How in-pitch do I need to be in order to sound in tune.

Discussion in 'Electric Upright Basses (EUB's) [DB]' started by jazzyvee, Mar 1, 2021.

  1. jazzyvee


    Aug 11, 2012
    United Kingdom
    I'm a beginner in double bass (EUB) and had about 4 lessons in 2019 before the Covid lock down and so I have been self teaching over the past year until I can get back to my tutor.
    I did have some outdoor rehearsals with a Brazillian band during the summer last year when the restrictions were eased over here in the UK and no-one in the band made any comments about me being off pitch although I did notice some myself.

    One of the things I have been doing is to record myself in my practice sessions and listening back and also when playing along with bass-less backing tracks of Jazz standards. What I notice is that when I'm actually playing it sounds like I am pretty close to or right on pitch, but when I play the recording back I can be off pitch more than I thought though thankfully not horribly out and mostly a lot less than a semitone.
    I am obviously practicing to be on pitch all the time, but I wondered how close to bang on the note is acceptable?
    Sometimes I do my scales with the tuner clipped to the bridge and play slowly and focus on getting the notes right.

    Also is correcting an off note during the envelope of the note acceptable?
    Any enlightenment would be gratefully received.
  2. Hummergeist

    Hummergeist Commercial User

    Jul 21, 2020
    Ableton Live tutorials and product reviews for Computer Music magazine.
    I'm also in the UK, and been playing EUB since December! If you don't do it already, practising your scales with a click and drones should help with this. I do a bit of that every day to warm up. Recording yourself and applying a bit of critical listening (but not destructively critical) is good!
    jazzyvee likes this.
  3. Zbysek


    Mar 23, 2017
    Czech Republic
    The fact that you notice yourself being off pitch indicates that you are on right track... Keep practicing!
    jazzyvee, JayLaughlin and Hummergeist like this.
  4. Lee Moses

    Lee Moses

    Apr 2, 2013
    Yes, yes, yes! And do it as quickly as possible. Part of great intonation is making almost immediate adjustments when your pitch is not right on.

    As far as your main question, I'm not sure there's one right answer. You've only been playing a year, so it isn't realistic to expect perfect intonation on every note you play. Actually, it never will be. But that doesn't mean you settle--improve your muscle memory and your ears, and make those adjustments quicker and quicker, and you will "sound in tune" as pretty much anybody.
  5. AGCurry

    AGCurry Supporting Member

    Jun 29, 2005
    St. Louis
    Are you doing any arco playing? IMHO nothing will expose intonation problems (and therefore lead to improvement) like the bow. The margin for error is much wider pizzicato because the notes decay so quickly.

    And yes, even top-notch orchestral bassists correct pitch on the fly.
  6. Bruce Calin

    Bruce Calin

    Oct 15, 2002
    Most of the great teachers I have seen quoted on the subject recommend not watching a tuner while playing but rather using your ears, with or without a drone. One compared it to a video game and not productive. There are too many situations where you might be in tune with a tuner but would sound out of tune in the context of a performance. You have to develop trust in your ears, and I don't believe that using a tuner visually helps that. There is no one absolute exact pitch for any given note. There's always some degree of variability depending on context.
    jazzyvee, Wasnex, JayLaughlin and 3 others like this.
  7. Tom Lane

    Tom Lane Gold Supporting Member

    I think the untold secret is how important good intonation matters depends on a few things. It's clear, that in many cases, it's not that important because the bass is functioning more like a drum than a harmony instrument. That's one reason why the DB pushed the tuba out as the bass instrument. A poorly timed string attack will generally be more noticed and judged as "bad" than a slightly out-of-tune note, especially in the lower-pitched octave with your volume low in the mix, but that changes as the pitch and volume rises. On the bandstand, there are so many things going on that it's hard to focus on a slightly out-of-pitch note for both the bassist and the rest of the band. There are lots of amateur players who never develop very good intonation and the other amateur musicians they play with are happy with their playing. The trouble comes as you start to work with more skilled musicians. If you play with someone with perfect pitch, you might very well drive them crazy, I suppose. I don't know for sure because I don't have perfect pitch. I remember one gig with a professional pianist and one of the tunes was in Ab Major, so of course, the first pitch I'd play was usually a low Ab. At least three times during rehearsals, the pianist turned to me and asked me if my "bass was in tune". It was. I wasn't, and he was being generous. And then, the pitch changes as you noted from the initial pluck as the string loses energy. So, at first it may well be sharp and then go slowly flater.
    My experience is that as musicians, we're attracted to the aspects of music, melody, rhythm, and harmony, but I only had a vague idea of the actual pitches in a Major scale. I started on guitar as a kid and played professionally few a couple of years in my early 20's and the guitar took care of the tuning and it wasn't really my concern. When I picked up the DB, I learned how "vague" my sense of the well-tempered scale was and found that I tended more towards the pitches in the harmonic series instead of the well-tempered scale. I was naturally sensitive to the sympathetic vibration of the other strings which is good in a way because it meant that I could easily discern very slight differences in pitch, but I didn't know exactly which pitches were in a Major scale.
    Three things helped me:
    1) recording myself, as I see you say you already do. Keeps me honest and doesn't let me fool myself and lets me track improvement so I can make adjustments to my practice routine if I'm not approaching my goals.
    2) playing 3-octave scales along with a piano recording, arco, at 60 bpm. Up and down. Down was harder. I did variations of that for about 18-months. Eventually playing 2, 3, and 4 notes per beat and just using a drone as a guide.
    3) I sang the scales sitting at a piano. I played the game where at first, I'd play the note on the piano and then sing the pitch, listening to ensure that I was in pitch - I wasn't quite a lot at first. And when that was settled out, I try playing the scale on the piano quickly and then singing random pitches from the scale and then verifying with the piano. Again, it helped me a lot and really didn't take very long; a few weeks, I don't remember exactly now. Expanding up an octave and down an octave was very helpful.

