How To Improve Your Guitar Technique. Part 2

Do you want to improve your guitar technique, play guitar cleaner, eliminate sloppy playing and unwanted string noise?

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If you are still suffering from sloppy guitar playing, the cause is likely unwanted string noise. For some guitar players, improving guitar technique may have nothing to do with how they are playing the notes they 'want' to hear. The sloppy noises we sometimes hear are caused from the notes (strings) we do 'not' want to hear.

If you are articulating the notes you want to play accurately, but you are still hearing sloppiness in your playing then this article will greatly help you to improve your guitar technique by eliminating string noise.

To effectively mute guitar strings we do not want to be heard we need to use two totally different sets of muting techniques: One to stop unwanted noise from LOWER (in pitch) strings; and another to mute the higher (in pitch) strings.

Although there is more than 1 way to mute guitar strings, some methods offer advantages that others do not and are therefore (in my opinion at least) better.

Muting The Lower Strings

Many guitar players use the palm of their picking hand to mute lower strings. Although this technique is pretty good at keeping most of the lower strings quiet there are two big disadvantages with this technique.

1. Muting with your palm will cause a slight delay in the muting of a string which has just been played a moment before. This delay causes brief moments of string noise. This happens for 2 main reasons:

a. The flesh of your palm is much softer than the side of your thumb and therefore takes more time for your palm to actually stop the string from sounding.

b. It is not easy to get your palm in the perfect position to consistently and reliably mute strings that are adjacent to the one you are playing in all playing situations.

2. When you use your palm to mute noise, the natural position of your guitar pick (when not playing) is now away from the strings. This is what I call your "Natural Point Of Rest".

When your pick is at rest up and away from the strings (in between playing each note), it causes your picking hand to work harder and significantly increases the chance for sloppy playing, string noise and slower picking speed.

A great solution to these problems (and to improve your guitar technique) is to mute with your picking hand thumb for all lower (in pitch) strings like this.

Notice that the "Natural Point Of Rest" when using thumb muting is now ON the strings (as shown in the picture above). This greatly reduces wasted motion and enables you to pick faster with much less effort.

Muting The Higher Strings

Many guitar players are totally unaware of the possibilities for muting string noise from the higher (thinner) strings and this part of their playing is often one of the causes of sloppy playing.

There are actually two main techniques for muting noise from the higher strings that I teach to my students when training them to improve their guitar technique.

The first technique involves using the underside (the fingerprint side) of the fretting hand's index finger. This part of your finger is used to "lightly touch" the higher strings that you want to mute. The key word in the last sentence is "lightly". You do not want to press down so hard that these notes begin to sound like regular fretted notes. Simply rest your finger on them thus preventing them from sounding.

In addition, you can also mute these higher strings by using the unused fingers of your picking hand (fingers that are not being used to hold the pick, such as middle, ring and pinkie).

This extra layer of muting ensures that there is no possibility for the strings higher than the one you are playing to ring out and add sloppy string noise into your guitar playing.

When these ideas are combined with the string muting techniques of muting the lower strings, your playing will instantly become much cleaner than before. Now, every time you play, the only guitar strings that will be making sound are the ones you are playing!

If you have been working hard to perfect your guitar technique and two-hand synchronization (as mentioned in How To Improve Your Guitar Technique - Part 1) then you already know that if your articulation/synchronization is developed well but your muting is not, the result will still be sloppy guitar playing. So, when trying to improve your guitar technique keep in mind the 5 areas discussed in this article series:

1. Focused Awareness 2. Articulation - The First Half of Two Hand Synchronization 3. The Release - The Second Half of Two Hand Synchronization 4. Muting The Higher Strings 5. Muting The Lower Strings

To get more guitar playing help check out my 15 Free Guitar Tips.

About the author: Tom Hess is a professional guitarist and teaches electric guitar lessons online.

