The Ultimate Guide To Guitar. Chapter II: 6 Technique - Muting

An unforseen, but extremely important expansion of the Novice section of the Ultimate Guide, this article elaborates on how to keep unused strings from vibrating and making a lot of unwanted background noise. Learn how to use both of your hands to keep your playing clean!

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Part II - Chapter 6

"Technique - Muting"

Hi everybody! First of all, my apologies for posting this article so late... but I've been terribly busy over the last couple of weeks, and I will be the next few weeks, unfortunately. With the little free time I had left, I managed to work on one more UGG article to keep you guys busy! Second of all: Surprise! Well, this new article is actually kind of a surprise... Because we were supposed to be starting with the Intermediate section this time! But why aren't we then? Well, because one reader commented last time that I should make a lesson on muting strings to prevent unwanted noise... And after thinking about this, I realised that we simply can't move on to the Intermediate chapters before I teach you how to mute strings properly! Leaving strings you are not playing unmuted allows them to vibrate openly, resulting in annoying background noise... This is especially a problem when playing with lots of distortion, which makes the noise even louder and more annoying! Therefore, muting the strings you aren't playing at the moment at all times is a vital skill in guitar playing. It determines the difference between "clean" and "sloppy" playing, between "good" and "mediocre" technique, between "Novice" and "Intermediate" players... That's why I'm including this extra chapter in the Novice section! To mute unwanted strings while playing, you need both your left and your right hand. Each hand can be used in a specific manner to mute strings that aren't used, so that they aren't allowed to vibrate freely... So, we are going to discuss the technique of the 2 hands separately today: 01.Left hand: used for muting the high strings! 02.Right hand: used for muting the low strings! So, this article is going to be pretty easy and straightforward... But that doesn't mean the technique in question is easy to master! So, let's get going!

Left Hand Muting

We will start off with the left hand, because the technique is slightly easier to understand and to master than the right hand technique. Like I said already, the left hand is used to mute the high strings... More specifically, all the strings that are higher than the string you are playing on! The left hand can also be used to mute the low strings, but this technique is rather unimportant, as the muting of the lower strings is based primarily on the right hand. I will discuss both techniques in this section, though... A. Muting high strings The left hand is used to mute all the strings that are higher than the string you are fretting down. For example, if you are fretting down on the 4th string, the left hand mutes the 1st, 2nd and 3rd string... How does that work? The answer is easy: it's all about the index finger! To explain you properly how the left index finger plays the key role in muting high strings, I will provide some images to demonstrate what I am explaining. So, in a couple of easy steps, here's how to mute unwanted strings using your left index finger!
  • Let's say, as an example, you're fretting down on the 4th string, in 7th position... So, you're using your index finger to fret down the 4th string at the 7th fret. To mute the strings higher than the 4th string (the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd string), you simply rest your index lightly on top of these 3 strings! It should touch the strings lightly, but not press them down on to the fretboard... It should look like this: Now, try plucking the strings your index is resting on... Normally you should hear "dead" notes (a short percussive sound, but no real "note"), meaning that you succesfully muted the 3 top strings!
  • Now, let's say the next note you're going to play is on the 4th string, at the 9th fret. You're in 7th position, so you fret down on the 9th fret with your ring finger... While fretting down with your ring finger, leave your index finger where it is, resting on the top 3 strings! You don't have to keep fretting down the 4th string at the 7th fret with your index finger, just make sure you leave it resting on the strings above the one you are fretting down on. Like this: Perfect! Like I said, this muting technique is easier than the right hand muting technique... You should be able to master it pretty easily. So, from now on, always pay attention to the position of your left index finger, it should always be resting on the strings above the string you're fretting down at the moment, as shown in the pics above. B. Muting low strings The left hand can also be used to mute strings lower than the string you're currently fretting down on. This is only a secondary technique, though, as most of the muting of the low strings is taken care of by the right hand! I will explain it to you in short anyway... Basically, you use the fingers that are not fretting down on any string at the moment, to reach over the string that is fretted down, to mute the strings below it. An example:
  • Again, say you are fretting down on the 4th string at the 7th fret with your index finger. Now, your middle and ring fingers are free to be placed over the fretted down 4th string, to rest on the 5th and 6th string! So, by lightly touching these 2 strings, they would be muted... This would look like this: Note that you need to be careful not to touch the fretted down string as well... You don't want to mute the notes that you DO want to hear!
  • Let's use the same example again: now, you're fretting down the 4th string at the 9th fret with your ring finger. This leaves your index and middle finger, which are behind the fret you are pressing down on, free to move over all 6 strings, to mute them all at the same time! This is what that would look like: Like I said, the technique of muting the lower strings with your left hand is only secondary to the right hand muting technique for the low strings... Why? Because it's not always easy for your fingers to reach over to the lower strings without:
  • Hurting yourself;
  • Touching the strings that aren't supposed to be muted.
  • This is the case when you are fretting down with 2 or more fingers, which can move your hand in an angle or position in which it's impossible to reach the lowest strings. An example: The right hand technique is therefore the preferential technique to mute the lower strings, because contrary to the left hand technique, it's "fool-proof": it works in every situation! So, on to the right hand!

