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Not looking at the fretboard

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by gonzilla, Mar 25, 2009.

  1. gonzilla


    Jan 26, 2009
    How do I do it? I consistently lose my place whenever I look away from the sheet music and at the fretboard and then try to find where I was. I realize that I'll have to periodically look at the fretboard when I change positions sometimes, but I feel I can't progress much further when I can't keep my eyes on a page when I want to.
  2. I have an awful time with this. I either get lost on the page after looking at the board, or get fretbuzz on the board because my hands drifted while looking at the page.
    It makes me mad.

    The only thing I've found so far that helps is to position the music not in front of me but down and to the left, so when I look a the fretboard the music is just a quick shift of the eyes away. If you're sitting you can even put the music on the floor, (depending on how good your eyes are :)

    But that isn't always possible to do and it's still no sure bet.

    To keep my place on the fretboard I've practiced playing with my eyes closed and standing in front of a mirror watching my reflection to improve muscle memory. It helps, but not much. My hands still drift.
  3. Mike151


    Dec 22, 2008
    Sherman Texas
    Subscribing to this one. :)
    I was thinking of maybe trying to play in the dark as much as possible. ha...
    But then, I thought of piano players and how even when blind, they can feel the keys. Not as easy on the bass.
    Then I found this.

    Never know till you try it.
  4. BagsBass


    Mar 7, 2009
    u know, i used to watch guys like Clapton and wonder in amazement at how they could play so much with their eyes closed. at first i couldn't, but once i started learning a few scales i realized that this was the reason they could do it. it seemed that the more i played in a particular scale - say G major - the easier it was to play with my eyes closed (or not looking at the fretboard). kind of like how i'm typing this now without looking at my keyboard.

    now i can zone out and focus more on the tones and the direction they are going in - up and down, left right, etc. it could be a bit of muscle memory, but i think i'm just learning to use my ears a little bit more to tell how much distance i need to go to hit the next note. it kind of feels like someone else is playing the bass for me. I probably couldn't "jump" down the fret board without looking, but i will usually slide or connect over there somehow.

    i would also think that this is how fretless or upright players get around the fretboard. maybe check with a few of them for more tips or advice - they do this all the time.
  5. crayzee


    Feb 12, 2009
    Mississauga, ON
    Bags has the right idea above. Muscle memory has a lot to do with it. It's like typing: if you become proficient at it, your fingers know exactly where to go without you looking. Bass is no different. Do I occasionally look at my fingers? Sure, but usually if it's only a tougher passage that I'm working through.

    The more you practice not looking, the easier it gets. Noodle around while watching TV.
  6. milothefultz


    Nov 29, 2008
    Portland, OR
    Practice! Practice in the dark, always. It's the same deal when practicing fretless; when you start out, practice in the dark all the time and do your scales. Do your scales, play some lines you have completely under your fingers, do scales all up and down one string, etc. Just get the whole fretboard to feel like it's been there your whole life. After a while, next time you play, just close your eyes, don't care about the fretbuzz, that will go away, and you might miss some notes, you can fix it. Just do this as part of your practice routine and you will be golden.
  7. SmittyG


    Dec 24, 2003
    Texarkana, Texas
    It is one of those habit things. If you have performed a song a dozen times with no blunders, you really don't need to look at the fretboard to play it the thirteenth time. But, if you are in the habit of looking at the fretboard, that's where you will tend to look. You just have to break the habit. If, however, you regularly fret the wrong note when you are not looking at the fretboard, then you have more work to do in memorizing where the notes are.

    Here is a drill to help out. Pick an easy pattern to play like two root notes followed by two root notes up an octave. And if you don't know how to find the octave of a note, stop right here--looking at the fretboard is no where near your biggest issue. Start on C, play two notes, then play the octave of C for two notes. Now move to the fifth. You do know where the fifth of a note can be found on your fretboard, right? OK, now play that note twice and then its octave twice. Then move to its fifth and repeat. Keep going until you go all the way around the cycle of fifths and are back to C. From this one drill, your hands will "know" how to get to the octave of a note and to the fifth of a note without your having to look at the fretboard.

    Next, up the ante by doing this drill while forcing your brain to focus on something else. It can be anything you recite out loud. Run through your multiplication tables. Say and spell the names of every animal you can think of. Recite a poem. It doesn't matter as long as you are talking out loud while your hands are playing the drill. This is actually pretty tough at first. But, once you get through it, you will never again have to pay attention to your hands in any way to play the root, octave or fifth.

    With that out of the way, you can move on to the other intervals.
  8. the engine

    the engine Guest

    I have know idea how long you have been playing. By the time I was your age I had been playing for 12 years (gigging for more than ten). I can tell you that for me it just came with time, and YEARS of playing (both practice and live). I go so long without looking at the fretboard that sometimes I forget which bass I'm playing! (reaching down for a knob that isn't there and whatnot) But really who cares? I can do it, but it's not ALL that cool. I don't watch other bassists to see if they are looking at the neck. If they fit in the pocket, and pay attention (musically) to what's going on around them, then I DIG It! I wouldn't stress too much over it. Some of the best (most famous) players just stare at the thing all night.

