Fretless... Where to start?

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by MTBassMania, Nov 17, 2015.

  1. MTBassMania


    Mar 5, 2013
    So I recently got a fretless, and I'm not really sure where to start. I've been playing fretted for 7 years, so part of me thinks I should continue as I've been going, just switching to using the fretless. I also picked up upright earlier this year, and I've been thinking maybe I should start the same way I started there: Look up a buncha videos, and pretty much work my way through Essential Elements for Strings (Double Bass edition), since the backing tracks have proven handy for dialing in my intonation. Thoughts? Tips from seasoned fretless players? My intonation really isn't that bad: when I first started on bass, my teacher taught me to put my fingers just behind and a little on the back of the frets, just in case this scenario came up. And I did look up some youtube videos, but most of them were essentially "how to sound like Jaco" tips. But I don't want to have any bad habits built into my technique. Any advice would be appreciated!
  2. DiabolusInMusic

    DiabolusInMusic Functionless Art is Merely Tolerated Vandalism

    On a fretless you are generally shooting for playing on the line. I am guessing you have a lined board but either way you should be listening for intonation and not looking for it. Just keep rocking it like a fretted if you want or just toss in some slides. I would suggest working on your chords or doublestops, it will improve your pitch the fastest in my experience. I also recommend singing and learning your intervals to improve intonation but I am guessing you've already got those down.

    If you want mwah or to sound like Jaco those are techniques that can be worked on, just depends what you want to do with the fretless. Good mwah comes from a good setup, playing on the pads of your fingers, and playing over or near the neck.
    MTBassMania likes this.
  3. tfer


    Jan 1, 2014
    Play scales, both in a box position and using tetrachords slowly, and LISTEN to the notes.

    Don't look at the fingerboard. Ignore any lines on the neck - on a dark stage you won't see them anyhow, so leave the crutch behind. If you've been playing with good technique (thumb running along the center of the back of the neck) you'll be surprised at how easy playing fretless actually is, especially from the fifth position down. As the notes get tighter above the 12th 'fret' things can go haywire in a hurry, so spend most of your practice time up high.

    Use open strings whenever possible when you start, to keep resetting the key in your ears. As you get more experience, you won't need to do it as often, but I always play an open note every 6-8 measures, just to keep my ear in tune.
  4. If you play on the line, you're going to be sharp. Play right behind the line (just as you play right behind the fret on a fretted bass).
    Aasmund and Jah Wobble Fan like this.
  5. Lo-E


    Dec 19, 2009
    Brooklyn, NY
    The most important thing to do is just to play it. Really. The more you have your hands on it, the better you'll sound.

    Always plug in so you can hear your intonation clearly and, if possible, record yourself from time to time so you can get a sense of how your intonation is progressing.

    You've been playing a long time. You should get the hang of it fairly quickly.
    zontar likes this.
  6. Marial

    Marial weapons-grade plum

    Apr 8, 2011
    amusicalperson likes this.
  7. Assuming you have a no line fretless:
    The dots on the side of the neck are the same as a fretted bass, i.e. the sweet spot is not at the dot, it's going to be a little beyond the dot. How much beyond? Good question. That is what you need to find out.

    I put sweet spot dots on mine. My point, you will need some time getting to know where to place your fretting finger.

    If it is a lined fretless - place your fretting finger on the line. Then play as you do your fretted bass. Anticipate moving out of tune, i.e. keep your ears open as being just a little behind or ahead of the "line" does make a great difference.

    Begs the question, why fretless? No fret buzz, and sliding into the note gives it that fretless sound.
    Last edited: Nov 18, 2015
  8. BassChuck

    BassChuck Supporting Member

    Nov 15, 2005
    Scales and intervals. Remember that the larger intervals (the ones we call 'perfect') are easier to hear in terms of intonation.

    Play up a scale and then play the root and the octave. Listen for beats, the slower the beats the closer you are to being in tune. If that idea of 'beats' (not rhythmic pulse, its an acoustic term) is odd, try this: play the open D string with the D on the G string. Move the higher D sharp or flat and hear the difference. As you get close, you'll hear the notes creating beats. The octave will be in tune when the beats disappear. This is important. You can't practice being in tune if you don't know what 'in tune' sounds like.

    Play other scales holding the root and the octave. After you are comfortable doing that, play up a 5th and listen for beats. They are a little harder to hear than the octave, so experiment moving the fifth up and down until it sounds pure and without beats.

    Another suggestion to get a tuner that plays pitches. Most are god awful sine tones, but that's a good thing for hearing pitches. Set it to play a drone (long uninterrupted note) on the root of your scale and slowly play up the scale and listen. Adjust as needed. After that gets comfortable, set the tuner to play the fifth of your scale, start with the root and play slowly and adjust.

    Don't obsess over all this. In the end good intonation comes from consistent hand position and listening. In most playing situations you can get buy with a fair about of sins. Just be sure you can really hear yourself when playing with others. Good luck.

