The Perils of Fingerboard Markings

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by Pete G, Mar 1, 2002.

  1. Pete G

    Pete G

    Dec 31, 2001
    Northern Virginia
    A former college roommate who now plays in the bass section of an orchestra you all know wrote a (sadly) unpublished novel about the trials and tribulations of symphony musicians.

    One thread in the novel involves the over-the-hill, semi-competent principal cellist who is hated by most of the orchestra for the way he toadies to the megalomaniacal conductor (pardon the redundancy).

    In any case, as the plot approaches its denouement, one aspect involves what the other musicians do by way of revenge once they realize that the hated cellist can safely begin his high, exposed solo only by relying on a discreet pencil mark on his fingerboard. An erasable pencil mark. One that looked just like the one that subsequently appeared, a half inch away...
  2. steve 1

    steve 1 Guest

    Feb 18, 2002
    utica, ny
    i love orchestra teacher put markings on my double bass (ive only been playing for about a year), but just recently i noticed that i dont even look at them anymore...its all in the ear and knowing how notes relate to each other string by string. my intonation on EB has gotten alot better because of it.
  3. Johnny L

    Johnny L

    Feb 14, 2002
    Victoria, TX
    I refuse to be embarrased by tape, pencil marks, dots, christmas lights, etc. on the necks and fingerboards of my or anyone else's bass to help us all achieve good intonation. The benefits are too beautiful for the ear to disregard.

    Man is capable of so much evil in this world.
    BlueAliceOasis likes this.
  4. EFischer1

    EFischer1 Guest

    Mar 17, 2002
    New York, New York
    Good intonation is something we should all have. But we, as musicians, should not have to rely on markings on our basses. First of all, its an increadibly juvenile thing to do as a player and should not be limited to such mechanical thinking. You should have many "reference points" (notes that you can easily find on your bass) that you know on your bass to help you get around. Assuming you have decent relative pitch that is
  5. Johnny L

    Johnny L

    Feb 14, 2002
    Victoria, TX
    Maybe you're right after all. I always thought pianists were a bunch of childish brats...
  6. jaybo

    jaybo Guest

    Sep 5, 2001
    Richmond, KY
    Good point Fischer. I find myself using the D on the G string and of course the octave harmonics as "reference points" often.
  7. Johnny L

    Johnny L

    Feb 14, 2002
    Victoria, TX
    It is precisely the things on the side of my head which drive me to advocate fingerboard markings. However, that's not the only thing which guide my hands...

    I was watching a Quincy Jones interview on PBS, maybe a year ago, and he was asked what, in his opinion, was the greatest contribution to music in the 20th century. His reply was (you've gotta love this) the invention of the Fender Precision bass, and his justification was the numerous upright bass players out there who simply couldn't play with the quality of intonation afforded by the Fender Precision players, NOT THE INCREASED VOLUME.

    I'm sorry, but I'm simply not reading ANY counter arguments on this thread which are convincing me to remove the little masking tape diamonds I've stuck onto the side of my fingerboard for every single note in the 12-tone row. Whether I'm singing or playing my bass, I can hear the difference and do whatever I have to do to center my pitch with those who have to live with what their instrument delivers. I can't bring the pitch- markings advantage to my voice, but I can for my bass. And when I use them to guide my fingers I'm damn close, if not dead on.

    But then, I use a bow most often to play. Pizz is easy for me cause I was weaned on a Fender Jazz and I used my fingers to cop those wonderful James Jamerson licks. My ears let me be much more sloppy with Pizz, and I simply can't get away with that using the bow. So for those of you that walk and don't saw, I can understand the defiance a little more.

    Only a half an inch away, you know...
  8. I have a couple of visual marks on the side of my finger board/neck. I really only use them when I am struggling to hear myself.
    My responsibility as the bassist is to play in time and in tune, I need to support the rest of my band and if my out of tune note/s throw my singer then I am not doing my job.
    My ego doesn't prohibit me from using mechanical means as well as aural means to do my job properly.
    Neither does my willingness to use mechanical means diminish the importance of being able to hear that I am in tune(or not).
    In the end the better your technique the less you will need to refer to the markings.
  9. Steve Boisen

    Steve Boisen Your first second choice™ Supporting Member

    Dec 3, 2003
    Tampa Bay, FL
    Well here's one: Your eyes are not in line with all the markers, so they can actually cause you to play out of tune, especially on the higher strings. I've demonstrated this to students who use them by having them play a note on the G string (usually Db or Eb) using the marker as a guide and then having them peek their head around the fingerboard to look at their left hand. Usually their finger is higher up on the string than the marker beacuse they are viewing it from an angle. I venture to guess that if you are playing in tune most of the time, it's because of muscle memory and a good ear, not the markers.

    - Steve
  10. Chasarms

    Chasarms Casual Observer

    May 24, 2001
    Saint Louis, MO USA
    How about the fact that if you become visually dependent on the markings:

    1. you have no ability at all to adjust for pitch if the climate, a bridge bump or something else makes the open string pitch change.

