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Question about how to properly play a fretless bass..

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by JeremyBender, Aug 29, 2002.


  1. JeremyBender

    JeremyBender

    Oct 22, 2001
    NY
    Yea yea.. so I'm a noob.. I hope this belongs here, as I am searching for the proper technique to play a fretless bass.

    Anyways, I have a MIM Fender fretless bass. It has fret markers.

    My question is this. I play the fretless the same way I play any other bass. I am not trained, nor have I had many lessons, but I am to understand I am supposed to be playing ON the fretmarkers? Is the the case? I have been told that it would be off key to play it between the fretmarkers like any other, yet when I tune it, it only properly tunes when I play it like a fretted, and when I try to play the ghost markers as I am supposed to, it just doesnt sound right. I need help!

    I know as an untrained player, maybe I should stay away from a fretless, but I love playing it. When I do use the fretless, we play mostly Cream covers or something along those lines, or usually improvs and silly stuff like that, and being that we are all amateurs, I can't hear if it's off or not, yet it sounds right to everyone, but people tell me that is the wrong way to play it.

    Is it just the Fenders? Is it me? HELP!
     
  2. Jazz Ad

    Jazz Ad Mi la ré sol Gold Supporting Member Supporting Member

    My 2 eurocents :

    fretted and fretless are 2 completely different animals.
    Fretted are visual, fretlesses are all about your ears.
    If you rely on what you see on the board then you're damned, just like on an upright.
    Intonation should be corrected upon what you HEAR, not what you SEE.

    My advice :
    practise your fretless in the dark, and do exercises with pedals and melodies (a ringing open string and a bassline higher on the neck) to have a reference.
     
  3. JeremyBender

    JeremyBender

    Oct 22, 2001
    NY
    Thanks for that Jazz Ad. I don't trust my ears for anything though.. I need to see where my band mates are playing, because my ears are total crap. I have no confidence, and everytime we play the pitch game, I lose. I am always wrong. Even with the most basic notes.

    Anyways, thanks for the advice. Once I have more confidence in my ears, I'll try it again. I am very visual with my playing, which is why I thought I would start out wth fret markers. I guess I'll stick to fretted basses for now. I will try the playing in the dark thing. Maye that will help me build a level of comprehension for it. I doubt it though.
     
  4. Jazz Ad

    Jazz Ad Mi la ré sol Gold Supporting Member Supporting Member

    The pitch game requires absolute pitch, that you may have or not, but there is not a lot to do about it.

    On the other hand, relative pitch can and must be worked on.

    It's nice that you play with guitar or keyboard players, but will you still look at violin or sax players ?

    Learning to recognize intervals (3rds, 2nds, octaves, 5ths, ...) is essential. It'll help you to get the key the song is in, and chords to be used.

    As for fretless, you'll never know if you play on pitch by looking at the fingerboard. Just open your ears and trust them.
     
  5. Yes! Be prepared to compensate for pitch variations, but in general, you play on the fretline.
     
  6. elbass

    elbass

    Aug 6, 2001
    San Antonio TX
    Whether or not you play on the fretline or right behind it is a matter of personal preference, as long as you set the bridge intonation for your particular playing style. "Fret," or "stop" the string you are tuning at the octave (the 12th "fret") at the point where you prefer to play it-either right on the line or right by it. Use a tuner and adjust the bridge saddles to match the pitch with the harmonic, as you would with a fretted bass. Try to be as consistant as possible. You may find yourself adjusting the bridge further as you gain experience on the fretless. As mentioned before, though, no matter how you use the lines, your ear is the final judge of intonation. The lines just get you in the ballpark, and even the slightest wiggle of the finger could mean the difference between being in or out of tune.

    To gain confidence, try playing with recordings in the privacy of your own practice room and concentrate on matching pitches. As you get better (and you WILL get better) then go ahead and start using the fretless with the band. Trust your ears and don't give up-I've been playing fretless almost exclusively for many years now and my intonation still gets a little squirrley sometimes. That's when it's nice to have those lines to get back on track.

    Bob (who plays on the lines)
     
  7. JAUQO III-X

    JAUQO III-X Banned

    Jan 4, 2002
    CHICAGO,IL.
    Endorsing artist:see profile.
    With ears wide open.
     
