There is no limit to the number of scenarios that can require you to learn how to play guitar quietly, and no matter how hard you might try to avoid it or deny it, it will eventually come around.
Regular practise, diligently and intelligently, is the key to achieving your musical ambitions, to attaining the place and position you are seeking within the music sphere. Certain circumstances can, however, have a severely detrimental impact on your ability to do so. Housing situations and subsequently aggravated housemates can, evidently, prevent us from playing as loud as we want.
This can be especially difficult if you are playing an acoustic guitar. With an electric guitar, you can at least have very direct control over the volume via the knobs attached to the guitar or amplifier, or can even plug a pair of headphones into your guitar and / or amplifier so that those around you don’t have to hear you whatsoever.
This can be the case if the guitar is electro acoustic, being a hybrid of the acoustic guitar amplified like an electric. Most acoustic guitars, however, aren’t equipped with such a luxury, and so will need some more applied techniques in order to learn how to play guitar quietly.
How to Practise Electric Guitar Quietly
The electric guitar is a special case in comparison to the acoustic guitar. The electric guitar, lacking in a sound hole usually, derives its power for volume through the use of magnetic pickups installed in the body which more often than not need to be plugged into an external sound amplifier in order to be heard in all their intricacy.
There are guitars that bridge the gap between electric and acoustic, the hollow body electric guitar for instance, which utilises a hollow body and magnetic pickups for a specific timbral tone, or an electro acoustic guitar, which simply seeks to amplify the already loud acoustic guitar to stadium capacities.
There are a number of ways to navigate all of these different types of guitars, whether they be electric, acoustic, hollow, or electro acoustic, or any other, learning to play each individual one with a philosophy of attempting to learn how to play guitar quietly. The electric guitar, so reliant as it is on being amplified, lends itself well to this redirecting of signals, allowing each musician perfect control over the signals in the circuit and to be able to redirect them so as to reduce the volume.
Aside from using headphones, you can always simply play your electric guitar unplugged. The tone you are likely to get is going to be far less potent and is likely to pack far less punch than if it were amplified through any sort of amplification device, whether that be tube or solid state or purely emulated via technological means. However, if you are seeking to learn how to play guitar quietly, then potency is hardly going to be the aim of the game, so this could be a fruitful avenue to plunder.
Practising Electric Guitar with Headphones: Amplifier
One of the most simple ways to effect the learning of how to play guitar quietly is through the use of headphones. Through this method you can practise in what would be perceived outside as complete silence, allowing you to carve out your own scoop of the universe within and without. There are a near infinite amount of combinations and routes through which to do this too, ranging from the most cheap to the most high range.
As with so many aspects of the musical industries, you will want to explore and carve out your own way for yourself, adjusting each aspect to your own needs, wants, and desires. There will be many different aspects that will not suit you that will suit others, and vice versa, so you will need to go forth with a full awareness of your own wants, needs, and boundaries.
Headphones can be plugged in to either a guitar amplifier or even a multi effects pedal, each acting as a conduit for the vibrations that emanate from the guitar strings into the magnetic pickups, through the internal mechanisms of the guitar via the cables, through the jack cable to the amplifier itself, which itself translates the signals into that which is audible to the human ear.
Most modern guitar amps will have an auxiliary headphone jack, usually located by the knobs on the top of the amp. This is more often than not the case for amps that don’t use valves, those that are typically referred to as solid state amplifiers.
This headphone jack will, in more modern interpretations, be accommodating to more portable headphones. However, there will be older versions of these very same amplifiers that use 1/4 inch output jacks. You can either purchase headphones specifically for the purpose, equipped with a 1/4 inch input jack through which to receive the signals. On the other hand, you can also simply purchase an adapter which works perfectly well and translates these signals to your more usual portable headphones.
Practising Electric Guitar with Headphones: Multi Effects Unit
There is an abundance of modern multi effects units that are equipped with the most up to date inbuilt amp simulations. Technology has bloomed at an alarming rate in the last few decades, allowing for such simulation that perfectly emulates any of your favourite amplifiers, be that solid state or tube or a combination of the two, so much so that many won’t be able to tell the difference unprompted.
