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How to Add Guitar Effects with Muting

9 of 10 in Series: The Essentials of Adding Effects and Articulation to Guitar

To mute notes or chords on the guitar, you use your right or left hand to touch the strings and partially or completely deaden the sound. You can use muting both as an effect to create a thick, chunky sound and to prevent unwanted noises from strings that you’re not playing.

Creating an effect

To use muting to create percussive effects, lightly lay your left hand across all six strings to prevent the strings from ringing out as you strike them. Don’t press them all the way down to the fretboard (which would cause the fretted notes to sound), but press them hard enough to prevent the strings from vibrating. Then strike the strings with the pick to hear the muted sound. The following figure shows the tab notation that is typically used to indicate this type of muting, which is usually shown by placing little Xs on the string lines (and in place of the actual notes on the standard staff).

Muting with the left hand produces a dead thud.
Muting with the left hand produces a dead thud.

Although left-hand muting deadens the strings completely, right-hand muting deadens them only partially — to whatever degree you desire — enabling you to still discern the strings’ pitches. To use right-hand muting, place the heel of your right hand against the bridge as you play. It may seem a little awkward at first, but don’t worry. With a little practice, you can keep your hand on the bridge and still strike the strings with the pick.

Move your right hand toward the fretboard to increase the amount of muting. This technique enables you to control the degree of muting. Tab notation indicates this type of muting by placing the letters P.M. (for palm mute) above the tab staff, with a dotted line indicating how long to continue the muting, as shown in the following figure.

Muting with the right hand gives the notes a thick, chunky sound.
Muting with the right hand gives the notes a thick, chunky sound.

Preventing unwanted string noise

As a beginner, you're usually more worried about getting your hands into proper position than you are about preventing unwanted string noises. But an experienced guitarist must prevent unwanted string noises all the time. Following are some examples of how you do so:

  • If you finger, say, the seventh fret of the 3rd string with your third finger, your third finger leans slightly against the 2nd string, preventing it from ringing. And as you pick the string with your right hand, your pick also lands against the 2nd string, further preventing it from ringing.

  • If you play an open-position D chord, and you don’t want to strike the 6th string because it doesn’t belong in the chord, you can bring your left thumb up around the neck ever so slightly to touch the 6th string, ensuring that it doesn’t ring.

  • If you play a chord that omits a middle string, you need to mute that string with a finger of the left hand. A lot of people, for example, just because they think it sounds better, like to omit the 5th string if they play the open-position G chord (even though you normally fret that string for the chord). The finger that’s playing the 6th string leans against the 5th, muting it completely.

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