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The Guitar Principles  
The TRUTH about Learning Guitar
Improve Your Skills > Blues/Rock > String Muting & Damping

String Muting & Damping

String muting means preventing certain strings from sounding while we play other strings. String Damping means stopping the string we are playing from vibrating with its usual freedom, and "dampening" the sound so that a muffled type of tone is produced. When we damp, unlike when we mute a string, the actual pitch of the note is still evident.

The reason we need to mute strings at times is because otherwise the vibrating strings will interfere with the music we are making. For instance, in doing many rock licks, the bending and release of a higher string will cause lower bass strings to vibrate, either because we actually bump into them, or because they start to vibrate "in sympathy" with the ones we have played.

The reason we damp notes (usually bass notes) is because the tone produced is itself an expressive musical device. For hundreds of years, string players have done it, and in classical music it is called "pizzicato". On guitar we find it in many places, most notably, for playing the bass line of a  fingerstyle blues tune, where the bass "walks" the whole time (a la Chet Atkins). This muffled tone produces a nice percussive effect.

So, the ability to mute and damp strings is mandatory for all guitarists. However, I have seen quite a number of students have a difficult time with getting comfortable with this technique, and so I have devised a foolproof approach for getting the proper positioning of the hand.

How is it done?

The way we mute or damp strings we don't want to hear from is by touching the string with the skin of the side of the hand. If you do a karate chop on the table, the part of your hand touching the table is the part used to mute the strings.

 This is the same position we use to mute the strings, however, there is more to the story. We have to make smaller adjustments to the hand as we play and move from string to string. Here is an exercise for getting into the right position, and for teaching the hand how to make those smaller adjustments.

The Difference Between Muting Position and Damping Position 

The hand itself is in the same position in relation to the strings for both techniques, but the position of the hand itself is different. Since we do not need any tone from the note in muting, it does not matter where along the length of the strings we place our hand, as long as we silence the strings.

 For damping, since we need a discernable pitch, we must place our hands down by the bridge and only partially cover the strings, right at the point where they meet the bridge. We have to leave enough string free to vibrate.


Getting The Right Position  (pictures below)

Holding your guitar, with a pick in your right hand, look at your right hand while you do a karate chop on the strings, so that your hand is at a right angle to the strings. Now sweep across all the strings, making sure the skin of your hand keeps contact with all the strings, so that the sound of each string is blocked. You should just hear a BLIP as you rake the pick over the strings.

Now we are going to adjust this position so that the 1s string sounds clearly, and the strings below it are blocked. This is how we need to have the hand when muting string noise during actual playing.

  1. Look at your hand, and place the pick on the 2nd string. 
  2. Now, back the hand off of the 1st string very slightly, just enough to clear the 1st string, but still keeping in touch with the lower strings.  
  3. Now, pick the 2nd string to verify that it is blocked, and then play the 1st string to verify that it is clear to sound a note.  
  4. If you are still blocking the 1st string, then keep re-arranging your hand until you find the right adjustment. Be careful not to overtense your upper arm while doing this, confine the effort to the forearm, wrist and hand, and make it a gentle effort.
  5. Now move the hand slightly so that you are clearing the 2nd string, and muting the 3rd. Play the 3rd and make sure it is muted. Play the 2nd and make sure it rings clear.
  6. Continue down each pair of strings in the same way. By doing this, we are teaching the musculature of the arm/hand what it needs to do in order to mute some strings while leaving others free to ring. It will remember this, and do it automatically when we play.


Preparing to mute, the hand is in "karate chop" position above the strings.

The hand is is touching the bridge, at a 90 degree angle.

The hand moves forward a bit on the strings.


If you are damping and need to discern the pitch of the note, you must be careful to come forward only slightly and leave some string free to sound.


If muting the sound completely, it doesn't' matter how far forward you come.


Pick the 2nd string, position your hand so the string is muted. Check the 1st string, and manipulate your position until the 1st string sounds and the 2nd is muted WITHOUT MOVING THE HAND POSITION.

Front view. This position works to mute the 2nd and clear the 1st.

For the exercise, continue on down the strings in this manner.


Rock/Blues Licks That Require String Muting   

Example 1

with muting---------------without muting

Example 2

with muting                                 without muting

Example 3

with muting                  without muting

Example 4

with muting             without muting

Raking The Strings

A very effective technique for lead guitar that uses the muting technique is the "string rake". Here, we place the hand in muting position before striking the first note of the lick, and "rake" across a couple of dead strings on our way to the first note of the lick. It adds a great "texture" to the sound...

Lick with String Rake

Damping for Blues Shuffle

Here is the damping technique used to enhance a blues shuffle

Blues in A with Damped Bass

Bass Damping in Fingerstyle Blues

Here is "Fishing Blues", a popular acoustic blues tune, played with a damped bass line..

Fishing Blues

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