    But to answer your question, I do boring finger stuff (scales and patterns) a LOT just to keep my chops up. Try this. Number your finger on your fret hand 1,2,3 and4 (index is 1, middle is 2, etc). Then just mix them up and go back and forth over the strings. Start off like this. Place your index finger on the 5th fret of your lowest string, then play four notes in a row using your four fingers.

    1,2,3,4 E string
    1,2,3,4 A string
    D string etc.

    Start with the 5th fret on each string. Then move to the 7th, the 9th, the 11th and so on until you have run the range of the fretboard. Then the FUN starts. Go back to the 5th fret and mix it up. This time do:

    1,3,2,4 E string (notice I switched the order of the fingers)
    1,3,2,4 A string yadayadayada (Hopefu;;u you get the picture)

    Then do 1,4,3,2
    Then 4,2,3,1 etc. etc.

    But here's the kicker! Alternate your plucking fingers every other note! Period! If you have to start off slow to do this, so be it! (if you like a pick, no biggie, alternate up and down strokes every other note).

    By the time you work a lot of combinations up and down (top to bottom AND left to right) you will probably have a cramp the first few times. But the point is you will KNOW your fretboard up and down top to bottom. Do this (or at least a few combinations) every other day for a couple of months and I guarentee you will look less and jam more!

    P.S. I think the tech term for this stuff is "permutaions" so you can probably look up some better explanations online. Good luck! Sorry for the long response but I hope it helps. It really helped a bunch of my students (even though they HATED me for it...haha!)
  9. bassinplace


    Dec 1, 2008
    I just don't look at my fretboard. I started playing less than a year ago, but from the start I made the decision to not look at my fretboard at all. When I hit a wrong note I can hear it but that usually dosen't happen because I can tell where I am by feel. Just get in the habit of not looking and it will become second nature.
  10. crayzee


    Feb 12, 2009
    Mississauga, ON
    Heh, I do the exact same thing as you do, the engine! Helps a whole lot, but I do it every fret, up and down as well as at the 5th, 7th, etc...
  11. deecher99


    Mar 27, 2009
    I do finger permutations all the time as a warm up and have noticed that I know the fretboard a lot better and it has improved my accuracy and consequently, tone. I swear I could be a teacher sometimes :)
  12. Mike151


    Dec 22, 2008
    Sherman Texas
    At practice last night, I was playing and suddenly this thread came to mind.
    So, I closed my eyes and played for a while, looked straight out at things in the room and to my amazement, I found that I could play without looking at the fretboard. I never made a concious effort to do this and never really thought about trying to do it.
    Very strange.
  13. the engine

    the engine Guest

    Not a bad idea crayzee, but I found that if I started my students off at the first fret, they REALLY cramped up and then said to heck with the whole excercise. I was trying to trick the guy into thinking it wouldn't be so bad. Thanks for calling me out! Geez! HEHE. Permutations really suck to do, but they pay off in the end!
  14. SmittyG


    Dec 24, 2003
    Texarkana, Texas
    Like I said, most folks are not looking at the fretboard because they really have to, it is because they are just used to doing it. Get used to doing something else and it will seem as natural as looking at the fretboard was.
  15. gonzilla


    Jan 26, 2009
    I tried looking into a mirror as I played and it kind of helped. I was able to slowly transition away from tending to look down as I played.
  16. milothefultz


    Nov 29, 2008
    Portland, OR
    +1 Great idea!
  17. themadpiper

    themadpiper This is CAKETOWN!!

    Jun 25, 2008
    Pascagoula, MS
    This worked for me as well.
  18. anon65884001

    anon65884001 Guest

    Feb 1, 2009
    Here's an excellent tip,
    Go get a cello, violin, double bass, viola (anything will do)
    And start playing them :spit:
    Then if you can play them alright
    You are set :smug:
    And don't forget to practice
  19. when I am at home, I sometimes look away from the fretboard..and yes I buzz sometimes..ok..I buzz a lot..lol, depends on the song...
    but when I play on stage, I look a lot at the fretboard, so I don't buzz or mess up..now I will look up at the crowd when there is a song that has the notes like really close to one another that I know I am not gonna mess up...but I guess time and practice is the thing..cause at one time, I NEVER took my eyes off the thing! haha
  20. jschwalls


    Sep 4, 2007
    Savannah GA
    When i was young and still at home, I had to stop playing bass at 9pm every night,,, there was a lightswitch outside my door that shut -off all power to my room ( it was an addition ).. anyway..

    I would be there working hard and BOOM !! no lights or anything, my dad would hit the switch on his way to goto his bedroom... so i would concentrate on my left hand and SLOWLY keep playing my scales and whatever... 3 years of this daily routine made me able to play anywhere on my bass without ever looking at the board...

    so, practice in total darkness, :)

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