Fret Less. Fretless bass.

Fret Less — Living Between the Notes

When you’re playing a fretless instrument, such as a fretless bass guitar or a violin, it’s easy to be slightly sharp or flat as the note depends on the exact placement of your fingers. While musicians are careful to play with as much precision as they can, it can be fun to play off the note a bit, whether it be in a vibrato (the rapid pulsing or wavering of a tone), in a glissando (a slide upward and downward between notes), or through an intentional (or unintentional) departure from playing exactly on the note. With a fretted instrument, the fret bars keep your playing to those specific notes for that fret.[1] They are certainly easier to play and provide more precision, but they limit the player to only those specific notes.

I recently bought a fretless bass (in the picture!) and am having a great time playing with these dynamics. The ability to play expressively when I’m not limited by frets has given me a newfound sense of freedom and has allowed me to play in a way I’ve never played before.

It has also made me think about the continuous range of tones being symbolic of how people live their lives. People have expectations that are fairly specific. When they place too much importance on life being a specific way—precisely on the note—there is a lot of potential for anxiety and stress (they “fret”). However, if you allow yourself the flexibility or even intention of playing around with the margins of your expectations, it can take some of the pressure off and allow for creativity in the way you live your life. If you take away the limits of very precise goals and replace them with a continuum of possibilities, you can live your life more expressively and will fret less about things not turning out in a specific way.

There are elements of releasing control, being open-minded, and learning in adopting this approach to life. If you can embrace the nuances of the outcomes of your life, you can access whole new worlds that you didn’t even know existed. It’s so easy to get caught up in living a specific way and expecting particular outcomes that people end up spending a lot of time, energy, and emotional investment in getting to an exact place when there are a lot of spaces in between to explore—if they only accept them and are open to them. People get caught up in the “best way” that they don’t think about all the ways they don’t know about.

It is, of course, important to have a vision for your life that involves very specific goals. Without specific goals, it’s harder to understand how to achieve such a vision. At the same time, you need to be open to an evolution of your vision and goals to allow for new information, insights gleaned from experiences, and changes in your values. All of these happen because life is not precise. A messy life—and all lives are a little bit messy, no matter how much we might think otherwise—is more likely to be a full, rich life. People who live messy lives are taking chances, taking leaps of faith, and living between the notes.

Reality is also very messy. It’s important to be flexible about how you live your life because reality is not going to follow any preconceived notions you have for it. You are going to be constantly surprised (in good and bad ways) by what life throws at you. If you fight with reality, you will always be disappointed, but if you embrace the unpredictability of reality, you will be excited, awed, and in a state of wonder about all the amazing experiences between the notes that you didn’t expect but that you can be open to and embrace.

Don’t fret—you’re better off fretless.

[1] Frets are the spaces between fret bars on a fretted instrument that divide the neck into fixed segments at intervals related to a musical framework. On instruments such as guitars, each fret represents one semitone in the standard Western system, in which one octave is divided into twelve semitones.

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