    A word on beats:
    Beat (acoustics) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    JMacBass65 and tfer like this.
  9. LeeNunn

    LeeNunn Supporting Member

    Oct 9, 2012
    Charlottesville, VA
    Ultimately, you want to develop your instinct to make micro adjustments that are necessary even with great muscle memory. This takes practice. Using your ears is important, because relying on fingerboard lines can't get you all the way there, especially with notes above the twelfth "fret" where intonation is even less forgiving. Start with scales using a reference pitch or chord. For example, play a C major scale without looking and check the G against an open G string occasionally. If you have iReal Pro, you might find using chord progressions as the pitch reference is more interesting. Practice double stops such as octaves, fifths, and tenths. What ended up helping me the most was Sight Reading Factory. I read the notation and compare my notes to the playback. As soon as I get through the exercise without a mistake, I move up an octave but at a slower tempo. Slower tempos help you focus on intonation. Playing in unison with the playback, slowly and high up the fingerboard, really helps. Practice is going to help your muscle memory, so that only micro adjustments are needed.

    When you finally bring your fretless to rehearsal, make sure that you can hear yourself. Good intonation is difficult when you're having trouble hearing yourself. I elevate my speaker cabinet so that I can hear myself better. You might find that a different eq setting helps. Record your rehearsals and analyze where you're having intonation problems. I use a Zoom H4 to record rehearsals and performances. Sometimes different fingering helps.

    When you finally gig with your fretless, try to remember that you're your own worst critic. Don't use that as an excuse for poor intonation, but keep it in perspective.

    Playing fretless bass is like driving a sports car with a manual transmission. Scary at first, but worth the effort. Welcome to fretless, and good luck!
  10. deckard


    Apr 4, 2003
    This is the best advice so far on this page.

    I would add: LOOK AT YOUR HANDS. Playing music isn't the Olympics: we don't get extra points for difficulty.

    Observe fretless guys like Jaco, Gary Willis, Michael Manring, Mark Egan, etc - they all look at their hands pretty much all of the time - Willis even says "Look at your hands" in one of his books.

    Obviously, you also need to use your ears and really listen, too.

    Intonation is *the* most important thing about playing fretless: if you're not playing in tune, nothing else matters. Period.

    Same with horn players and other "fretless" string players (violin, viola, cello, etc) - if you're not in tune all the time, who cares? Think about it.

    I play fretless (lined, just my own preference) exclusively and have since the late 70s, and I focus especially hard on intonation when I practice - consequently, I get compliments on my intonation (as well as my time).
    Last edited: Nov 18, 2015
  11. lz4005


    Oct 22, 2013
    That's not true at all.
    Most bass necks that are factory fretless have the dots where the fret would be, not in the same position as on a fretted bass.
  12. Not hijacking...just a simple question. Have toyed with acquiring a fretless. Got me to thinking:-

    Is your string action higher on a fretless ? (due to the fact you have no frets to support the string......without the frets would there be more string buzz or less at a given height?)
  13. lz4005


    Oct 22, 2013
    Height is from the top of the fret to the string on fretted. It's from from the wood to the string on fretless.

    That applies to both string height and nut slot depth.

    Beyond that, each player's preference for setup is going to be different and probably won't be the same as they use on fretted.
  14. tfer


    Jan 1, 2014
    My basses are set up to be as low as possible. I play with a very light touch, and my action helps facilitate this.
    deckard likes this.
  15. Wasnex


    Dec 25, 2011
    IMHO finger placement in relation to the line varies by bass.
    MTBassMania and Jah Wobble Fan like this.
  16. silvertone


    Nov 6, 2007
    SF, CA
    Don't even look at your hands - that's a habit to break asap.
    Play along with CDs or plug your Puter into a system that's loud enough to play along with and work on intonating stuff you already know.
    I find after a brief period of warming up, it becomes intuitive to not have frets - but it takes a while to get there.
    It also helps to start with ballads and slower numbers - not rock, metal or 16th notes.
    jjmuckluckjr and Jah Wobble Fan like this.
  17. jjmuckluckjr


    Mar 24, 2015
    Accuracy comes more from the ears than eyes.
    Jah Wobble Fan likes this.
  18. pnchad


    Nov 3, 2005
    God how many of these bad advice Fretless threads will there be?
  19. Rayjay

    Rayjay If that’s even my real name.. Supporting Member

    Sep 27, 2014
    Lahaina, Maui, HI
    If you are serious about studying double bass, then fretless will come naturally. I use "crab-claw" technique a la Simandl on fretless. I also prefer high action, same as my upright, for the sake of tone.
  20. pnchad


    Nov 3, 2005
    owning a fretless bass, like owning a DB doesn't make you a player thereof. About 5,000 hrs of practice does. Do whatever helps YOU to get better and enjoy the process.

    I was reading Peter Erskein's biography No Beethoven just this week where he said he started simply enjoying to sit down to practice everyday - it wasn't a chore - he looked forward to it and it shows.

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