    2. You will look like a total fool on someone else's bass that doesn't have them.

    3. You will really struggle to sightread if you have to keep looking at the neck.

    4. When you perform publically, it isn't very professional to present your listeners and fellow musicians with 60 minutes of the top of your head.

    5. As mentioned, a parrallax will create problems for you. That is the position of your fingers with relation to the position of the tape will move depending on your point of view.

    I don't have any real problems with markers. I know the idea of certain references is becoming more common. Maybr marks at the harmonic nodes or something. But every note seems overkill and more problematic than helpful.
  11. Damon Rondeau

    Damon Rondeau Journeyman Clam Artist Supporting Member

    Nov 19, 2002
    Winnipeg, baby
    ...I'm an agnostic on markers, though I don't use 'em myself. I just thought I'd point out that it's irrelevant whether the marker's on the absolutely valid spot for a given pitch. Irrelevant, that is, if the player doesn't rely on them completely in lieu of his ears. Markers don't have to be used slavishly and stupidly as the sole indicator of where you should stop a string. They can be used instead as merely a highly visible, non-moving reference point.

    I think if you let a marker trump your ear & brain in deciding whether something sounds good you're not really taking full responsibility for the noise you're making. And musicians take responsibility for the noise they make.

    The keys on a piano are a sort of marker, too: "press here and access the correct note." That doesn't mean to say a piano can't be more of a nuisance object than a musical instrument. A lot of the old touring musicians have stories of really bad pianos sabatoged rather than left for another musician to suffer. The guys that did that were musicians.
  12. Nick Gann

    Nick Gann Talkbass' Tubist in Residence

    Mar 24, 2002
    Silver Spring, MD
    I learned with very thin schotch tape markers at first, second, third, and fourth position. After a semester, I didn't need them any more. I think the markings are helpful when you are just getting started. I don't agree with the argument that it teaches you to rely on them to the point of not being able to play any other bass. I think it gives you an easy reference point that will simply aide you in learning the muscle memory needed to play without them. As I said, I learned the muscle memory in a semester, and then I took the markings off.
  13. Ben Joella

    Ben Joella

    May 31, 2004
    Boca Raton, FL
    Well said! It's not if you use them, but how you use them. Calling them cheats, is almost the same as calling folks with a mechanical extension cheaters. They're using that device because they feel it allows them to make better music. I don't know that anyone would disagree with someone who is just trying to make good music.

    The bass's natual reference points are still physical reference points. No one here so far has suggested not using reference points at all. They've just argued how many to use.
  14. bassbaterie


    Dec 14, 2003
    Houston Texas
    Director, Quantum Bass Center
    Have a look at the album cover of Edgar Meyer's Bottesini Concerto CD.

    There are position markers on his bass.

    His intonation is 110% perfect, live and on the recordings.

    'Nuff said.
  15. Those markers are a put on!
  16. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    I saw Edgar give a master class about two months ago. One of the university students to play for him studies with both my teacher (orchestral) and myself (jazz). When he played examples for her on her unmarked bass - which by the way has a string length which is about 3-4" longer than his tiny solo bass - his intonation was still 110% perfect. He also plays most of the time with his eyes closed.

    'Nuff said. :)
  17. Kael


    Dec 26, 2004
    Oklahoma City

    Fretless BG has the same issue with diagonal view of markings, yet still has the markings. Admittedly DB has a greater angle to the user's eye, but I have little difficulty translating BG markings to the correct fingerboard position, so I can't see why I could not do so on DB. Then again I am an upright neophyte (BG convert), so what do I know.
  18. Marc Piane

    Marc Piane

    Jun 14, 2004
    If you do markings it is much more accurate to do them on the fingerboard itself. Whether he uses them or not this is the way Edgar Meyer's bass is. The only marking I've ever used is at the octave. I think people are right that you can develop a dependence. One of the first things I do when I take a new student is pull the tape off their bass. Some rental places actually put tape in place on rental instruments. I have my students practice in the dark to work on intonation. That said I don't see any 'shame' in making little marks if they help you play the right notes, just try to use them as a tool rather than a crutch.
  19. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    After starting on DB after messing with a fretless for a few months (I was a guitarist for years before that), I found the markings on a fretless totally annoying. They never lined up right to my ears. I've always been suspicious that the scale length has something to do with it. Being that an EB's scale is much shorter, it seems that it's easier to intonate on 41 inches instead of 35. On a DB, I feel like I have more room to wiggle and being slightly off is less noticable tho hopefully my ears will detect it anyway.

    BTW: I started out getting intonated using a chomatic tuner and sometimes getting different drones going with BinAB. It's almost been a year now and I think I can say it ain't bad. I do both pizz and arco tho I focus on pizz and arco is just intonation practice. I've weaned myself off of the tuner and feel like I don't need it anymore. I just use some flames/knots in the neck for an occasional visual cue but I don't rely on them either. I like being able to play without looking. Just my $.02.
  20. ctxbass

    ctxbass Supporting Member

    Nov 6, 2003
    Central Texas
    What's the big deal?
    Marks or no marks, you're either in tune or not.
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