7 Ways to Mute Your Guitar Strings (7 Muting Techniques)
It’s hard enough to sound the right notes at the right times on our guitars. But what about when we want the strings to STOP ringing?
What’s the best way to mute our strings when learning to play classical guitar pieces?
Below you’ll find seven methods every guitar player can choose from.
The Ends of Notes
Each note we play has three parts: the beginning, the middle, and the end.
We focus most often on the beginnings of notes. When we play single notes, we use our bodies (fingers) to sound the string. This moment of sounding the string is the beginning of the note.
When we let a note ring, fretted or unfretted (open), we hear the duration of the note. This is the middle of the note.
And when we either stop the note or it fades completely away, we have the end of the note.
A main goal of classical guitar technique is to learn how to play smooth and connected notes (aka legato). This means that one note ends at the exact moment another note begins. In this way we make the music more lyrical and vocal, instead choppy and separated.
The same rules apply to playing chords. Each chord we play has the same sense of beginning, middle, and end. We can also play chords with a similar sense of legato that we use when playing single notes.
And sometimes we need to end a note or a chord on purpose, at a specific time. This could be at the end of a section or tune, or it could be at a rest or dramatic moment.
In these cases, we’ll need to stop the sound by muting the strings.
Muting Method #1: The Left-Hand Lift
One way to stop a fretted note from ringing is to stop pressing the guitar strings with the left hand finger.
When we lift either one finger or the entire fretting hand, we release pressure on the string.
We don’t need to lift our fingers all the way off the strings, as this could create unwanted noise and re-sound the strings on accident.
Instead, we can stop pressing. We can “let go” of our grip.
This may happen on accident when playing chords. In that case, we’ll want to recognize it and make sure to keep the pressure steady.
Also, if we release pressure slowly, we may create a buzzing sound. So we can either release the pressure quickly or combine this method with the next…
Muting Method #2: The Left-Hand Touch
Another way to stop a ringing note is to use a left-hand finger to touch the string that’s ringing.
We can use the entire hand or just send one finger (The index finger is commonly used) over to do the job.
This can take practice not to press the string, but only to touch it lightly. We’ll need control if the other fingers are pressing other strings.
We can also play a note “sloppily” on purpose to mute the adjacent string. When we do this, we play more on the pad of the finger and let the tip touch the next string, muting it.
Muting Method #3: The Right-Hand Thumb Muting Technique
We can use the right-hand thumb to mute strings. This could be simultaneous with preparation for the next thumb note.
Using the side of the thumb, we can mute one or more strings depending on its position.
This can also be combined with…
Muting Method #4: The Plant
“Planting” is when we prepare our right-hand fingers on the strings before playing them.
We can do this to increase confidence and security in our guitar playing. And we can also do it to mute one or more notes.
Ideally, we keep our right-hand technique as intentional as we can, so we’re in the best position to continue our guitar playing.
Muting Method #5 The Karate Chop
Using the outside (little-finger side) of the right hand, we can stop all the strings at once.
This method is great at the end of a song, when we want a hard cut-off.
We can “chop” hard enough to stop the string noise abruptly, but not so hard that the strings click against the fretboard. The result is an accented silence.
This guitar technique is also used extensively in acoustic guitar or electric guitar playing by using the outside of the picking hand and placing it close to the bridge.
As a bonus performance tip, freeze all body motion for a moment when using this guitar technique. It gives a professional closure to the piece.
Muting Method #6: The Fade
For a different ending effect, we can “karate chop” directly onto the bridge, behind the strings, then roll our right hand forward. This creates the effect of a volume knob being turned down.
It’s a softer ending than the full “karate chop”, but still has an air of finality about it, perfect for an ending.
Muting Method #7: Pizzicato
Also known as “muted bass”, pizzicato is a technique where we play the thumb while the side of the hand lightly rests on the strings near the bridge. In electric or acoustic guitar techniques, that would be similar to palm muting.
The effect is like an upright string bass: woody, thuddy, round and without much sustain.
If you do “The Fade” from above, you’ll be in the perfect position to play pizzicato.
The right hand chops down onto the bridge, behind the strings. Next, we roll our hand forward, over the strings. The side of the hand lightly covers the strings (often just the bass strings when playing pizzicato). Then the thumb plays the bass strings.
Which One Should I Use?
Which one we use depends on the situation and our comfort levels with each muting technique.
The important part is that we learn to hear how notes end. With practice, we can notice when a note rings too long, creating a clash with the next note. Or we can hear when a note ends too early, creating a clipped sound, unwanted noise, and breaking the line.
Eventually, we use a number of these methods almost by instinct to clean and polish our music as we go. But to start, we have to develop the tools and learn to hear the ends of the notes.
Hi, I’m Allen Mathews.
I started as a folk guitarist, then fell in love with classical guitar in my 20’s. Despite a lot of practice and schooling, I still couldn’t get my music to flow well. I struggled with excess tension. My music sounded forced. And my hands and body were often sore. I got frustrated, and couldn’t see the way forward. Then, over the next decade, I studied with two other stellar teachers – one focused on the technical movements, and one on the musical (he was a concert pianist). In time, I came to discover a new set of formulas and movements. These brought new life and vitality to my practice. Now I help guitarists find more comfort and flow in their music, so they play more beautifully.
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