    For me, good intonation is about hearing the pitch I want to play in my mind's ear before I play it. These days, I even find large leaps pretty easy to nail after a little practice to remind my ear of the interval.

    Hope something in that helps you.
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  8. Bruce Calin

    Bruce Calin

    Oct 15, 2002
    The concept of hearing the pitch and then letting your arm, hand, and finger go to the right place on the fingerboard without "aiming" is one that has helped me a lot. Once you let this idea guide your shifting it really does help to encourage more relaxed and accurate playing. To me this makes listening to develop intonation rather than looking even more important. The lowest notes on the bass can be particularly tricky, so developing an accurate notion of these notes is especially important. In tune they reinforce the entire group sound. Out of tune they sound like a dull thud or rumble. This is one reason why to me dots on the neck or fingerboard or other visual aids don't help much, especially in the lower or middle registers. IMO these notes have to be accurately perceived by ear or the odds of being out of tune are greater. The finger has to be in the right place by ear which is not always where you might think by looking.
    Last edited: Mar 1, 2021
  9. As a beginner, I can tell you one thing: the longer the duration of a note, the more time you have to tell if it's in tune or not. Of course, if you play a bunch of short notes fairly close in time to each other, the intervals will give you away - as in are you staying relatively in pitch as you move through the notes (even if you are off, are you off consistently, or inconsistently).

    Being slightly out will be like when someone uses a chorus effect - it'll thicken the sound.

    Record yourself and listen afterwards and see how you sound.
  10. lermgalieu

    lermgalieu Supporting Member

    Apr 27, 2000
    Bay Area
    Since several are mentioning drone tones, can someone recommend a tool for this? I see a "Drone Tone" app in the app store, for example.
  11. Michael Eisenman

    Michael Eisenman Supporting Member

    Jun 21, 2006
    Eugene, Oregon
  12. Tom Lane

    Tom Lane Gold Supporting Member

    I used the notation program, Finale. Very flexible and I already had it for making charts.
  13. lermgalieu

    lermgalieu Supporting Member

    Apr 27, 2000
    Bay Area
    I don’t practice with an iPad (I don’t have an iPad), so for me a simple one-purpose app would be awesome, so I might give something like Drone Tone a try.
  14. Tom Lane

    Tom Lane Gold Supporting Member

    There are CD's available too but many of them use a cello but I found it easier to hear the pitch of a piano. You can digitize them and play them in a music program. Having a decent size speaker might make a difference if you're trying to use the drone from your phone. A decent size bluetooth speaker would probably work.
  15. lermgalieu

    lermgalieu Supporting Member

    Apr 27, 2000
    Bay Area
    I would actually use headphones since that's how I work on things already. Sometimes I run my pickup into my Phil Jones, with my phone going into the aux, or sometimes I skip the Phil Jones and just put one of the cups of the headphones on/other off (lazy man's method). This works well for playing along with tracks using ASD, and often practice tracks have the bass panned hard to one side so I can play along with it or exclude it depending on which ear I use.
    Tom Lane likes this.
  16. Somewhere, there’s a Borscht Belt comedian lamenting that he’s missed his chance to interject with an obvious joke about his wife.
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  17. bherman

    bherman Supporting Member

    Apr 30, 2009
    Grand Junction, CO
    I use one one my iPhone called Dr Drone. Took a bit to figure it out but it’s very helpful. Can add intervals to the root - I often add a 5th to give another point of reference.
  18. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    I just use open strings to check intonation.
  19. I don't think anyone has mentioned the "Vomit exercise" yet. I don't play upright, but the VE got my fretless intonation up to snuff pretty quickly.

  20. oren


    Aug 7, 2007
    Salem, OR
    I use an iOS app called Just Drones.
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