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Intonation exercises on fretless

Discussion in 'Ask Steve Lawson & Michael Manring' started by MaHei, Aug 29, 2004.

  1. To Michael, Steve and all fretless players in this forum:

    a) What would be good exercises to work on intonation apart from checking certain notes with a tuner or an open string?

    b) Do you believe good fretless intonation is more a matter of having a good ear or rather a result of good muscle memory/technique.

  2. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK

    recording yourself is just about the most important exercise if you haven't started doing that already. The hardest part of playing a fretless instrument is learning to hear what you're playing rather than what you think you're playing. Recording yourself and listening back to it intently is vital. As you do it, you'll become more aware of how what you're listening for when you're playing and when you're listening are initially two different things. The more you record, the more you'll bring the two in line, hopefully...

    other things you can do - record a line on fretted bass, then play along on fretless. set the relative levels so that when the fretless is bang on in tune you can't really hear the fretted... record it, critique it and try again. PLAY SLOWLY. there's no extra points for speeding up if you're not in tune.

    Try and isolate the things that are hardest. larger intervals are often problematic, so slow them down, and work out exercises that focus on those issues.

    Learning to listen is basically a meditational pursuit - cutting out other sound, other stuff going on in your head, all that crap that goes round your brain about wanting to be a badass and a rock star - save that for later, and focus on sound. It'll take a while, so be patient, but you'll start to hear aspects of the note that you weren't aware of, changes in pitch as the string's vibration changes etc... tiny things. Stuff that doesn't show up on stage, generally, but which serves to increase your connection with what you do.


  3. When's the book coming out Steve? "Zen and the art of bass playing". Joint authorship with Mr Manring?

  4. Thanks a lot for the great advice, Steve. I have been told before to record myself when practising but I never got around to actually doing it. Guess it's time to add that to the list. The idea of doubling lines with a fretted instrument, on the other hand, is new to me and really makes sense!
  5. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK

    I'm getting closer to actually starting to write the book I've been planning for about eight years... so expect it sometime in about 2014... :D I clearly don't have the Ed Friedland gift for churning out top quality tuitional material at the rate of 5 books a year!!

    Mahei, good luck, have fun and report back on how you get on.


  6. Michael Manring

    Michael Manring TalkBass Pro Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    I very much agree with Steve, MaHei, recording yourself and listening critically is the best way to improve your intonation. Other than that, I recommend always practicing with an intonation reference of some kind. A tuner is indispensable -- they should just build those things into fretless basses! There are several different kinds and they vary in terms of the way they respond, so you might even consider getting more than one, if you’re serious about this. I guess it shouldn’t be any surprise that the more expensive tuners seem to be faster and better at reading the low notes, so don’t skimp too much. It can also be good to play along with a pitched reference such as a synthesizer or sampler. Using a sound that’s similar to your bass will make it easier to hear the beating that out of tune notes make -- that’s why recording and overdubbing along with yourself is the best way to really hone in on your intonation. Good luck!

    Can I place a pre-order for that book, Steve?!
  7. Thanks Michael, I've finally started recording myself. Listening back, I don't dare show my face in public any more :p
  8. Michael Manring

    Michael Manring TalkBass Pro Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    Ah, yes. It’s pain, but it’s good pain!
  9. Lyle Caldwell

    Lyle Caldwell

    Sep 7, 2004
    Not that I'm in any danger of being able to fall into this "trap" (I have to work really really hard on just being close) but how much do you focus on playing in tune with tempered instruments (no beating) vs playing pure intervals?
  10. Michael Manring

    Michael Manring TalkBass Pro Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    It’s a good point, Lyle, and it actually is something that comes up once in a while if you play fretless a lot. I find it’s kind of a judgment call and I always use my ears to try to decide what to do with the pitch in each particular circumstance. An example of this is if you want to play a major tenth double stop (say, the open D string along with the F# at the eleventh “fret” of the G string) while a piano is playing an F# at the same time. Due to the nature of equal temperament, if you play the F# in tune with your own root, it will be flat to the piano; if you play the F# in tune with the piano, it will sound sharp to your D. In general, I find that it usually sounds better (or maybe, “less bad”) to play in tune with yourself rather than the other instrument in these circumstances, as intonation is more clearly noticeable between notes with similar timbres. However, there are many factors to consider and as I mentioned, it’s usually good to plan on doing what seems to work best in each case.