Tips for the beginning fretless player

From: Brian Batey (
Date: Sat, 15 Jun 1996 08:51:58 -0500 (CDT)
I've been playing fretless bass for about 7 months now, and have been able to bring my intonation up to a usable level for most music. I do still have some serious limitations, like reading a complex chart and playing, but hey; Rome wasn't built in a day! Here are my suggestions for practicing:

  1. Get Steve Bailey's 'Fretless Bass' book. This book is invaluable, and addresses intonation for the entire first half.
  2. Quit shedding on fretted, for the most part at least. I have split my practising into things that I can do and concentrate on my intonation, and things that I must practice fretted. Find this distinction for yourself.
  3. Practice in the DARK! No lights! No tuner! No nothing. Learn to keep yourself in tune without your eyes, by using open strings. This applies hearing the root, as well as the root, 3, and 5, which for me are the easiest intervals to hear.
  4. Relax when you play. The first few times that I gigged with my fretless, I concentrated so much on my intonation, that I lost sight of the finer points of my normal playing. This can get you into trouble, and take all the fun out of playing fretless. Remember NOONE GETS EVERY NOTE RIGHT!! Just learn to hear it, and to fix it FAST.
Also, be aware of what I call INTONATION HAZARDS. These will make playing in tune MUCH more difficult, if not virtually impossible at times.
  1. Church Pianos. Need I say more? Some of them are hienously out of tune, and it can be virtually impossible for you to reconcile their badly tempered pitches with a guitar player who's tuned to 440!
  2. Conflicting Choruses. If you use a chorus, be aware of any guitar players using them, or any keyboard players using a Leslie effect. If you clash (i.e. get out of phase) with any or all of them, finding a pitch will be very difficult. If this happens, TURN YOURS OFF!! I can assure you that the guitar/keyboard player won't, and guess who get the blame!
  3. Wide Choruses. Sometimes a guitarist will use a chorus with such a wide sweep, that it detunes his/her pitch so badly that it's very difficult to find the correct note in there. Ask him/her to thin it out some. If they cop an attitude on you, speak to the director. We all have to work together.
  4. Bad monitors. You can't set pitch with a conga player!! Make sure that you can hear BOTH the guitars and keys, so that you can reconcile pitch with both of them and hear the aforementioned problems if they arise. Make sure that you have plenty of highs and high mids in your signal so that your pitch is clear, both to you and to everyone else involved.
I hope this helps. Fretless is a definately the most challenging instrument that I've every tried to tackle, but I'm becoming addicted. I feel that fretless really speaks from the soul of the player. blessings to all brianb
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