The Importance of Muting

Written by Published in Technique

Good Day!

I’m proud to be starting the HVMC blog with this post! This blog will feature various entries from our diverse staff and will involve everything from Theory, Technique, to what pedals Harvey Danger used on tour.

“After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.” -Aldous Huxley

In teaching Guitar Lessons, I’ve been thinking a lot about muting and silence lately. Of equal importance to learning what strings to play when, is learning what strings not to play. Yes, sometimes its merely a means of precision in picking or plucking, but the art of using your left and right hand to silence the unnecessary notes is crucial.

I taught myself how to play, obsessed with the “Grunge” rock genre and very specifically, Nirvana. Unfortunately, like so many of us guitarists, especially those self-taught, I really began my endeavors pouring through Tabs. When reading Tabs, I would notice things like a typical Open G chord, with the A string muted quite frequently in Nirvana tabs. Driven to replicate the sounds that made feel so good, I quickly got used to fingering such chords.

Nirvana also had a proclivity for fast power-chord driven songs. I also heard this throughout the Punk music I was striving to learn at the time. How could they strum those chords so darn fast without hitting the other strings?! The power chord at its barest form uses either just the E and A strings or just the A and D strings. I suddenly at some point had the epiphany that if I just so carefully draped my pointer finger over the higher strings and in the case of the latter described chord, let my pointer touch the Low E string, I could strum like the psychopathic guitarist I always wanted to be!

More recently, I’ve found myself performing Slide Guitar with the Liana Gabel Band and Ricky Stein regularly and teaching it to one of my more advanced students. If you have never played slide guitar, I encourage you to drop what your doing, buy a glass(my preference) or steel slide and attempt to play it without muting anything… Sounds awful doesn’t it? That’s because you need to use your left hand behind the slide to mute the strings that you are playing to eliminate overtones AND you’re right hand to mute the strings you are not playing. The delicate dance of fingers that takes place moving around the guitar with a slide is awe-inspiring. Of course, pressing down just enough, yet not too much is its own art as well (real slide players have guitars set up with high action for this reason).

It should go without saying that none of this comes without consistent practice. I promise you that if you have the desire to learn these skills, nothing can replace daily practice and nothing can replace the joyous feeling one receives after finally being able to angrily strum the chords Rise Above by Black Flag or Breed by Nirvana.

I think I need a whole other post to talk about silence in music next!

Happy Practicing!
Michael Hollis


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