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Fretless Practice

by Doug Bland
Here is a tip to help first timers (like me) adjust to playing a fretless electric bass. When I got my bass modified into a fretless (via replacing the neck, not destroying it!), I realized I needed to form good habits early to ensure that my band wouldn't fire me for sounding like nails on a chalkboard. I began by playing the fretless bass like I would a fretted one. I concentrated by playing scales staccato (short, distinct) until i could play the scales smoothly (legato). It is very important to use your ear when playing scales on a fretless b/c it is easy to lose your place on the neck. By playing the scales in a stiff and deliberate manner, your hands will begin to naturally fall into position on the neck. Afterwards, playing smooth bass lines will be easier. Once I became more comfortable with the bass, I began to approach the fretless like an upright bass. Instead of playing scales and songs like I would on a fretted bass, I incorporated slides and smoother phrasing to capture the warmth and quality of an upright bass. Make good, but tasteful use of vibrato (wiggle your finger on the note, slightly) and sliding when playing. Better yet, grab some old jazz or blues recordings and listen to the bass player. Old school is still the best source for inspiration!
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