2009 Tom Hess Music Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

29 comments sorted by best / new / date

    DPClement
    Excellent Article. Photos help a lot and point by point explaination. thanks!
    Jamma
    Wow, in the last picture, it looks like you are in the intermediate stages of becoming a bear... are you John Petrucci?
    chris0186
    If you guys haven't seen Tom play, you have no idea how good he actually is. Any rating less than a 10 is a crime.
    kuika
    Great! I loved it because that was what I was looking for. I also use sometimes pick muting as stated by someone before (I dunno if it is correct or not, but I use it sometimes unconsciously). Also, I remember of the muting with the picking was also mentioned by Joe Satriani in one of the lessons you find on Youtube and you change to a higher string. I think he said something about muting with your middle or ring finger.
    kuika
    I remember of the muting with the picking was also mentioned by Joe Satriani
    I wanted to meant picking HAND was also mentioned by.... sorry for double post
    kuika
    Great! I loved it because that was what I was looking for. I also use sometimes pick muting as stated by someone before (I dunno if it is correct or not, but I use it sometimes unconsciously). Also, I remember of the muting with the picking was also mentioned by Joe Satriani in one of the lessons you find on Youtube and you change to a higher string. I think he said something about muting with your middle or ring finger.
    tomhess
    sammo_boi wrote: htf do you use your thumb to mute the strings? yeah sure it mutes the strings, but it mutes the ones you are trying to play!
    no it doesn't
    sammo_boi
    htf do you use your thumb to mute the strings? yeah sure it mutes the strings, but it mutes the ones you are trying to play!
    lespaulmaster
    Thanks for the excellent article Tom. I've never heard of muting strings with your thumb before reading your advice column. I've been using my palm for over 20 years and can easily see how much cleaner and faster this can improve my own playing. Please keep writing all this great stuff..
    ajreciever14
    did he just get tired of people flaming him all the time? whatever happened, major improvement from previous articles
    FretboardToAsh
    Muting higher strings like that? I'm gonna have to call that anchoring, the rest of the tricks with the thumb increase the friction which imo isn't a good thing. Not bad, but I can't agree with all that.
    huevos
    But what if happen to use barb wire as strings? I poked a hole in your logic right thur. The thumb muting thing is actually pretty useful for big sweeps. That and using some Mustaine "pick-muting" techniques are really helpful in cleaning up your playing. The other techniques for the higher strings I knew about, but never really enforced them heavily enough. Especially the lightly touching them with my index finger. hehe
    Randy Johnson
    Yes. Nice article. I have started to focus on this more lately. It is easy to go on "auto pilot" and not pay attention for string noise. I am working to stay aware.
    tomhess
    ninjafingers wrote: Good article. One thing he didn't mention much is using your fretting hand to mute. I do almost all my muting with my fretting hand, not that there's any "right" way to do it, but it might have been good to talk about it a little more.
    Muting The Higher Strings Many guitar players are totally unaware of the possibilities for muting string noise from the higher (thinner) strings and this part of their playing is often one of the causes of sloppy playing. There are actually two main techniques for muting noise from the higher strings that I teach to my students when training them to improve their guitar technique. The first technique involves using the underside (the fingerprint side) of the fretting hand's index finger. This part of your finger is used to "lightly touch" the higher strings that you want to mute. The key word in the last sentence is "lightly". You do not want to press down so hard that these notes begin to sound like regular fretted notes. Simply rest your finger on them thus preventing them from sounding.
    ninjafingers
    Good article. One thing he didn't mention much is using your fretting hand to mute. I do almost all my muting with my fretting hand, not that there's any "right" way to do it, but it might have been good to talk about it a little more.
    wanksta
    Good work tom, fine article with excellent explanations. Looking forward to new articles of this standard.
    Howitus
    Whoa, that's some crazy new ideas. Might they actually even work? Gotta try this stuff
    BritishStrings
    Read this earlier, and my response was wtf? On rereading, the thumb thing now makes sense, I'm gonna try that tomorrow. The higher muting thing is pretty difficult though. I guess I'm just not used to it... hopefully with a couple of weeks practice I'll be able to do it. I know all of my dodgy playing comes from the higher strings ringing out, especially in my sweeping practice (still learning that)