How do I play dead notes? I don't know if I'm doing them wrong. The X's in tabs...it just seems like it should sound more "dead" and there should be a quicker way to do it.

I've been having some trouble with this too. It's a bit tricky, but try use your picking AND fretting hand to mute the strings.
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Hold your hnad like you're doing a natural harmonic, but with 2 fingers so it isn't a natural harmonic, I think.