Guitarists are always on the lookout for ways to alter or distort their sound, and a very useful tool for the more aggressive styles of guitar playing is palm muting. As the name suggests, palm muting involves the use of the palm of your picking hand to dampen, or mute, the vibrations of the strings—on purpose!
Palm muting creates a “chugging” sound. While it is mostly associated with heavier styles of music played on electric guitar with lots of distortion, it’s also used in other forms of music, including country and folk. Palm muting is a technique you should know whether you play electric or acoustic guitar.
The key to palm muting is to dampen the strings so that they still have a little bit of sustain but are not completely deadened. It’s actually a pretty easy technique to learn. Here are 10 tips to show you how it’s done.
10 Tips to Master Palm Muting
#1 Hand Placement
Proper hand placement is crucial and different for everybody as everybody’s hands are different. Rest the heel (the meaty part) of the side of your picking hand lightly against the strings along the edge of the bridge, right where the strings go over it. The closer the hand is to the bridge, the more sustain the notes will have. The farther away from the bridge, toward the sound hole, the greater the risk the notes will lose their definition and sound like dull thuds or clicks.
#2 Experiment with Pressure
A light touch is required to mute the strings with your palm. Too heavy a touch will deaden them. Plus, you still need to be able to play the strings with this hand. Experiment with hand pressure till you find the right balance.
#3 Pivot your wrist
With your palm fixed on the bridge area, angle your wrist slightly so that your pick is touching the low E string. Some guitarists find it helpful to rest their pinky finger on the pick guard to help ensure all strings are muted.
#4 Now, give it a go
With your muting hand in place, strum the strings. You might find it easier to start with power chords, because you’ll only need to mute a few strings at a time instead of all of them.
#5 If at first you don’t succeed…
Chances are that your palm muting will sound pretty bad the first time. The only way to remedy this is to practice. You should be able to hear the pitches of the notes you’re dampening. Try picking the strings one at time to make sure you can hear all the proper pitches rather than a dead plucking sound. Then give it another go. And another. And another.
#6 Make necessary adjustments
If you’re still having trouble, try moving your muting hand. Start with your hand sitting on bridge and play some notes. As you’re playing notes, slide your palm in a bit (toward sound hole) and listen to the difference. Move your palm in until you hit the dead zone, where you no longer have notes, and then move slowly back to the bridge. Find the sweet spot. Moving closer to the sound hole dampens the sound more. However, as noted, you should keep your hand as close to the bridge as possible if you still want to hear pitch.
#7 Changing between strings
When changing to another string (e.g., going from a power chord on the E string to a power chord on the A string), you need to keep your muting hand in the same position. Only the joints in the fingers holding the pick will move to target the right strings.
#8 Recalibrate on each guitar you use
You don’t have to relearn palm muting for every guitar you play, just recalibrate till you have a feel for the new guitar.
#9 If your amp has distortion, turn it on
Distortion tends to really accentuate the palm muting technique.
#10. Make an effort to listen for palm muting in your favorite songs
Palm muting will get easier if you can recognize when it’s being played. Listen for palm muting in your favorite music. Once you learn to spot it, you’ll start to realize how often this technique is used and what it can do to enhance your own playing.
About the Author
Bobby Kittleberger is a guitarist and blogger who works with Guitartricks.com, an online subscription service that has provided online video guitar lessons since 1998. The site has more than 11,000 video lessons with 600+ song tutorials, and more than 2 million members. You can connect with Bobby on his Google+ Profile.