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Looking at the fingerboard while playing

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by btrag, Oct 25, 2005.

  1. btrag


    Mar 7, 2005
    Whenever I see someone performing, looking at the fingerboard while playing, I think "rookie." It's not that I'm a snob, it just looks bad to me when I see this, especially from a bassist. Isn't doing this sort of taboo? It seems to me that the only ones that should do this are guitarists during a solo.

    When I play at home, I usually stare at the fingerboard when I'm playing. However, when I play live, I only glance once during the changes. In fact, I practice doing single string octave slides without looking. Sometimes I land on the 12th fret, sometimes not.

    So, what do y'all think? Issue? Not an issue? What do you do?

    On a side note, I notice a lot of singers/guitarists almost close their eyes when they play on stage. Are they secretly looking down at their fingers?
  2. EricF

    EricF Habitual User

    Sep 26, 2005
    Pasadena, CA
    If you want to play live without looking, practice without looking too.
  3. Alvaro Martín Gómez A.

    Alvaro Martín Gómez A. TalkBass' resident Bongo + cowbell player

    That's the aspect of playing bass I always refer as "the one I'd like someone made me realize its importance when I was a beginner". I think I'd be a better player now if I started practicing that way. It's not about how it looks. It's just that not looking at the fingerboard while playing is VERY IMPORTANT, specially when you're sight reading. I started to pay attention to this some years ago when I started noticing that my sight reading was better on double bass than on bass guitar (I'm not an outstanding sight reader, but I can deal with it decently). Developing the ability of drawing a map of the fingerboard in your mind while playing makes you able to concentrate on other aspects of your playing that may require more attention to details. I always take that as a challenge when practicing a new tune for playing with my band, and I feel it really pays off. I highly encourage every bass player to not depend 100% on looking at the fingerboard while playing. BTW, maybe I'm wrong, but I think that's the reason why wind instruments' players are better at sight reading (at least where I live) than pianists, guitarists or bassists. They have everything at their fingertips and lips and don't have to worry about shifting positions, which is one of the biggest handicaps while sight reading on bass, guitar or piano. Any comments on this opinion? (agree, disagree...)
  4. Christopher


    Apr 28, 2000
    New York, NY
    I think everyone (except perhaps the blind) looks at the freboard/fingerboard now and then. I don't think it's amateurish to glance at where you are, especially if you're making large jumps. If you're staring all the time, though, to the point where you can't read, look at band members or the audience, that is a problem.
  5. I don't think it really matters, but I can see the point if you're reading charts.

    Just some of the bassists I've seen look at the fretboard:

    Paul McCartney
    Chris Squire
    John Entwistle (and he looked a lot!)
    Greg Ridley
    John Deacon
    Bill Wyman
    Kenny Passarelli
    Dusty Hill
    Tony Levin
    Chris Maresh
    Yoggi Musgrove
    Jack Bruce
    Allen Woody
    Michael Anthony
    John Paul Jones
    Noel Redding
    Billy Cox
    Gary Thain

    Come to think of it - just about every one I can think of except for maybe Gene Simmons.
  6. Joe P

    Joe P

    Jul 15, 2004
    Milwaukee, WI
    I have a pretty bad habit that way. I need to look a lot, but habitually look even when I don't need to!

    ...And I AM known to require the lead guitarist to have to walk over near me to get my attention when he wants to finish-up a lead!

    Bad-bad -

  7. Ray-man

    Ray-man Guest

    Sep 10, 2005
    Outside the occasional glances for shifts, etc., maybe it's an "introvert" thing? Sure is hard to do when you singing and trying to communicate with an audience.
  8. Brad Maestas

    Brad Maestas Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 26, 2003
    Oakland, CA
    An old friend of mine owns this bar in Lawrence, KS. His wife helps him run it and she consequently sees lots of live music. Well, she being the outspoken and opinionated person she is, would give people all kinds of grief for looking at their instrument and bandmates rather than looking at the audience the whole time. I argued with her about whether she has any business voicing her opinion on the subject. Basically, her point was that it should be important to retain interaction with the audience. Sure, sure. That's one of the fundamental rules for playing for an audience. It should be obvious but people tend to forget that sometimes.