    Right Hand Muting

    The right hand muting technique is, like I said already, slightly harder than the left hand technique... But it's just as important, so pay attention, practice and don't give up! The left hand could be used to mute both the high and the low strings, but the right hand can only be used to mute the low strings. How does this work? Here's an example to demonstrate how right hand muting works, in a couple of easy steps:
  • Let's use the same example again: you're fretting down the 4th string at the 7th fret. The 3 top strings are muted by your left index finger... Now, we want to mute the 2 bottom strings. To do this, simply rest the palm of your right hand on the bridge, so that it rests on the bottom 2 strings, and those strings only! Otherwise, you would be "palm muting" the string you're playing on...
  • Now, suppose the next note you are fretting down on is on the 3rd string. You now need to mute the 4th string with your right hand as well, so you just slide your palm downwards so that it now touches the 4th string as well! You would do the same when the next note you fretted was on the 5th string, only in the other direction (because you would be moving down a string, instead of up!). So, as you are changing strings with your left hand, the right hand follows the movement of your left hand to make sure that all strings that aren't used remain muted!
  • Here's an image of what the above should look like: Now, after reading these instructions and seeing this picture, you might all be asking yourself this question: "But isn't this the same as palm muting?"... The answer: yes and no. Yes, you use the palm of your right hand to rest on the bridge and mute the strings, just like palm muting... But also no, because the difference between this and palm muting is: when palm muting, you mute the strings that are actually played on, which gives a chunky rhythm sound. When just muting unused strings, however, you aren't touching the strings you are playing on! There's a couple of things that makes the right hand muting technique a little more difficult than the left hand technique. Here's why:
  • If you put too much pressure on the strings you want to mute, your hand would not be free to move around anymore... which means, you would be anchoring. From a previous article, we know that anchoring is not advantageous in every situation... So, you want to avoid pressing down too hard on the strings you are muting! Make sure you touch the strings you want to mute only very lightly... This allows you to move freely over the strings, only gently "brushing" them as you move your right hand up and down!
  • You have to avoid touching the string you're playing on at all times... Otherwise, you would be palm muting! So, again, you have to make sure your hand is able to move up and down along with the movement of your left hand. So, again, make sure you don't put too much pressure on the strings you're muting! Just lightly touch them, it will be enough to kill all unwanted string noise...
  • Note: my wordy explanation can be summarized in short by this amazingly helpful video by Freepower: Muting Unwanted Noise... All due respect to this amazing guitarist, who has inspired me to make an article about this all-important technique!

