While there are so many ways you can play the guitar, when you consider how many ways you can manipulate and alter your sound on top of that, your possibilities become limitless.
You may already be aware of guitar effects pedals and all the variety of changes you can create with them, as well as simple additions like capos. One of the best and most versatile ways you can change your sound, however, is by using special playing techniques.
One of the most valuable techniques for playing an aggressive style of guitar is known as palm muting. It can be used on both electric and acoustic guitars to dampen the strings and minimize sustain for a unique effect.
To help you master this all-important technique, here are five essential tips you need to know about.
1. Familiarize yourself with the palm-muting sound
The next time you listen to your favorite songs, or at least tracks in a genre that you, yourself, play, listen for palm muting. If you’re unsure of what palm muting sounds like, simply watch a video of it on YouTube (like the one below) to get an idea.
Once you start identifying songs that use the technique, you can start to practice it yourself. And there are plenty of bands that use it, ranging from Avenged Sevenfold and Blink 182 to Metallica and Green Day. Enjoy exploring the sound.
2. Develop your very own palm-muting style
As with any guitar-playing technique, how you position and place your hands is essential if you want to get the palm muting technique right. Of course, your hands are different from everybody else’s, so your placement will be unique.
In short, you’re going to want to place the heel of your hand onto the strings by the bridge of your guitar, just over when the strings begin to start. As a rule of thumb, your strings will have more sustain the further your hands are from the bridge, so experiment with what works for you.
3. Beware of too much pressure on the strings
How hard or soft you push down on your guitar strings is the make-or-break moment as to whether your palm muting ventures are going to work. You only need to push down slightly and softly for the effect to work. If you push too hard, you’ll end up deadening your sound completely.
Again, feel free to experiment with pressures to see what works best for you and creates a sound that you like. Even the slightest changes can create a big effect, so take the time to explore what you can achieve.
4. Keep it consistent when changing strings
Of course, while you’re muting one string, chances are, you’re going to want to use this technique on another string. The key is to keep the technique consistent so that everything sounds right while you’re playing.
This is easier said than done, because you’ll tend to keep your hand in the same position regardless of the string you’re playing. When you’re palm muting, it should only be the joints of your fingers that are moving the string, not your entire hand.
5. Amp up your sound
While palm muting is a technique that's learned through the movements and actions of your hands and body, it’s important to pay attention to the settings on your amp, since it can have a dramatic effect on what your music sounds like.
Make sure to turn your amp up, because your sounds are going to have very little sustain and therefore won’t be producing a continuous sound. Next, if your amp has overdrive or distortion settings, or you’re using a distortion pedal, be sure to turn them up as well, then experiment with the levels that sound best for the sounds you’re trying to create.
Gavin Whitner is a passionate musician, and the primary blogger at MusicOomph, where he writes about musical instruments, related gear like headphones, and other accessories. He’s also written for publications like Music Connection, Making Music Magazine, etc.