    Point duly noted but I would rather play the right notes than look like I'm ready for MTV. I agree that it's important not to get so preoccupied that you keep yourself from looking at the other members and reading charts. After I get comfy with an instrument I get a good idea of where everything is. Another approach could be the whole sight-depravation thing advocated by Steve Bailey. He recommends that you practice in complete darkness. Then you can't cheat if you open your eyes. It started as an exercise for fretless but it works well for fretted too. A little extreme but it works.
  9. SteveC

    SteveC Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    Nov 12, 2004
    North Dakota
    I glance once in a while. I don't think it's ametureish at all. I don't look on every tune, and some tunes I look a lot. I tell my students to not get in the habit as it makes sight reading - or any reading - difficult. sometimes you just get out of position and you need to glance to get back home.
  10. jjtsucka


    Aug 31, 2004
    depends if its an easy line then I'm not looking at all and i really try to interact with the crowd. if its a more intracate line with a lot of walking then i like to look for a bit then look up i find i helps my focus but maybe thats just me :bassist:
  11. Wrong Robot

    Wrong Robot Guest

    Apr 8, 2002
    There are varying degrees. Few players never look at the fretboard, some players never leave it. Typically, when I see someone with fixed gaze on the fretboard I usually think that they aren't feeling the music and/or they have stage fright and/or they aren't confident with their part.

    It's a little bit like seeing someone with bad posture, they appear more reclusive and weak than someone with good posture who appears to command the space around them.

    But, everyone looks at some point, there is nothing wrong with that. The Only stigma is attached to people whose eyes never leave the fretboard at all.
  12. chrisb7601


    Aug 30, 2005
    I'm a rookie. I look. That's bad? :eyebrow:

    I too would rather hit the right note than "look cool." I look around, different places, including the fingerboard.

    When I'm in an audience, I would rather the performers didn't look back. It always gives me the willies when they look right at me.

  13. Ozzyman


    Jul 21, 2004
    Jaco looked at his fingerboard...
  14. Jazz Ad

    Jazz Ad Mi la ré sol Supporting Member

    Somebody remembers the year long debate that happened in the readers' column of Bass Player regarding this issue ?

    I hear music, I don't look at it. Guy can do whatever he wants as long as it sounds good.
  15. JimmyM


    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    Everyone looks at their fingerboards. Don't let anyone fool you. It's just a matter of how much. Being able to play while not looking, though, I think makes you a better player. You can read music a lot easier if you don't look at the FB, and it helps you get that autopilot thing happening where you don't have to think about the notes you're going to play.
  16. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    I agree to a certain extent- but if you're improvising lines on the fly - then looking at the fingerboard helps you visualise your choices in advance and I also think you want to make sure of your left hand technique in situations where it's difficult to hear yourself.

    Generally I think I'd rather see somebody who is improvising and looking down at their fingers, rather than somebody who is reading a written line and staring fixedly at a chart/sheet music ....?
  17. triggert


    Feb 5, 2005
    Good call, either way you are gonna be staring at something. I don't like to make eye contact with the crowd very much. Makes me feel weird, I always just look over their heads. I've been known to close my eyes and play sometimes too. Just depends on what I'm playing.

  18. Chili


    Mar 8, 2005
    yeah i would say that was pretty much a spot on reason, someone with stage fright and doesnt no where to look will most likely just stair down to his fret board, if if hes at a brake where theres no bass in the part of the song hes playing hes still gazing at the fret board lol, that would be kind of freaky to see someone do that constantly through a gig even when there not playing lol.

    Flea never looks at his fret board, hes to buisey dancing about the stage, apart form when hes soloing he'll look or just look into the abiss
  19. I think for the most part, other than other musicians in the audience, no one out there gives a !@#!@#$.

    Quite a few members of the general non-playing public would have a hard time telling you who plays what instrument or what part the instruments are playing. (Except maybe the drums)

    Having said that,

    If you need to look, look, as opposed to messing up. But I think it is good to develop your ability to play by feel and position on the neck without having to stare all the time.

    Obviously if you are reading sheet music it's a bigger deal. But I don't do that, so the only reason I look at my hand is to make sure my fingers are at the right location.
  20. LavendarSunrise


    Oct 5, 2005
    Two good excercises to help yourself not need to look at the fretboard are: sight reading (obvious) and playing two octave scales, without using all of the strings. You will most likely have to shift at least four times. If you can do this comfortably, without looking and in time with a metronome at a reasonable tempo, you will be ammazed at how much more comfortable you will be when shifting.