correct pitch when you play. and as said above, this can add to the fretless sound:)so in answer to your question, i find there to be enough time to correct pitch!
  7. I'm sure that if I were "just" the bassist, F Funky, then things would be a great deal easier. I've tried correcting when the guitarist tries his hand at singing :eek: :eek: and it can be done. OK, I'm not a good fretless player, nor am I very experienced at it. I can correct but it does take a great deal of concentration. That application I simply cannot afford to give when doing lead vocals, too....and I present the whole show etc, so there's a helluva lot going on for me during rehersal and gig (BTW, I do all the technical stuff, too).

    I may really be that I've just not yet learned to combine all the things I do in the band to make fretless fairly effortless and work well.

    More practice I feel........

  8. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Supporting Member

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    DR Strings
    I try to play my fretlesses like fretted basses. I try not to slide unless I want to. I'll admit it is kind of fun to have someone come up on a break and be surprised that I'd been playing fretless and they didn't know.

    I won't get into the muscle memory debate again, I find I rely on a combination of three things; most important is hearing what I'm doing and then visual cues (side dots, full or partial lines) and muscle memory, generally speaking. I currently have seven fretlesses with 34", 34.5" and 35" scales so I need "adjustable" muscle memory;)

    Listening is key. I get requests to bring fretlesses on gigs so I must have 'em fooled pretty good;)
  9. Hello, Mr Johnson, how are you?

    You know, perhaps the real answer is a monitor cab on the floor. Our set up is about as basic as you can get and, as I've said in other threads, we don't have monitors. This means ALL my listening for pitch correction goes on my singing because I'm constantly looking to the PA cabs for that purpose. Of course, I can hear my bass but I'm not listening to it / concentrating on it.


    I had a few minutes last night to experiment with my fretless and Korg chromatic tuner. It was both interesting and instructive. I discovered that I habitually play about 5 to 10% sharp when fingering on the lines. There is just a fraction of a finger roll difference between playing bang on tune and not in tune. Finger pressure can make up to 20% difference in pitch: finger with "normal" pressure exactly on pitch then press on hard = about +20%.

    This quick experiment seems to demonstrate that it's virtually impossible to finger every note exactly on pitch. I figured that pitch + 5 to 10 % was not brilliant bassmanship but would be difficult to detect in the band situation, by the audience particularly.

    Just a few more thoughts.


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