  8. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    UK
    Oh dear!

    I don't play fretless, one day I shall and I expect to have intonations issues as every other newbie to fretless does, but I do know that you'll need to seriously work on pitch if you want to play fretless (and fretted and any other instrument for that matter!) well. :)
     
  9. JeremyBender

    JeremyBender

    Oct 22, 2001
    NY
    Thanks for all the information guys. I do very much appreciate it. I will work on playing the lines for now, but obviously I have to improve certain areas if I ever hope to play the fretless, or fretted as well as I'd like to.. Though I am seriously considering lessons with a professional teacher for the first time in all the years of my playing because I love the bass, and I dearly love playing.

    I always thought of it as a hobby, but lately it's become more of a passion than anything. This website is one of the greatest sources of information on the web for bass players, and I am grateful for it! Thanks again.
     
  10. eli

    eli Mad showoff 7-stringer and Wish lover Supporting Member

    Dec 12, 1999
    NW suburban Chicago

    When you refer to "fretmarkers", I'm not sure whether you mean lines or side dots. Lined fretless Fenders usually have side dots at the "in-between" positions -- where they would be if the bass had frets. Do NOT under any circumstances play at these positions! Play at the fret LINES. As was stated above, the bass needs to be intonated to the fretlines. I am most comfortable with Gary Willis's method -- see www.garywillis.com and go to the intonation section. He intonates and plays just behind (below) the lines.
     
  11. deepbob

    deepbob

    Oct 3, 2001
    left field
    as a former trombone player (same problem, although not as finite), my advice is to play many scales over and over. that was what got a very natural, intuitive feel going for me.

    while slowly developing some sense of ear was obviously a critical part, the ease of hitting note positons on the instrument intuitively comes through much easier from that kind of practice, and comes a hell of a lot faster than you imagine.

    your ear is like any other muscle, while you are convinced you don't have one, you are making a stronger one everytime you sit down.

    personally, and i haven't played a fretless properly, i couldn't imagine not using my ear with my fretted bass =P

    "just don't do it"
    -- Bob Dole
     
  12. eli

    eli Mad showoff 7-stringer and Wish lover Supporting Member

    Dec 12, 1999
    NW suburban Chicago
    People do tend to be more timid about playing fretless than they usually need to be.

    While a healthy respect for playing in tune is a good thing, it should help to know that the bass frequencies are a bit more forgiving about pitch than are the higher ranges. So just plow ahead, and try to practice with some reference, like a CD (make sure your BASS is in tune with it, for heaven's sake), and, as deepbob says, you'll get better every time you play. Nothing to be afraid of! Heck, thousands of 4th grade beginning orchestra students figure it out every year...

    "Just do it."
    - Nike
     
  13. elbass

    elbass

    Aug 6, 2001
    San Antonio TX
    An exercise that I still do occasionally to work on my intonation is to to play octaves and fifths up and down the fingerboard and work to play them in tune. Play them slowly as double stops and listen for the beats; make slight adjustments until the beats go away. Solidifying your intonation on the octaves and fifths will give you a foundation to build upon.
     
  14. eli

    eli Mad showoff 7-stringer and Wish lover Supporting Member

    Dec 12, 1999
    NW suburban Chicago
  15. JeremyBender

    JeremyBender

    Oct 22, 2001
    NY
    I am referring to the lines actually. I have brought the bass to a pro, and the intonation was totally off.

    The guy I brought it to previously set it up so I can play the frets like a fretless, (before I knew the proper way) but certain notes in the upper register (above the 12th fret) were sounding a bit weird. So I got the bass properly set up over this past holiday weekend and I am much happier with it now. I will use all the advice on the Gary Willis website and what you guys gave me here, and hopefully I'll have ti right someday! Heres a bad pic of the bass so you guys can see the lines
     
  16. eli

    eli Mad showoff 7-stringer and Wish lover Supporting Member

    Dec 12, 1999
    NW suburban Chicago
    What color is it -- that midnight blue? Or is it purple?

    (that affects the intonation, you know. :D )
     
  17. elbass

    elbass

    Aug 6, 2001
    San Antonio TX
    That's true...blue notes tend to run a little flat...:D :D