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Playing Fretless

Posted by John Herrington on Monday, July 20, 2009

Aren't these fretless banjos nice! I love my fretless Prust, as many of you know by now. I have enjoyed playing on the 6 gourd banjos I have built. The excuse I use is "proof reading" these interesting indivualistic instruments just a little before delivery to the customer. Actually, I hate to turn them loose, and I love those fretless necks. These, of course, are all fretless. Let me make some personal observations from my own experience.

When I was a boy of about 11, I started playing the fiddle. I had already been playing on the guitar with my older young friend for a couple of years, so I was a "fret man." Since I played by ear I found little trouble in adapting to the fretless neck of my fiddle. The notes just sounded right...or they didn't. Just that simple, actually. I woud find them by feel and by how they sounded. Then practice made the progression of notes that formed the tune right each time I played. Memory programed my fingers where to go and how long to stay where they went. I didn't need to look at each note's position, they just sounded right, and the more I played, new tunes that I need to learn just came naturally to my fingers and my mind.

I know this is stated too simply. But I found this to be so with the fretless banjos. Forget the place where a fret ought to be, Just let your mind and memory direct your fingers to where it sounds right. You will find this "frees you up" to learn. Listen to what you are playing and you can repeat. Practice, practice, practice. (Those are the three laws of learning any instrument, you know). One of the strongpoints of the fretless is the beautiful slides that become a part of your music. I suppose those develop quite naturally trying to find the right sounding note! :)

Just relax, men, and play 'til you learn! What can you do to better enjoy yourself?

Old John on the Big Horn River

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