    Conclusion

    OK! By combining both the muting techniques for the left hand and the right hand which you now learned, you should be able to eliminate any unwanted noise that is making your playing sound sloppy... It takes a lot of practice to master these muting techniques perfectly, so get going already and practice as much as you can! Unfortunately, due to my 2-week job training starting today (Monday), I don't think I'll be able to post another article for the next 2 weeks... After that, however, we're really moving on to the Intermediate chapters! No, really! So stay tuned for more Ultimate Guide to Guitar goodness! Cheers! ZeG PS: As usual:
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  • 62 comments sorted by best / new / date

      Goblin67
      can't an somebody explian the hair band thing indepth a little more cuz I noticed this to also zeg im a beginning wannabe metal gutiarist and ur articules are really helping stay on track and learn new things thanks for taking the time to write them I really appreciate it thanks a lot ad I was wndering if ud do one on wammy tricks cuz im having touble finding one that's really indepth and helps learn to kick ass with a Folyd rose thanks agian
      globetro
      Thank you so much for posting this article. String muting is a very important technique that just about all guitar instructors fail to ever address. I think after a while, it becomes so second-nature to guitarists that they forget it's something that needs to be learned.
      AndyfrmUpstairs
      Seryaph wrote: What kind of a guitar is that?
      Looks a whole lot like a '72 Fender Tele Thinline reissue. Has the same humbuckers, pickguard, and badass f hole as mine.
      Gammas1
      The red Strat. wrote: verdomme seg ZeGuitarist, van waar haalt gij al die kennis jong ? :p
      I think he's Belgian, it means something like: "Damn ZeGuitarist, where did you get al that knowledge?" Great article BTW!
      Patrijz
      The red Strat. wrote: verdomme seg ZeGuitarist, van waar haalt gij al die kennis jong ? :p
      belgen ftl (j/k offc.)
      Ruenis
      i wish i have readed this article long ago, 'cause i figure by myself the muting...and when you mute with your right hand...well its better to practice some precision with your pick anyway 10/10
      Flibo
      I'm really glad you made this article. I've been playing for 2 years and I've barely heard anything about muting at all. When I tried muting with my right hand yesterday, it didn't seem too difficult, but should my left hand's index finger ALWAYS mute the higher strings? I usually do that only when playing power chords, and it feels pretty hard to play like it when I'm just playing with one string.
      tearsofmyguitar
      wackamasta wrote: yeah, it cant not interfere, yet interfere at the same time man. :]
      yes exactly. like it slightly deadens open strings, but when you actually pick them they still ring. It also gets the job done by keeping them from ringing when you dont want them too.
      ZeGuitarist
      GS LEAD 5 wrote: What about palm-muting itself?
      That's not muting UNWANTED strings so it belongs in a different article... It has been written already, check out the previous articles on right hand technique!
      Flibo wrote: I'm really glad you made this article. I've been playing for 2 years and I've barely heard anything about muting at all. When I tried muting with my right hand yesterday, it didn't seem too difficult, but should my left hand's index finger ALWAYS mute the higher strings? I usually do that only when playing power chords, and it feels pretty hard to play like it when I'm just playing with one string.
      Yes, the index mutes the higher strings at all times. It's something to get used to, but in the end you'll be glad you adopted this technique! Cheers!
      dahelunover
      Nice article I was gonna ask about resting the palm on the bridge would count as anchoring, but you answered that above in the article, plus i would like to stay away from the anchoring stuff seeing the reaction you got about it in one of your previous article XD lol Keep up the good work Ze, CHEERS!!!
      The.new.guy
      Great article m8! I've been working on this for a long time. Unfortunately, I haven't quite found a comfortable position for my picking hand yet and the Freepower method, though very comfortable, doesn't work for me. I'm working on a combonation of the two. One question; Would I be anchoring if I can't really play without muting with my thumb partially? It's only a light contact. P.S. I read the sticky. I don't think it really is, but I would like a second oppinion, as I am unsure.
      alexcp94
      oh this is so frustrating... when i play a note and then change to a higher string my right hand touches it but it still rings like if i were palm muting... help please?
      codyturner
      what?? wrote: These articles are one thing in a very limited list that actually causes me to look forward to a Monday morning.
      that was uncalled for and not very nice ZeGuitarist spends alot of time and effort on these guides to help people who need it. so if you think your too good for these guides don't read them.
