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Mastering Fretless Bass

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Saint Michael, Jul 27, 2004.

  1. I am switching over early to fretless bass. I am still quite the beginner. I was wondering if anyone had any advice on learning on the fretless. I understand that how you practice is important and could use a little guidance. Any recommendations on instructional books, media and materials would be greatly appreciated. Thank you all.
  2. Matt Ides

    Matt Ides

    May 12, 2004
    Minneapolis, MN
    Welcome to the fretless world. I am not sure what stage of the game you are at with your playing but the number one rule with the fretless is listen...open up those ears.

    1. Intonation-Get what ever you play now under your fingers and in tune. It helps to start with stuff you already now. Scales, tunes, exercises. Some say play in the dark, other say don't look. I just say make sure you listen. With the fretted bass you know where to put your finger and you will get X note. On fretless it is a bit different and when you play in a group setting it will be obvious if you are slightly off.

    2. Getting a good tone is difficult with any instrument but you'll want to really work on this with the fretless...too much sliding and muddy notes are always a sure sign of new fretless.
    Myself, I like a phat upright sound so that is what I work to achieve.

    3. Make sure you intonate the bass before you start playing. I know someone here can explain that better than me if your not sure what that means.

    4. Remember to have fun. Playing fretless will open up new things that you would not have thought of on a fretted bass.

    I have never worked from any fretless specific books, but do like the Mel bay series if you are a beginner and the Steve Bailey stuff. Also, that depends on the type of music you want to play.

    5. Practice.

    Good Luck.

  3. Christopher


    Apr 28, 2000
    New York, NY
    In lower positions, it helps intonation to employ double bass fingering technique, i.e. just index, middle and pinky covering a distance of three frets (and using the ring finger as support for the pinky). Unless you have huge hands, maintaining this left hand shape minimizes strain on the left hand and helps you develop a feel for the proper distance between the intervals.

    I dunno about practicing in the dark, but you shouldn't *always* be looking at the fingerboard when you play. If you're making big shifts up and down the neck, it doesn't hurt to look, but work at developing a good feel for the intervals within a given position, or half-step and whole step shifts.

    One thing that helps with position shifts: don't lift your left hand fingers entirely from the strings. Release the string from the fingerboard, but keep the finger on the string as you shift to a new position. There's a good (albeit somewhat difficult to explain) exercise over on the double bass board called "explain the shift" that helps with shifting too - basically requires you to determine the interval between certain fingers in the old and new positions. Search for it.

    I'll second some ssab67's comments. It's easy and fun to slide around, but too much of it is annoying, and can become a coverup for sloppy intonation, much like singers sliding up to hard-to-reach notes. You should attempt to nail every note you play, and use slides only for occasional ornamentation.
  4. Juneau


    Jul 15, 2004
    Dallas, TX.
    I dont play fretless, yet, but Ive also heard its a good idea to play with a tuner hooked up so you know your hitting notes correctly. Always seemed like good advice, so Im just passing it along.
  5. RyanHelms


    Sep 20, 2003
    Cleveland, OH
    Hey man, welcome the fold. Does your neck have inlaid fretlines, or sidemarkers, any visual aides? If there are side dots, determine right away if they've been located at the note's actual intonation point. If they are placed where they would be on a fretted bass, remember, you want to place a note ahead of where you're used to putting your fingers. That is to say, you're now playing at the fret wire, rather than between them.

    You proabably already knew all that... ;)
  6. Matt Ides

    Matt Ides

    May 12, 2004
    Minneapolis, MN
    Yeah. I forgot about shifting. I play upright as well. Chris basically explained it. You want to keep contact with the strings, but not have the strings down touching the fingerboard.

    Also, muscle memory. This will come with time but you'll develop a sense of where the positions are on the neck simply by muslce memory.

    Yes this may sound crazy but it will happen with time.

    Also, use open strings and harmonics in the beginning to check your intonation. Plus work intervals so you really hear what it should sound like before you move your fingers.
  7. Thanks to all of you for your advice. I will definitely put the info to use. To answer some questions I saw come up, I am a beginner and my bass has the inlaid fretlines and side dots. I knew I wanted to play fretless from the start, so I figured if I start out on it I could learn faster that getting used to a fretted bass first. I don't have any formal instruction at this time, so the hardest thing for me is knowing what to practice and how to practice it. I lack a regiment and that seems to be one of the biggest problems for me.