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Systematic approach to fretless (even rabbath,Vance, or Simandl)?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Matthew_84, Jul 29, 2012.

  1. Hey all,

    I posted a question in the DB side asking about the Rabbath or Vance method for fretless, but so far it doesn't look so good.

    I just got an unlined fretless, and have also ordered another unlined neck to replace my lined one. When I played the lined one, I really used my eyes a lot more than I should have, and then I would use my ears to tell if I should move from there or not. With the unlined I have to use my ears a lot more, which I like. I read an interview with Esperanza Spalding and she was very influenced with the Rabbath method of teaching which seemed to put more emphasis on muscle memory rather than just placing fingers and using your ear to gauge your placement. I really think that this a systematic approach would help improve my muscle memory and make my intonation more accurate.

    I'm just wondering if there are any such systematic methods for fretless? FWIW, I do own Steve Bailey's fretless book and Chris Kringel's Hal Leonard's fretless book.

    Or has any fretless BG player had any luck working through Rabbath, Vance, or Simandl, or any other DB methods by themselves (without teachers)?



    EDIT TO ADD: I have gotten some great exercises from other members, such as FretlessMainly. But I'm still curious about a systematic approach to the entire fingerboard. I do use a 1-2-4 method below the 4th position (7th fret, or B on the E string).
  2. onlyclave


    Oct 28, 2005
    "Muscle Memory" in lieu of ears for intonation? I don't think you understood what Esperanza Spalding was saying or she didn't articulate what she meant to say clearly. Intonation is all about ears. Muscle memory is about fingering systems (Simandl, Bille, Rabbath).

    There is no secret to playing in tune; it's your ears, period.
  3. I never meant that I wanted my muscle memory would be a more dominant force than my ears. I did mention that an unlined board makes me use my ears more, which I like, but I understand if there was some confusion.

    Rabbath, from what I heard, helps to study the physical distance between pitches and shifts, so that I'm not haphazardly placing my fingers down. Hopefully, with good muscle memory, I'd be more likely to be accurate in my initial placement.

    I'm really just looking for something to improve my muscle memory. My ears will always be the judge. I do understand that even with flawless muscle memory that a perfect pitch will be bit off from one day to another.
  4. MrLenny1


    Jan 17, 2009
    New England
    Play a major scale up the E string only, without looking.
    Drop your hand back to the nut position each time after the next note.
    This was one method I was given when studying DB.
    Typically it would take me a 1/2 hour of playing to lock in intonation.
    Good Luck.
  5. BassChuck

    BassChuck Supporting Member

    Nov 15, 2005
    Be consistant with fingers. Use only the motion you need. Practice scales around the circle, not just up and down the neck chromatically. In other words on the E string, a G major scale, then C scale starting on the E string, then F scale, Bb etc etc all starting on the E string.

    Practice scales with octaves.. in other words low C, high C... D low, D high.
    Practice scales in 5ths.. in other words C note, G note... D note A note.. etc all scales.
  6. coyote1


    Mar 23, 2012
    Muscle memory is crucial to playing a fretless. Because when playing a fast run, you cannot possibly use your ears to correct for every microtone. By the time you've struck the note, the next note is upon you... and you don't want notes to start out wrong anyway. You need to be able to hit the note correctly and then, if manipulating it, do so afterward.

    But you cannot achieve muscle memory if you cannot hear those differences. And folks who spend all their time looking at fret lines and playing box patterns are rarely if ever listening to their intonation attentively enough to develop that muscle memory.
  7. Phil Smith

    Phil Smith Mr Sumisu 2 U

    May 30, 2000
    Peoples Republic of Brooklyn
    Creator of: iGigBook for Android/iOS
    That's not the secret to playing in tune. The two things, Muscle Memory and your expectation of the pitch are the things that enable you to play in tune. No matter how good your ear is if you don't have a system or better yet the dexterity and muscle memory i.e. a minds eye knowledge of where the notes are you don't stand a chance playing a piece of music, let alone playing it in tune.

    To the OP, Simandl is a good method to use, but you have to break your habit of playing with your eyes, lots of reading will help you with that.
  8. BassGreaser


    Aug 22, 2002
    Austin, TX
    after playing URB solely for 6 years I am at a point where I don't even look at the finger board (unless a string goes out of tune during a song). In the past few months I have switched back to playing some electric bass (fretted Pbass) and boy to I feel trapped by all the speed bumps on the finger board.. (thinking about building an unlined fretless slab soon)

    My suggestion is to just keep playing that unlined neck and you will get to a point where you will no longer need to look at the board.

    What I have noticed from playing URB to fretted slab is that with URB I use my ears and fretted slab I tend to look at the speed bumps more:scowl:
  9. Fergie Fulton

    Fergie Fulton

    Nov 22, 2008
    Retrovibe Artist rota
    Part of learning is using your eyes to watch you hands. Your ears reinforce what you see with what you hear. On a fingerboard part of a persons technical nuance is their fingering and how they bring it to pitch within the timbre of the note...Even the vibrato of a note.

    That being said if you never learn to read you will watch your hands and not really develop the ear as good as if you learn to read. If you have to read and play you do not really have the time to watch your hands, so consider reading as part of any playing technique that develops the ears because of what is in-directly involved.
  10. uethanian


    Mar 11, 2007
    personally i use simandl fingering (1-2-4) in the lower positions and then one finger per fret above the fifth fret or so. i have tried rabbath-style pivots but never really incorporated them into my playing. useful on DB, not necessary on BG imo.

    but playing fretless is much more about approach than any specific fingering/shifting/pivoting. the trick is to reduce movement; given a line, finding the pathway that requires the least amount of shifting. keeping low fingers with a consistent spread is key. and when you do have to shift, aim for finger-replacement (putting your index/middle where your pinky just was, as opposed to looking at the hand's vertical position on the neck)

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