Fretless Troubles

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by rarbass, Jul 17, 2008.

  1. rarbass


    Jul 3, 2008
    I recently purchased a fretless, but I'm a bit discouraged at times. I find it's EXTREMELY difficult to get notes in tune...:bawl:
    I know many of you are going to say "Practice!!" and of course, that is right, but is there any other hints that might help me practice more efficiently?
  2. nysbob


    Sep 14, 2003
    Cincinnati OH
    Two ideas - check your notes with open strings frequently & practise through a tuner - play your scales slowly and check each tension as you go. It takes a while to develop the ear for fretless, so don't get frustrated if doesn't come immediately - keep at it. :bassist:
  3. MusicMan01


    Jun 27, 2008
    I always make sure to tune before any practice. Get a tuner, or cheaper and easier they sell E-tuners. It is the size of a small pencil, you can use it to tune E, on the E string and different E positions of the neck on other strings.

    In my opinion, with a fretted bass, when you tune the strings you play the right note in the middle, between two frets.

    With a fretless, you could tune it better by playing strings on the neck and not open strings. That way you know that the right note might not be exactly between two frets, but maybe closer to one fret than the other.
  4. bkbirge


    Jun 25, 2000
    Houston, TX
    Endorsing Artist: Steak n Shake
    Get a *good* tuner, like and make sure your bass is intonated correctly, take it to a pro if you can't do it yourself. If the bridge saddles aren't set up for proper intonation your ears and eyes will fight each other as you play. With the tuner hooked up, play slow scales with correct pitch. Practice this daily for about a 1/2 hour or whatever you can manage and you'll improve in no time.
  5. rustinstrings


    Jun 17, 2007
    Bzzt (pun intended). I gave up on going fretless long time ago, but even on fretted bass you get a better tone, less buzz and easier touch when fretting notes just right behind the fret instead of in the middle.
  6. Guest043

    Guest043 Guest

    Apr 8, 2008
    get better on a fretted bass, and fretless should not be a big deal. theres no trick to it, really. atleast thats how i feel about it.
  7. Marcury

    Marcury High and Low

    Aug 19, 2007
    Mid Hudson Valley, NY
  8. kotzman


    Feb 12, 2007
    Santa Fe, NM
    Playing Time has been the only cure for me,(years and years), but I am sure that these other TBers are more savvy than I...
  9. rarbass


    Jul 3, 2008
    tomvelsor, I was once told "Get really good on fretted bass before you start playing fretless." Now, how good does one have to be? And what about those who started on fretless basses in the first place? When playing my fretted bass, I can find the note I need to find without looking at the fretboard, and without necessarily feeling for the frets. Is this a good sign or does it matter?

    Marcury, I will put that site to good use. I intended at some point to make my own version of this (I used Guitar Pro) but this is much more convenient and helpful. Thanks much!

    rustinstrings and MusicMan01, I find it's better to play right behind the frets.

    As for the tuner comments, I have an electric tuner, but I will look into the online tuners, as that might be very helpful as well.

    I will put all of this advice to use. Thanks!
  10. mutedeity


    Aug 27, 2007
    Opinions, opinions....

    One thing you might try, OP is if you have a piano or keyboard try practising scales by playing them first on the piano and then on the bass. Over time you will hopefully develop a sense of intonation this way.
  11. rarbass


    Jul 3, 2008
    That sounds like a good idea as well. It's much more likely that a keyboard will remain in tune than another bass or guitar.
  12. Dennis Kong

    Dennis Kong Supporting Member

    Sep 1, 2004
    San Mateo CA
    You may want get an instructor who plays upright or fretless.
    It will give you a bigger concept of the instrument..

    When I took up upright - I studied with Glen Richmond ( Bobby Hutcherson,)
    for 4 years.
    and studied with Kai Eckhardht ( John Mclaughlin, Billy Cobham) for
    for 5 years off & on. fretted & fretless.

    When I took up fretless (before upright) I also chose a bass similar to my fretted one. So
    the fingering & the " feel" of the bass would similar too.
    IE: I used to own a pair of Status 4's -
    one fretted & one fretless.

    So- you could have a pair of Jazz basses or whatever bass.
    It helps.

    Playing both myself- I use 2 types of fingers to help.

    1)Simandl- traditional method- for left hand:
    1st finger - 1 fret or position
    2nd finger- "
    3 & 4th finger combined as one on 3rd fret or position.
    until you get up to the 7th fret depending on your finger
    Then use all 4 fingers- one for each note.

    2) regular method- 1 finger per fret...

    3)Suggestion: You should hear the notes in your head before you play them or sing them to your self and then check on the
    keyboard or fretted bass or something.
    I use a tuner.. chromatic one- Boss TU 12 H

    4) The tedious way: which I do; from time on the 12 fret or
    higher on my upright or my Fretless.
    Play the note over & over until your hands & mind get used to
    it on the finger board. To the point where you don't even
    think about it.