Much as with the amplifiers exhibited above, and especially like those that this new fandangled multi effects unit will be emulating, they are perfectly suited to the aspiring professional guitarist looking to get in their daily practise while also learning how to play guitar quietly, so as not to upset their family or housemates at any times of the day.
The beauty is in the simplicity. Just as with the modern amplifiers exhibited above, you simply plug right in and away you go. If the headphone jack is one that is a quarter inch wide, simply use your special headphones or special adapter that adapts the signal to work with your more modern and portable headphones.
Practising Electric Guitar with Headphones: Mini Amp Simulator
Much as with the use of the more modern multi effects units and the use of modern amplifiers for the purpose, there exist such things as mini amp simulators, that act less like the amplifiers that they copy or more simply as conduits for the signals.
This is, in fact, very similar to the multi effects units mentioned previously, though having sidestepped any of the actual effects. Many multi effects units can be laden with a bunch of effects that you might not be interested in and could frankly get in the way of what you are actually after: simply being able to shred or practise regularly in peace, attaining that pinnacle of learning how to play guitar quietly.
There are certain other products that can be used essentially as mini amplifiers. These we would call portable mini amplifiers. They are battery powered and so can be taken anywhere and used with any kind of gear that communicates via a quarter inch cable. Their portability means they can even be strapped to your belt or some such, and are typically equipped with a belt strap of this kind.
Despite allowing you to plug headphones in and avoid the amplification aspect, they still provide another aspect that might be unwanted, whereas portable amp simulators act purely as conduits for the vibrations of the magnetic pickups to the amp simulator and then through the cable to the headphones in your ears and into your mind palace.
How to Practise Acoustic Guitar Quietly
Just as with the electric guitar, there are several routes through which to achieve that hallowed plain of having found how to play guitar quietly. More often than not lacking in the technological aspects that an electric guitar is likely to be, an acoustic guitar is more able to evade being controlled simply by the twist of a knob, to avoid the more simply controls that occupy an electric guitar.
We thus have to resort to more primitive means, unless this acoustic guitar is also powered with electric means of course. If this should be the case, and if the guitar in question is in fact an electro acoustic, then a mixture of the advice from this more acoustic oriented section and that before which deals with more electric guitar oriented strife will be needed in order to achieve quiet guitar practise and playing.
Despite having to resort to these somewhat more primitive means, there are in fact technological means through which to quieten what might otherwise be a very loud guitar practise session.
Dampening the Acoustic Guitar with a Tee Shirt
It is ironically at least a little easier to mute the sounds that emanate from an acoustic guitar, and it can in fact be done with something that every one is likely to have lying around the house. Imagine, controlling pure sound being easier and more simple and cheaper than channelling electricity!
Using a tee shirt or any other such thing that is in a vaguely similar vein can significantly reduce the volume of your acoustic guitar. If one or two tee shirts (or any such other fabric equivalent of an equivalent amount) are stuffed into the sound hole of the guitar, the vibrations that would otherwise emanate from the strings into the sound hole and out again having been amplified by the air and space inside are significantly reduced by the bulging mass of fabric standing in their way.
The relative simplicity of simply stuffing two of something that you are more than likely going to have just lying around the house is counter balanced with the fact that it is often a bit of a pain to fish out anything that you might be stuffing into the sound hole to dampen the sound.
In comparison to how convenient this can be, some might not deem it wholly inconvenient, though it is certainly something to consider before you leap up from wherever it is you are reading this article and dive straight into your wardrobe for a pair of spare tee shirts that you might otherwise use to clean the car or something. Especially don’t be using anything much smaller as a dampener than tee shirts, as they can be notoriously hard to fish out after you are done practising.
Dampening the Acoustic Guitar with an Acoustic Feedback Dampener
In much the same way as the use of tee shirts to dampen the various vibrations and frequencies that an acoustic guitar produces, there are specific products designed to do just that.
