BecomeSingers is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn More
Knowing how to mute guitar strings is key to a great guitar-playing technique. Whether it’s to reduce string noise and stop ringing notes or just to reduce feedback while playing through an amp, the basics are the same.
But I’ve seen many players practice the wrong approach, and at that point, it’s difficult to unlearn and relearn proper guitar muting techniques.
So I’ve compiled a quick guide to mute guitar strings, with several ways to go about it. So whether you’re just starting out or already good at guitar, these tips will help you refine your skills.
How to Mute a Guitar String?
To mute a guitar string, you can use your fretting (left) and picking (right) hands. With your left, use any spare fingers to gently touch (but not press) an unwanted string. With your right, you can lightly press down on the bottom strings with your wrist.
But don’t fret because there are several ways to mute guitar strings – some easier than others. I’ll talk through each one, but the most important thing is to be patient as you work through each technique, which will slowly become instinctive to your playing.
Ways to Mute your Guitar Strings
Note that the essence of muting guitar strings is the same across techniques: you touch the strings to stop them from ringing out. But how and when you do it makes a big difference:
Using your fretting hand to mute
The most important way is using your fretting hand (FH) to mute any unwanted guitar strings from ringing out. It’s also the toughest to master, so work your way slowly through this.
To mute with your FH, you have to use whichever fingers aren’t being used to play. Say you’re playing a chromatic scale: 1 2 3 4 on each string sequentially. Here, as you play the second note, you can mute the other strings with the index finger. And when playing the third or fourth, you’ll use the middle or third finger accordingly.
The method is simple: you just gently touch the string without pressing it. If you press, you’ll fret it, and it’ll ring out. But if you touch it too lightly, it might ring out a harmonic. So you have to be careful not to touch over harmonic areas — the 12th, 7th, and 5th frets.
So you have to practice finding the right pressure to mute the string without harmonics or any ringing notes. You can practice by using each finger to mute all of the strings, picking through them, and hearing a ‘raking’ or muted string sound.
Next, you can practice playing one note but mute the rest and pick through all the strings such that only that one note rings out. You’ll have to flatten your fingers a bit, and use the next techniques to do this fluidly too.
Using your picking hand
Next, you can also mute using your picking hand (PH). Whether you’re playing fingerstyle or with a pick, both work.
The core idea is similar: you use any free fingers. In most cases, your third and pinky fingers will be free, which you should normally use to balance your PH. You can mute them by gently lowering these two fingers and touching the strings.
This marks an important distinction: muting with the FH often mutes the thick, bottom strings more easily, while the PH can mute the thin, top strings easily. The vice versa is possible too, depending on how you shift your technique while playing.
Another important thing is to be fluid with your picking/plucking. Instead of letting the note ring indefinitely, you can use the thumb or the index finger to gently touch the string and mute it again.
Again, this technique is not easy to master, so just be conscious while playing and try to reduce string noise and unwanted notes by using any available fingers to touch the strings.
Using your thumbs
Thumbs are a major part of muting guitar strings, so I wanted to talk specifically about how they play a part. Your left thumb makes it very easy to mute the 6th and 5th strings just by wrapping it around the neck and touching them.
This is essential while playing chords because several require muting the 6th string (C major, D major, etc.). While you can also use your FH fingers, making a habit of using your thumb will make it easier in the long run.
With your right thumb, if you’re holding a pick, you can use the thumb to touch a note after it’s been played to stop it. Be careful though, as sometimes this can result in a harmonic or even a pinch harmonic.
Muting on chords vs scales
Muting strings on chords is quite different than scales. In a chord, you want to ensure that you’re not playing any notes outside the chord’s triad, while in a scale, you need to make sure that the notes don’t ring for too long while you play.
Hence, the rhythm and approach to both are different. In a chord, your finger positioning needs to be properly muting any unwanted strings (such as 6th or 1st) throughout the progression, so you have to practice your positions.
Usually, your fingers will be more perpendicular to the fretboard while playing a chord. But on a scale, you have to make them a little flat so that they can mute the next strings. So on a scale, you have to practice adjusting your fingers to mute with every note you play.
Palm-muting is quite a different technique compared to the muting methods we’ve discussed so far. But it’s a really useful one to open up your musical possibilities and explore more melodies.
Here, you use the side of your palm and rest it against the bridge (where the strings join with the body). The exact area where you rest it will influence the sound: bringing it closer to the neck makes it heavily muted, while keeping it just on the bridge makes it less.
This takes practice, but it’s a great way to get a staccato effect from your playing, and when playing on distorted amps, it’s super useful for controlling feedback. That’s why you’ll see this used commonly in rock and metal songs.
Tips for muting strings effectively
- Practice slowly with a metronome: This is the key to pretty much every guitar technique ever. Don’t try doing it at full speed: try doing it at a much slower speed while using a metronome. The metronome always helps keep you on the beat, but if you find it tough to follow, slow it down again.
- Adjust your posture: Your posture makes a big difference in your approach to guitar, and that’s why guitarists use various ones: the classical approach as well as the modern one. You can use whichever suits you, but try experimenting to find the most comfortable sitting position that gives you free access to the whole guitar.
- Practice FH and RH individually, then together: Sometimes it’s tough to get both the FH and RH to sync up, so try practicing the techniques individually. Try muting the string with your FH, and then with the RH. Practice both together after that.
Check out our article on How Often Should You Change Guitar Strings.
How do you mute guitar strings when strumming?
You should use your fretting hand to mute guitar strings when strumming. The key is to position your fingers such that any unwanted strings, like the top or bottom ones, are muted by touching your fingers against them. Don’t press; just gently touch. You can also use your strumming hand and palm to mute, but this may be tough to perform within the rhythm.
How do I mute my guitar strings with my thumb?
You can mute guitar strings with both your left and right thumbs. With your left, you should grab the neck so that the thumb comes over and touches the sixth string (or even the fifth). This will mute it, so it won’t ring while you play. And with your right thumb, you can mute the string after you’ve played it by gently touching it, but be careful of accidental harmonics.
How do you mute a cord?
You can mute a chord by adjusting your fingers such that they touch the unwanted strings. When you pick them, they won’t ring out. Remember not to press them, as they might create a sound. The positioning here is key as if you place them over the 5th, 7th, or 12th frets, you’ll likely get a harmonic.
I hope this helped you learn that there are multiple ways to approach muting guitar strings. The key is to be patient and practice the right technique: it’s very difficult to unlearn wrong methods once you’ve habituated them. Learn the proper skills, and it’ll become instinct.
But also, don’t spend too much learning how to mute strings. Sometimes the accidental string noise, the harmonics, and the slide of your fingers create a beautiful ambient effect that adds to the music. So be mindful of what sounds best to your ears.
If this guide can also help your musician friends, feel free to share it with them and send in any suggestions and queries!