Banish Your Unwanted String Noise, Part 1

Banish Your Unwanted String Noise, Part 1

February 01, 2019 4 Comments

As your playing improves over time, at some point you will want to turn your focus from simply playing the notes to playing them with impact, authority, and enhanced dynamic control. Dynamics will enhance everything you play, and for them to work, you must have total control of everything that comes out of your guitar- intended and unintended. Time to Banish Your Unwanted String Noise!


Essential String Muting Techniques

  • Mute #1: Release the fretted note on the left hand (Right hand for lefties). One of the easiest ways to create silence between notes is to simply relax the fretting finger on your left hand. The tension of the string will naturally lift the finger off the fretboard and silence the note.
  • Mute #2: Overhang the fretting finger to silence an adjacent string. This can be especially useful for fretting chords that omit one or more strings. When playing barre chords with the bass note on the 4th or 5th string, you can mute the unused strings with the tip of the barring finger, or by slightly leaning the fretting finger over to mute an adjacent string. Similarly, you can mute a treble string adjacent to the fretting finger.
  • Mute #3: The Thumb Wraparound. If you experimented with using Mute #2 on chords with the bass on the 4th string, you probably noticed there is no way to mute both the 5th and 6th string with the overhang technique. Fortunately, since your hand only has to reach the top four strings, it is usually pretty easy to wrap your left hand thumb around the neck to mute the 6th string. By combining this with Mute #2 both bass strings can be effectively silenced.
  • Mute #4: The Treble Palm Mute. As with the Thumb Wraparound technique on the low-E string, this mute allows you to control the high-E string on the treble side. Rotate your left hand slightly towards the bass side as you finger the chord or note, and then squeeze your left hand palm against the edge of the fingerboard in such a way as to cause the fleshy part of your palm to touch the treble-E.
  • Mute #5: The Reach-around Mute. This was a common show-off technique in the rock and metal genre of the 1980s, but for certain kinds of left hand hammer-on/pull-off passages it can be really effective at cleaning up the "wolf tones" (accidental open string noise). The Van Eps string damper works by a similar mechanism, damping open strings behind the fretting hand. While playing the figure on the left hand only with the hammer-on/pull-off technique, reach across with the right hand and lay the side of your index finger across all six strings behind your fretting hand.

 

Practice incorporating fretting hand muting into everything you play, even on passages where you rarely encounter noise while playing. Solid left-hand muting will give you the freedom to over-emphasize certain notes to make them sound more confident and authoritative and increase your dynamic range. It may feel awkward at first, but as you take more notice of muting on your left hand, you will find the most effective muting style for each phrase you play, and quickly they will become automatic. In our next article, Banish Your Unwanted String Noise, Part 2, we will explore several useful techniques for muting with the picking hand. What other kinds of string muting have you discovered? Let us know in the comment section below.


4 Responses

mark robinson
mark robinson

April 16, 2020

victor wooten uses hair scrunchie and hes one of the best bassist ever

Jeff
Jeff

November 06, 2019

…and you’ll be lots happier if you don’t use the spray stuff. Your fretboard and strings will be so clean. You’ll be king (or queen) of clean.

David Schwab
David Schwab

November 06, 2019

I use all these left hand muting techniques on guitar and bass.

Whenever I see younger players (I’ve been playing 50 years) with a scrunchie wrapped around the nut I know they never learned how to mute strings with their fretting hand.

I had to show the bass player in my band about lifting the fretting finger to make the note more staccato. I guess people never learned these techniques.

I also do some muting with my picking hand. But not for regular playing.

pink jimi photon
pink jimi photon

February 04, 2019

don’t forget, you have 5 fingers on your right hand, and they ALL can mute unwanted strings… most of us guys who’ve been playing for 50 years or so tend to use our fingers a lot for muting, particularly when playing slide. you don’t have to just do palm mutes.
your tone IS in your fingers, so don’t be afraid to use them. yeah, picks are good, they make it easier to play fast, but they don’t have the dynamics of feel of fingers, and trust, ya can play JUST AS FAST with fingers and CLEANER. you can palm the pic.
this is also essential in live situations, and can keep your band from killing you on break; its MUCH easier to play dynamically… you know, not drowning out the rest of the band, particularly the singer… when comping rhythm, which is what you’re gonna be doing most of the time. you can TURN YOUR GUITAR DOWN and play with DYNAMICS. play soft, and be amazed how you can come or go in the mix as you please.
way back in my classical music days playing cello and bass viol, we were taught that if we can hear ourselves in the mix, we were too loud. you should be able to be dynamic enough where if you stop playing, its noticeable, but when you start, its not overpowering everything else.
the correct volume, other than soloing, is where you can’t really hear yourself but can tell when ya drop out. and way easier to do with fingers generally.
ya got 5 fingers and six strings, so you can almost always mute unplayed stuff and crank on that unmuted string. after a while, it becomes second nature to mute out all the baloney.
cool article. peace out.

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