Certainly, nothing quite beats not having to pay a single penny to learn how to play guitar quietly, and simply using something that everyone has lurking in their wardrobes waiting to be used as a dampener to do just that. However, there are certain benefits to using a tool designed explicitly for the purpose.
These tools are more often than note relatively cheap, especially considering just how useful they can truly be. Not only cheap, they are also extremely easy to use, able to be manned by just about any level of guitarist, from novice to expert. This is in direct contrast to the inconvenience that can sometimes come to taint the use of tee shirts as a dampener of the acoustic guitar’s frequencies and vibrations.
This tool is specifically designed to avoid the often obtuse sounds of feedback that can occur in a live setting. The tool is manufactured in a way that negates certain frequencies that are more likely to cause such feedback. This is perfect for our purposes here today, for these frequencies are precisely those that can often travel through the walls of our practise space to wreak havoc on our neighbours and / or housemates.
Dampening the Acoustic Guitar with an Acoustic Guitar Silencer
Much like the options listed above, this tool works precisely to halt the frequencies most troubling to our abilities to learn how to play guitar quietly and thus to our abilities to not annoy our neighbours and / or housemates.
However, unlike these previous options, this tool is designed specifically for our purposes. Also, this tool is coming into direct contact with strings, to dampen their vibrations at the source instead of simply dampening the frequencies that emanate from them after the fact.
This can take the form of a more primitive example, as with the use of tee shirts to dampen the acoustic guitar’s sound hole. This can come in the form of a length of foam, or simply some folded paper in a strip threaded between the strings; you can roll up a flannel or tea towel and place it beneath the strings at the bridge, moving it along depending on how clear or how muffled you want the strings to be. The best part here is how much you can use your imagination to turn anything around the house into a tool for your own musical development!
Alternatively, you can purchase an actual tool specifically designed for this purpose. Such guitar silencers are relatively cheap and benefit from having been especially designed with this one purpose in mind, so you can more often than not rely on it to do the job without affecting the quality of the tone or getting in the way of your development on the guitar in the process. Most work simply by slotting themselves in between the strings, like the one we can see below, dampening the vibrations at the source, before they have any chance to bother those around you:
If we think of this as simply an elaborate mechanism for palm muting the strings, then this concept doesn’t seem so alien or daunting or scary.
Dampening the Acoustic Guitar with Our Own Palms
If you want to squeeze a quick practice session in but don’t have time to sort out a quiet area to practice in, your last option is to adjust your own technique to play quieter, using what you have available: your own body.
Using palm muting can be enough to reduce your guitar’s volume so that it won’t disturb those around you. Slide your palm further away from the bridge compared to what you would normally use and you’ll almost completely mute your guitar. Then simply adjust depending on how much you need to be quiet, relative to the space that you are in.
While using palm muting like so you won’t be able to practice strumming patterns, though you will still be able to focus on your fretting hand practice. This is certainly not ideal, but if the situation calls for it then it is what you must do.
So, there you have it! If you were in any doubt that you would be able to control the sounds, tones, frequencies, and vibrations then I hope that those doubts have been utterly dispelled. As you can no doubt see, there are plenty of options for you to make use of, for you to explore your guitar and practise diligently and intelligently at all hours without upsetting and / frustrating your neighbours and / or housemates and / or family members.
There are even plenty of ways to practise the guitar without even touching one, in fact! So, if for some reason none of these options are viable for you, you are in luck, and can use the sanctity of your mind and the brain power of your imagination to practise and hone your guitar abilities without playing the guitar.
Any activity that’s going to enhance the way you think about music, in fact, will help you practise guitar and enable to shred harder and faster and more quickly and with more control.
Training your ears with YouTube tutorials, learning how to read music or hear pitches without reading them, wrapping one’s mind around the dreaded musical theory, memorise the notes on the fretboard while being away from it, or memorising the formulas of scales and arpeggios and chords, all will expand your mind and your guitar abilities, negating any need to learn how to play guitar quietly in the first place. You can play at whatever volume you like inside your mind.