By Patrick Pfeiffer

You may need to enhance a simple groove on the bass guitar rhythmically, but none of the notes, chromatic or modal (from the mode), seem to be quite right. You may feel that the bass line needs something more to really bring the music to life. Enter the dead note.

A dead note is a note that’s heard as a thud without any pitch. It gives the rhythm some attitude. Dead notes are favorites among many contemporary bassists. Playing a dead note is a cool way to boost a rhythmic groove without getting into trouble by adding notes that may harmonically clash with the melody.

To play a dead note, rest two or more fingers from your left hand on a string. (Be sure not to press the string to the fingerboard, though.) Then strike that string with your right-hand index or middle finger. The result is a non-pitched thud. Here, you see a groove using dead notes, indicated by an “X.” Notice how the second measure just keeps the rhythm going.


As you listen to this groove, be aware of the thud of the dead notes. Dead notes are completely devoid of pitch, but they sound as if they belong to the tonality. You can also see some dead notes demonstrated.