One of the trickiest techniques to learn is how to control which strings to let ring and which ones to mute. The more gain & distortion you add, the more you’ll start to hear other strings ringing. It can get to the point where you feel like you’re fighting the amplifier and you’re ready to chuck your guitar out the window. So let’s look at a few techniques that can help you get those strings under control.
Let’s focus on single-notes here since everything that works for those applies (to a lesser degree) to triads and chords. Single-notes are also the hardest to control, so once you’ve mastered these you can easily extend it to chords.
The basic idea is to split the string-muting roles between your picking and fretting hands based on what string you’re currently playing. The basic rule is that your fretting hand is responsible for all of the strings higher than the one you’re playing and sometimes the next lower string. Your picking hand is responsible for all of the lower strings. So if you’re currently playing on the 3rd string, your fretting hand is responsible for controlling the 1st and 2nd strings and potentially the 4th. Your picking hand is responsible for muting the 4th, 5th and 6th strings.
The Fretting Hand
You mute higher strings with the fretting hand by using the inner part of your index finger to lightly rest across the higher strings. Regardless of what string you’re on, your index finger will cover the higher ones. All you need to do is bring enough of your finger down to prevent the notes from sounding but without actually fretting them. Unless you’re pulling-off to an open string, your index finger should always be on the fretboard.
You can also use the very tip of your index finger to lightly touch the next lowest string. However, depending on what fret your index finger is at, you may get an unwanted harmonic. If you’re at the 4th, 5th, 7th, 9th, 12th, or 19th fret, you may want to rely on your picking hand instead.
One trick I like to use when I'm holding a long note with vibrato is to fret the note with my middle or ring fingers and lay my index finger lightly across all six strings. This lets the one string I’m fretting ring out and keeps the rest quiet. This also lets you get pretty aggressive with the vibrato and you don’t have to worry about the other strings making an unwanted appearance.
The Picking Hand
On the picking hand, you’re going to use the side of your palm to mute every string that is lower than the one you’re playing. This means that as you move across strings you need slightly adjust the position of the side of your palm. As you move to higher strings, the side of your palm has to cover more strings. As you move to lower strings, the fewer strings your picking hand is responsible for.
One other muting trick you can do with your picking hand is when you're going to do a lot of legato work on a single string. You can use a combination of the side of your palm, the pick and your other fingers to mute all the strings around the one you’re currently playing.
If you’re already doing some single-note execises like scales as part of your practice routine, you can start incorporating these techniques too. Like any new guitar technique, you’re going to need to experiment with. It will feel awkward at first until you get it down and figure out what works in each scenario.
Until next time, keep rocking!