Today’s lesson covers the basics of Palm Muting for guitar. This technique may seem fairly straight forward and easy to execute, if you are like me when I began, it can actually be quite challenging. Today’s lesson will include:
- A definition of Palm Muting
- Considerations for Form and Tone
- Practice and Implementation
If you strike the strings while they are being muted by the palm, you have performed a palm mute. Through variation in tone and punctuality, this technique supports many genres of music to provide rhythm and punctuality. Palm Muting is one of the most challenging techniques guitarists masters, so don’t get discouraged if it takes a few practice sessions to figure it out. It certainly did me! So grab a seat, tune your mighty ax, and let’s fingerstyle!
Pick and Palm Muting
Palm Muting is a striking of strings while they are being muted by the palm. This percussive use of the guitar reduces the resonance of active strings via applied pressure of the palm onto the strings. The intended effect is to provide a break to notes and chords using a muted percussive effect. It can be used in various modes and tempos providing numerous rhythmic effects from the grungy sounds in metal known as ‘chugging’ to airy strumming pause intervals know as ‘shicking’ with many uses in between.
The sound of your palm-mute comes down to a few components; how thorough are the strings muted, what magnitude were they struck, and what did you use to strike them. Where you place your hands and how well you press down on the strings will affect the resonance. If you put your strumming hand lightly to the strings when playing, your gentle muting softens the ringing of the strings. The closer you get to the strings the less they will resonate after strumming.
‘Resonance is based on how hard you strum the guitar and how thorough you mute the guitar when strumming.’
When using a pick to strum, take a moment to consider what you are strumming the instrument with. Most picks have a number that tells you the thickness of the pick in millimeters. The thickness of the pick you use should be based on preference and which strings you use. The general rule of thumb is to use thicker picks for acoustic guitars and lighter picks for electric guitars. The rationale being that acoustic guitar strings are heavier, go for a heavier pick. As you try different picks, notice the subtle difference in tone between picks. The ones that sound most appealing to me are the ones I usually go with, but be prepared to break a string or two if you choose a heavy gauge pick.
So if you have an extra pack of strings lying around, feel free to use the heaviest pick you got on the lightest string you can find if you like that tone. I mostly use my hands to play the strings. Often I perform a palm-muted strum with my thumb, fingers, or a combination muted slap and strum. I enjoy the flexibility of strumming with my hand and the range it adds to my technique. But be forewarned, strumming excitedly when jamming out with others can lead to skin loss on your overworked digits. If you have to be loud and have no amplifier, grab a pick and strum it out!
[Different Guage Pick Demonstration]
Form and Tone
Palm Muting is a technique that may be applied in many different forms. My most frequently used form of muting is called finger muting; it applies the same principle of palm muting but executed with the fingers instead. This lesson will cover just one palm muting form, the one I find to be the easiest, and the tone you should aim for when performing this technique.
The form we will be performing is the saddle-based palm-mute that’s typically associated with heavy rock music or metal. I refuse to hold that this technique is limited to the genre of heavy rock or metal because the percussive effect it provides is a wonderful tool for nearly all modes of play. Once you have mastered this technique, you’ll be ready to tackle some of the more difficult palm muting forms discussed in the advanced modules.
Practice and Implementation
First, let’s locate the saddle of the guitar. The Saddle is the part of your instrument where the strings meet the body of the guitar. For acoustics, this is usually wood or a plastic composite and for electric, the saddle may be metal. Place your palm on the saddle so you may play the strings without muting the sound. Once you have gotten comfortable with playing while your palm is on the saddle, slowly slide your strumming hand onto the strings. You’ll notice that as you get further onto the string, they become more muted.
Once you have found a muting tone you enjoy its time to get used to strumming muted strings. Practice playing a chord muted by first placing your fingers in a chord pattern and strum the strings while muting. Once you feel comfortable, simply lift your strumming hand off the strings and strum again. Then reapply your strumming hand to the strings and play again. Repeat this over and over again until you are comfortable alternating between the open chord and the muted chord. You are well on your way to becoming a palm muting master!
[Video showing palm mute]
As you get more comfortable with the basics of palm muting, you will be able to apply your technique to unique timbre and interpretations. This technique is a phenomenal way to express emphasis and percussion and is readily applicable to nearly any song. Taking the time to practice tough palm muting rhythms will make your music even more interesting and personalized, reinforcing who you are as a fingerstylist.
[Demonstration of palm muting songs]