Are you new to the guitar and looking to expand your knowledge of musical techniques? Do you play chords and find that there are certain frequencies that do not sound good to your ear and that you would like to mute? Does the idea of guitar mute strings greatly appeal to you? Are you looking to surf the fret buzz that your guitar is so laden with?
Then come on in and grab a pew, for today we will be exploring some of the various methods we can use to mute the guitar strings, whether wholly or partially for music effect, as in the case of palm muting and the like.
Left Hand Lift
One of the simpler methods for guitar mute strings would be the left hand lift, and this is especially because it translates to almost any other instrument as well. If you are playing a note and you want it to stop, just remove your fingers from the fretted position, just as you would on a keyboard, etc.
Guitar playing is made up of small moments of connection with the guitar’s fretboard, where the finger is pressed into the fret to make the desired note sound out. Traditional guitar technique is centred around the fluidity of this motion, for a person who can get this fully down has more or less got the knack of it all and can play guitar without issue. And guitar strings come in different sizes which of course can affect the sound. But if you want to mute them the process is rather simple.
So, if this is so important, then it stands to reason that in order to make the note stop sounding we simply remove the grip of the fretting hand or finger. This method means that not all the strings have to be muted or stop sounding out at once, meaning unwanted strings can be removed from the equation, though enacting such a maneuver might be a little complex to begin with.
In this way, muting strings really is as simple as letting go and going with the flow. Anyone can get to learn to play chords, and so too can these very same people remove the pressure they might be exacting with, for instance, their third finger to remove a scale degree from one string of a chord and thus create a different chord that might more easily move into another chord, and so on.
This technique can actually happen by accident and has been known to have something to do with string noise. When not enough pressure is exacted on a fret, there will be a buzzing sound, the in between of pressing down and muting, undesirable to some.
Left Hand Touch
Closely related to the former is this latter technique which still uses the fretting hand instead of the strumming hand to mute notes. This time, however, the muting of separate notes instead of all of them becomes a little more difficult as you are using a whole barre of a finger to mute the strings usually. This is essentially the difference between a pull off and a hammer on respectively.
In this way, this is the theoretical opposite of the left hand left, as in the former you are using one finger and / or other fingers and lifting them from the notes they are pressing down, whereas in the latter you are placing down fingers against the strings.
Of course, if you were playing a note with say, the first finger, you would not be able to press behind it on the side of the nut, and for good reason! Because string instruments work with a string that changes pitch when its length is shortened by a singer, playing behind the hand on the side of the headstock would not make a difference whatsoever.
Thus, when you see people using this technique, you will see them playing certain chords and then, say, placing their pinky after the note or chord against the strings. This is essentially string muting, difficult to enact against individual strings, though perfect for getting rid of a whole bunch of tones in one fell swoop.
Right Hand Thumb Mute
So, besides the fretting hand, we can also use the picking hand to mute the strings, and not just through palm muting! The thumb is a vital tool for the muting of strings and can be implemented on one or more strings on the strumming side of things, depending of course on one’s dexterity with these sorts of things.
For those who use a plectrum, this might be a more fiddly exercise, so this could primarily be the reserve of those who make use of fingerpicking patterns. There are some guitarists who do not use such techniques who still do not use a plectrum and that is all well and good.
A more famous example that comes to mind – and that will no doubt be familiar to anyone who has gone to look up a pedal on YouTube in recent memory – is Andy, formerly of Pro Guitar Shop, and now a representative at Reverb.
These kinds of techniques are very effective when using the middle pickup on a guitar, very much in the vein of classic fingerstyle guitarists like Chet Atkins and Johnny Mathis, who would use classic electric guitars by monolithic brands like Mosrite and Gretsch.
So, depending on where the hand already is in relation to the strings, certain strings can be muted as per the desires of the instrumentalist in question and whatever they believe the performance of the piece in question calls for.
The thumb will very often be working the bass strings, so muting them can be perfect for dynamic shifts in songs, especially if playing fingerstyle guitar. Guitarists like Wes Montgomery will, however, use their thumb to play all over the guitar, preferring the rich warm tone that the skin upon it offers when forced into contact with the string.
Similarly, in thinking about the strumming hand we can just as easily use other fingers on this hand to mute strings, perfect for if we are looking to mute the resonance of individual frequencies and scale degrees within a chord so as to make it more compatible for a chord upcoming.
