If you have a hard time playing lead guitar cleanly, the most likely
reason for this is excessive guitar string noise. For most guitarists,
refining this area of their lead guitar technique may have nothing to
do with improving the way they play "the notes they want to hear". The
root of the problem lies in the notes (strings) they do ‘not’ want to
If you are articulating the notes you want to play accurately, but you
still have a hard time getting your lead guitar playing to sound clean,
then this article will greatly help you to improve your guitar
technique by eliminating unwanted guitar string noise.
In order to effectively mute guitar strings we do not want to be heard
it is necessary to use two totally different sets of muting techniques:
One to stop unwanted guitar string 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
- 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 unwanted guitar string noise. This happens for 2 main
- 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.
- 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.
- When you use your palm to mute unwanted string 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
Muting The Higher Strings
Many guitar players are totally unaware of the possibilities for
muting unwanted guitar string noise from the higher (thinner) strings
and this part of their playing is often one of the causes of sloppy
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
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 unwanted guitar 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 the first part of How To Improve
Your Lead Guitar Technique article series ) 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:
- Focused Awareness
- Articulation - The First Half of Two Hand Synchronization
- The Release - The Second Half of Two Hand Synchronization
- Muting The Higher Strings
- Muting The Lower Strings
To improve your guitar playing further, get these free Guitar Playing Tips.
About The Author: Tom Hess is a world renowned guitar teacher,
touring musician and recording artist. He teaches, trains and mentors
guitar players from all over the world in his online guitar
lessons. Visit http://tomhess.net
to get free guitar playing tips and to read more guitar playing articles