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.
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