The actual definition of planting has to do with preparing the fingers for the next chord in play, which will obviously be of more interest, again, to those using fingerstyle techniques instead of or more often than a plectrum.
So, as a guitarist gets ready to sound out another chord and thus gets their fingers in the right position resting on the relevant upcoming strings, these fingers have the simultaneous effect of muting the strings anyhow.
I find this technique of use especially if the original chord that I am playing has an open string in it that I would have played in the next chord. With this technique, though I am muting certain strings in preparation for the upcoming chord, I am still theoretically keeping this open string sounding out so that, if I am careful enough, it can keep resonating through the next chord too.
These kinds of harmonics are quite common in jazz, wherein a whole bunch of seemingly unrelated chords will be glued together by a series of similar frequencies, notes that are present in the previous and following chord that act as a through road between the chord progressions, a glue that cannot be broken.
This technique or others very similar that have been personally adapted and formulated by the musician in question are utilized by guitarists like Joe Pass, whose entire style is centred around his playing the bass, chords, and melody of a piece of music simultaneously, all while looking incredibly dapper in a suit, tie, and mustache.
This will be the way to mute guitar strings that will undoubtedly be most familiar to all. I do not even remember being taught to do so any other way by my own guitar tutor, but rather had to develop the other guitar techniques aforementioned intuitively without even really realizing that they were individual techniques to be held aloft like so.
This technique, thus, involved using the entire edge of the palm placed against the whole span of the strings. The interesting thing about this technique is that it can just as easily be used to mute the guitar strings altogether as it can be utilized to pluck the strings while they are being mute, effecting a kind of pizzicato sound from the strings when plucked while notes are being fretted.
The sound of this technique in action will no doubt be familiar to anyone who has ever listened to any rock and roll, particularly those rollicking examples of punk rock from the mid 70s onwards (though progenitor bands like Death were doing the same kinds of things through proto punk in the early 70s).
It has been utilized and manifested to death in these genres to the point of parody, quickly becoming a hall mark of certain brands of this music and an easy way to parrot it ad infinitum.
Also, you might want to check out our guide on Best Acoustic Guitar Strings For Beginners for a great intro to guitar strings
Still, the technique gathered steam and is now more often used in heavier genres, Djent especially, where the sound of the detuned guitar chords is played in convolutedly rhythmic patterns that sound out in conjunction with the double bass drum pedals and the bass and other guitars atop which lie the often guttural screams of whoever has been called to bastardize their throat in the name of music and music alone.
So, there you have it!
Hopefully, your curiosity regarding guitar mute strings has been satiated somewhat, and you are feeling better able to mute your own guitar strings, whether wholly or partially. Some of these techniques will no doubt be easier to pick up for you than others, and this will undoubtedly differ depending on who you ask and upon the level of experience one has with the instrument.
Persevere no matter what, and try and stick with it. Other than palm muting, I was never taught any of these other techniques, and I imagine they might just as well come to you as intuitively as they did me.
FAQs Guitar Mute Strings
Unless you experienced a horrifying injury during the war or otherwise do not have an arm or palm, then you can use a number of different techniques with your fingers to either completely mute your strings or mute them to musical effect. Palm muting is the most common and is easily the most documented, wherein the palm is placed along all of the strings towards the bridge of the guitar, making the strings sound out as though pizzicato or dulling their sound entirely, as would be done at the end of a song to prevent feedback and the like from ruining a dramatic ending.
Muting guitar strings can either involve completely quieting the strings entirely or can involve a more musical approach. Palm muting is the most common and is easily the most documented, wherein the palm is placed along all of the strings towards the bridge of the guitar, making the strings sound out as though pizzicato or dulling their sound entirely, as would be done at the end of a song to prevent feedback and the like from ruining a dramatic ending. Likewise, though, individual strings can be muted for harmonic effect to lead a chord into the next chord and such.
There is the choice of either muting all of the strings or muting those that are undesired while still enabling some to sound out. I find the latter technique useful especially if the original chord that I am playing has an open string in it that I would have played in the next chord. With this technique, though I am muting certain strings in preparation for the upcoming chord, I am still theoretically keeping this open string sounding out so that, if I am careful enough, it can keep resonating through the next chord too.