Re: some pretty dumb questions...

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Posted by Bob 'Skippy' Blechinger on February 07, 2002 at 06:17:29:

In Reply to: some pretty dumb questions... posted by Richard Malone on February 06, 2002 at 16:17:57:

: ...but I'm going to ask anyways :)

: For the longest time, I've loved the sound of the fretless electric bass. So, I've decided that I want to learn how to play this beautiful sounding instrument. *BUT* I've never played an instrument before in my life! So...

: 1) Is the fretless bass too much for complete beginners?

Personally, I wouldn't really recommend starting on a fretless.

Fretless basses came about mostly for people who had gotten their start on upright bass, either in jazz or orchestra. For someone who'd studied upright bass - and was familiar with how to play with proper intonation - the fretless allowed them to translate *much* more of their technique than they could with a fretted bass.

Bass isn't all that difficult to learn; you don't have to coordinate 6 strings at once, the way you do on guitar, so it doesn't take long until you can feel like you're actually *playing*. The problem with *starting* on a fretless is that it's going to be *very* frustrating, because you'll have to learn all the intricacies of proper intonation *while* you're learning basic technique. It *can* be done, but if you've never really had any musical training, that's an awful lot you're going to have to learn all at once.

I'd suggest that you learn the fundamentals of playing bass on a *fretted* instrument; spend a good deal of time making sure your technique is proper, and after a year or two - or however long it takes you to feel *confident* - move to a fretless (and make *sure* you get someone good to learn fretless technique from).

: 2) I've seen many fretless basses available with fretlines and/or dots. How accurate are these markings and are they "enough" of a visual aid to help a beginner with proper intonation, at least until I can train my ear/mind/fingers?

They're usually fairly accurate, but there are issues of string tension, etc., that affect the intonation.

: 3) Also, when fingering with a fretless bass that has fretlines/dot markers, where do you put your finger(s)? Behind the line, on the line, or...? Or are there many variables that are involved, such as the size of my fingertips, etc.?

Generally on the line or right behind; more than anything else, though, it's a matter of learning to both hear and *feel* (i.e., sensing it, not touching) when you're on pitch.

: 4) Really dumb one here: when playing on a fretless, do you fret notes the same as you would with frets, or is "proper" to slide back and forth to each desired note? (I've heard some fretless players that seem to slide constantly.)

Sliding between notes is part of fretless technique, but you don't do it *all* the time.

: I went to a Mars Music store this morning and a salesman/bassist looked like he was gonna faint when I told him that I wanted to learn the fretless. He said it was a bad idea due to the fact that since I've never played an instrument before (much less a bass), that I wouldn't learn proper intonation because, as he put it, I "wouldn't know what I was hearing." This sounds logical to me. What do you guys think?

If you want to be a good musician, you should learn to hear pitch; I have "perfect pitch", so it's not difficult for me. I've done some playing on a fretless before, but I wouldn't consider myself fluent; I can make it sound good, though, because I can hear pitch.

: Couldn't I learn "what to hear" (so to speak) and proper intonation from a qualified fretless bass instructor? My desire is quite strong to learn this instrument. I recently turned 30 and I don't want to put off this "fantasy" any longer.

I'd still recommend that you start on a fretted instrument for a year or two; you'll be a *lot* better off once you make the move to a fretless, trust me. :-)

Hope that helps!


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