    Boring- but it's the point is to you know the
    where the note is...

    5) pick a tune or melody- and play it slowly- something clich'es so you have reference point.
    65 db per minute.
    IE: Mary Had Little Lamb- Steve Ray Vaughn. or whatever.

    6) scales: slowly- minor or major.

    7) Computer program: I use "Band in box" for checking my intonation too -especially ballads at 50db.. take out the
    bass track. Something you may want consider later on..

    It's not forgiving-so you have to work at it
    Like flight simulator.. until you feel comfortable and then
    play with people.

    I did not play out in public with my fretless for about 6 months..

    Did not play out in the public with the upright for 1 1/2 year or so.. and
    Used to practice about 2 hours a night, 5 days week after dinner.
    and work full time 40 hours, and played in 1 band too.
    This was about 5 years ago.
    Now I just practice maybe an hour a day and play in 3 different bands, using
    upright or fretless or fretted, depending on the gig.

    Believe me I almost gave up too- but I stuck to it- and
    kept on thinking my goal or the carrot with the stick..
    Good luck!
  13. Scot


    Mar 20, 2004
    Pacifica, CA, USA
    I completely agree with the notion of stopping the notes on the fretted bass just behind the fret and that it's a better sound. If memory serves correctly, Jaco said as much and that he always practiced on the fretted bass.

    Using open strings as a reference is also a great tool. I don't think I would go the electronic tuner route. The idea is to train your ears to hear the pitches in tune so that you can make the necessary corrections. Not to train your eyes to see that you're out of tune so that you can make the corrections. A droning note to practice along with can also be helpful.
  14. nysbob


    Sep 14, 2003
    Cincinnati OH
    The reason I suggested the tuner is - it'll help you understand how a slight quick adjustment can bring a note right into tune. Also if you're consistently hittling something a little low or high, it'll show you what your tendency is so you can correct it.

    I wouldn't stare at the thing, just refer to it occaisionally. You could play a figure and hold the last note - then look at it and see if you're on it.
  15. Scot


    Mar 20, 2004
    Pacifica, CA, USA
    Hey Dennis,

    Good post, man.

    I took a few lessons from Glen. What a great guy and bassist.

    I'm going to be playing this weekend at the Italian Festival in good ol' SM.
  16. Scot


    Mar 20, 2004
    Pacifica, CA, USA
    I totally hear you. I would only emphasize that it's very important that you ultimately trust your ears and not your eyes when it comes to nailing your intonation.
  17. Thunderthumbs73


    May 5, 2008
    I started on fretless bass. I spent a LOT of time learning how to play bass by playing along to songs in my CD collection. I assume you know how to play a fretted bass, so I'll suggest to play along with your CD collection, and if you can find some ballads to play (where the notes move slower and your intonation can't be glossed over by quick note-y playing) that would be VERY helpful. Do you sing? If not, start. Develop a good sense of pitch and ear. Sing. Join a chorus. Also play exercises and passages that utilize open strings at first to keep you "on pitch" but also make sure you play things where you are fretting EVERY note. Scales are great things to play, as are octaves. Start SLOWLY.

    I'm sure there's others with great suggestions too.

    Good luck with it.
  18. pbagley


    Jun 2, 2008
    Ham Lake, MN
    One more suggestion - cut the bass and boost the mids and treble. The fretless mwaaa lives in the mids. Boosting the upper ranges will allow you to hear your intonation better. You'll snap into tune faster. Soon it will be automatic. Mostly... Tonight on the fretless I was a bit shakey on intonation as I first started, got better once warmed up.

    The really good news is that you hear that you are out of tune. Much better than you not hearing. I'll bet you are the most critical person in the room when it comes to your own playing and intonation. This is actually a good thing. Always pursue excellence. Most people will think you sound great. Accept their compliments gracefully. You probably sound better than you think you do.
  19. Dennis Kong

    Dennis Kong Supporting Member

    Sep 1, 2004
    San Mateo CA
    Hi neighbor:
    Glen is the man!
    He is very demanding & honest & has the New York upright attitude ! It was a lot of work-but on the long run he got me

    What day & time & stage are you playing at SM Festival?
    I ' ll try to stop on by if I ' m not working my day gig ( both
    Sat & Sun).
  20. dmq89


    Feb 21, 2006
    Selkirk, MB, Canada
    Just my .02...

    I'm not sure if it's been mentioned, but record a bunch of scales with your fretted bass. Then pick up your fretless and play along with the playback- your ear will tell you if you're in tune or not.

    Second - and this is no joke - practice in the dark. Seriously. Not only do you learn to use your ears, but you don't have to rely on your eyes when you're playing on dark stages!

    I did both of the above when I switched to fretless after playing fretted for 16 years. It worked like a charm for me, but YMMV.
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