      alexcp94 : oh this is so frustrating... when i play a note and then change to a higher string my right hand touches it but it still rings like if i were palm muting... help please?
      when you mute the higher strings ( g b e) are you resting your finger over a fret bar? if you are, you are producing a harmonic if not sorry i can't help you.
      melk.zium
      codyturner : what?? wrote: These articles are one thing in a very limited list that actually causes me to look forward to a Monday morning. that was uncalled for and not very nice ZeGuitarist spends alot of time and effort on these guides to help people who need it. so if you think your too good for these guides don't read them.
      he was actually saying that he looks forward to these article, so he was complimenting ZeG.
      08L1V10N
      I'd suggest to use the intro to Cave by Muse as an exercises to practice this!
      guusw
      I always use my thumb to mute my low strings, never even thought about using my right hand for it. I think I'll give it a try. But there's one song that I just can't nail because of the great amount of muting needed for it. It's Can't Stop by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Does John Frusciante uses his right hand and index/middle fingers only for this, cause I tend to think he uses his left thumb, index and middle fingers cause of the agressive strumming he does.
      guusw
      ZeGuitarist wrote: PiCSeL wrote: Is this your hand on photos? Yeah... and I know, crappy photography The red Strat. wrote: verdomme seg ZeGuitarist, van waar haalt gij al die kennis jong ? :p Eum xD
      He asks you in dutch: "How did you achieve all this knowledge and where, my boy?"
      ZeGuitarist
      guusw wrote: ZeGuitarist wrote: PiCSeL wrote: Is this your hand on photos? Yeah... and I know, crappy photography The red Strat. wrote: verdomme seg ZeGuitarist, van waar haalt gij al die kennis jong ? :p Eum xD He asks you in dutch: "How did you achieve all this knowledge and where, my boy?"
      Weet ik man, weet ik
      gravatrax
      My suggestions for practice is practice some scales while doing this. Just do box positions if you must but basically using the technique above will hopefully quickly familiarize you with how to get this nailed down in your guitar technique. Like most other guitar techniques its about repetitive practice that will make it routine and habitual and not such a big ordeal.
      lestervandenberg
      When i'm playing a four note pattern on the b and e i'm having trouble with muting the b. I am trying to mute with my hands but the way its supposed to play is too fast and i have practiced for hours but it doesn't do you got any ideas?
      mega d
      nice article! you should have talked about power chords also. it is essential you use your index finger to mute the higher and/or lower strings.
      what??
      These articles are one thing in a very limited list that actually causes me to look forward to a Monday morning.
      Zappabootlicker
      but saying that, what would be a good idea is an article to contradict this, like on how to play accurately meaning you don't need to mute
      Equivalence
      Slapping your left thumb over the neck actually is bad technique...most people use it though because it makes life easier
      Colohue
      Very fancy Ze. Well done. I very much enjoy how much detail is in the pictures of the hows and whys.
      Phe4rTheGod
      Interesting article...use your pinky when playing power chords, allows extra muting with the use of two fingers (2 and 3) when on strings 4 and 5...
      æTonyæ
      you know, this should be something i've know i needed to do by now, well thanks for informing me any way
      cyanide533
      I wish I had this great article when i picked up electric and struggled with noise for half year. I would like to mention another technique involving with left hand index finger, someone can use it to mute (for example) 4th and 2nd and 1st while playing the third strings. It can be achieved by slightly touching the low string (eg 4th string) with the tip and the rest of the strings as shown in 2nd picture. This is not a very usual technique but you can try and thanx agian Ze for the great article.
      jj-lewis
      Congratulations! This article is very easy to understand... I speak spanish and even like that, I have understood It without problems... Thanks a lot for the guide
      penguin_01
      great lesson! i find that i use my left hand thumb to mute the low E string and sometimes the 5th and 6th string. especially if you're playing powerchords/octaves on the 3rd 4th and 5th string, its useful to touch the low E with your thumb so you can strum less technically
      ZeGuitarist
      PiCSeL wrote: Is this your hand on photos?
      Yeah... and I know, crappy photography
      The red Strat. wrote: verdomme seg ZeGuitarist, van waar haalt gij al die kennis jong ? :p
      Eum xD
      TW909
      you've done it again ZE! very informative and the pictures clearly illustrate the techniques.