Question for Michael (fretboard memorization)

Discussion in 'Ask Steve Lawson & Michael Manring' started by Faded, Dec 1, 2005.

  1. Faded


    Dec 26, 2004
    Santa Barbara
    How much practice time do you spend on fretboard memorization? I mean, you play in so many different tunings, so how do you remember all the different modes and scales, and where the right notes are? Do you just have a feel for where they are? Do you have any tips or suggestions that I could use for memorizing the fretboard in multiple tunings?

  2. i believe in an article with MM he said that he uses everyday life to paint from onto his bass. with alter tunings and regular tuning goes hand in hand. whatever sounds good to you. what you like in texture and sound MM might like differently. like he said many times the fretless electric bass is a very expressive instrument. hope this helps
  3. Faded


    Dec 26, 2004
    Santa Barbara
    Not really, but I appreciate the effort.
  4. Bassist4Life


    Dec 17, 2004
    Buffalo, NY
    I know you're looking for an answer from Michael, but I hope you don't mind if I share a couple of my cents.

    I sometimes use an altered tuning to make something that is difficult in standard tuning easier. Usually, I just use an altered tuning because I like how it sounds. The open strings and natural harmonics produce the right vibe for me. From there, I explore ideas around the fingerboard. I don't approach the fingerboard in the same way that I do in standard tuning. If I can playing something in standard tuning, I will.

    I hope this helps. I am looking forward to Michael's answer.

  5. Faded


    Dec 26, 2004
    Santa Barbara
    My question wasn't why he uses alternate tunings, but if he actually memorizes the fretboard in those tunings, and how he does it.
  6. jeff schmidt

    jeff schmidt no longer red carded, but my butt is still sore.

    Aug 27, 2004
    Novato, CA
    After 20 years or so of playing in altered tunings - I suspect Michael has a fairly deep command of many tunings. I'm also curious about his answer.

    I regularly play and compose solo bass pieces in altered tunings and can answer your question about what is working for me. At the very least - it'll be another point of view to consider until Michael can provide his answer to your question.

    I don't try to re-learn everything I know from standard tuning - in the altered tunings. To me - that defeates the purpose.

    I see the finger board geometrically. So in standard tuning I see chords, modes etc. as shapes connected and linked to other shapes.

    When I change the tuning - I'm forced to learn new shapes. Learning to play in these new intervalic worlds is awesome because it brings you almost back to zero. I learn these by listening. Rarely do I refer to how the new tuning has deviated from standard tuning. Too much thinking! :smug:

    Now, I do end up mapping out the fingerboard in altered tunings - but only so far as the piece I'm playing requires. I have a few pieces in which I improvise solo sections - and these require a deeper grasp of the intervalic relationships across a wider section of the finerboard.

    I approach this just like I approach learning anything new - by playing through it across as much of the board as possible and getting the new shapes under my fingers. Actually - the funny thing is - the shapes are not really new. On any given string you still have the same half step, whole step, minor third,major third intervals you always had. The difference is how these shape line up string to string.

    But even in those pieces where I really learn more of the tuning I don't know the board so well that I could go play though standards in those tunings. I think learning that in dozens of different tunings would be somewhat masochistic. ;) But if you're into that kinda thing . . . . go for it! :D

    I hope you find this post helpful.
  7. Well Faded, not to stir up any argument, but memorizing the fretboard, while it would a great idea, it defeats the whole purpose of altered tunings. Think about it.(But if you would like just take a sheet of paper and write down the notes from the tunings you want to play with. ex. Low Eb next fret E, F,F#/Gb..... onto the next string.)

    I rarely use altered tunings but when I do I tune from low to high F Bb Bb F or F A C F or F Bb C F . (5 string fretted high C) I dont know why but I like useing F as the main note I bounce from. I like the use of those tunings because it allows me to play the same fingerings but with different sounds on my fretless piccolo and fretted 5.

    Like I mentioned earlier after hearing Manrings Thonk album for the first time a few months ago, and trying to play my own stuff with altered tunings, I picked up his article and read that it wasnt so much about knowing where to go but how it sounded. It's a whole new world. After playing for 7-8 years and composing and listening and studying different players and styles, this has challenged me more so than anything else. So go ahead and bounce on me and other people because they didnt answer your question, sorry that we couldnt help. I thought I was.

    And Jeff commenting on memorizing the whole fretboard in different tunings. I'm with you, it'll be hard to relearn the whole board again but I play what sounds best to me and while not best in certain cases I do map it out as well even though I feel that it limits me. Yes I'm sure after many years of playing and doodling with altered tunings, your bound to know where to go and what its going to sound like.

    As for my first post, no matter what I play, I'm going to play from my heart. I am a true believer in playing with my heart and being expressive. Thats what music is about not technical theoretical memorization of scales and modes and speed but playing what your heart wants to and what sounds soothing to the soul. All that is a means of how to express it and will come.
  8. Sorry, but I just wanted to give congrats to Jeff for your performance @ the bass competition. I heard your clips and read your article. Great stuff. I'm a big fan of solo and instrumental bass. After reading your article about the competition. I felt like I could have gone up. I have a pretty song that I wanted to get heard. While its not very technical, it does sing. I'll try to post it, I wouldnt mind you hearing it. Once again, CONGRATS!!
  9. Faded


    Dec 26, 2004
    Santa Barbara
    I see your point, but he still has to know whether or not the notes he is about to play will work, and he has to know what he is doing, which he clearly does. I understand Jeff's point about the geometric shapes and patterns, because that's how the majority of bassists probably see the fretboard.
  10. Jeff Moote

    Jeff Moote Supporting Member

    Oct 11, 2001
    Beamsville, ON, Canada
    I just know Michael is going to come in here and prove me wrong..

    I think that altered tunings or not, playing with the heart and playing expressively requires knowledge - technical theoretical memorization - as you put it. I entirely agree with your philosophy on playing what sounds good, but what sounds good does so for a reason; one only understood when you know what you're playing.

    Now to relate that to altered tunings: admittedly I haven't spent a whole lot of time away from standard, but I don't see how you can really do it without knowing the fretboard in said tuning. If you can't play through a standard in said tuning as well as you can in standard, what's the point? Altered tunings seem like a fantastic medium to facilitate drone sounds, natural harmonics and easier fingerings of passages, but none of this matters if you can't play in the tuning of your choice.

    Sure, as Jeff said regarding the memorization of all those notes, it'd be painful to do so in every possible tuning. It's probably not that hard though, if you can find your way around the instrument in an intervalic sense, especially string to string.
  11. Bassist4Life


    Dec 17, 2004
    Buffalo, NY
    Here is an excerpt from an interview at This may answer your question a little bit. Check out the entire interview, it's very informative.

  12. Michael Manring

    Michael Manring TalkBass Pro Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    Thanks for answering the question for me, Bassist4life, or, er, allowing me to answer the question for myself!

    I’d also like to add my congrats to Jeff. Well done, my friend!