Alternate Picking – Left & Right Hand Muting

Life would be much simpler if all a guitarist had to do, in order to alternate pick efficiently, was pick in a down or an up direction in the correct place and that was all. But it isn’t! Both hands have a role in muting the strings correctly in all techniques. It’s the kind of unsung work that isn’t heard by the untrained ear. It is all too obvious when not done correctly though – it’s ruinous effects can by heard by trained and untrained ears alike.

In alternate picking the muting techniques for the right & left hands are very different

When alternate picking (and playing in general) I keep my right arm rested on top of the body of the guitar (around the middle of my forearm).

Right Hand Rest

This keeps my upper arm ‘out of the loop’ thus giving my wrist full control of the pick and keeping any excess movement to a minimum, which would otherwise have a potential (and undesirable) slowing down effect. The nature of alt. picking requires the source of pick movement to be ‘closer to the scene of the crime’. Whilst there is some movement from the fingers, this is more of a by-product of the core movement coming from the ‘engine room’ of the wrist and any movement from up further past the wrist towards the elbow is suppressed by the resting of the upper arm. Everyone is different but what I see that all good alt. pickers have in common is keeping everything natural and relaxed – a must when practicing/playing for long periods of time!

To make my description easier, I will explain my own muting technique starting with the 6th string (Low E). This technique is applicable for guitars with higher numbers of strings (I adjust to accommodate the lower string when I play my 7 string guitar but the technique is basically the same).

A Note On Left Hand Positions

There are two basic left hand positions that I use. Both are very different and there is no middle ground – I’m either using one or the other.

The first is the ‘thumb over the top’ position –

'Hendrix' Front

Used when I’m in need of leverage for string bending and wide vibrato. This hand position will need a post of it’s own so I am not referring to it below in the left & right hand muting description.

The second left hand position I use (and which is needed for the below description) is this more classical looking position –

'Satch' Front

'Satch' Behind

There is a considerably wider hand span in this position and a completely different type of dexterity. The space created between the underneath of the neck and the left hand palm, coupled with the thumb position (with it’s print on the outer part of the semi circular shape of the neck) puts the fingers into a different position and the first finger, in particular, becomes far more straightened out. This is key and the majority of left hand muting in this hand position is done with the first finger.

The Left Hand

Low E String – When playing notes on the Low E, the first finger stretches across the rest of the strings (like with a barre chord except muting rather than pressing down) muting the other 5 strings with the underneath of the finger

LH Mute Low E

A String – The barre style mute with the first finger is now used to mute strings D to High E while pressing A string. The Low E is now uncovered. The first finger comes in to mute it with it’s tip

LH Mute A

From here the right hand (see below) mutes the unguarded lower strings that the left hand can’t reach.

D String – The A string is now muted with the tip of the first finger of the left hand and the barre style mute stops G to High E while it presses D string

LH Mute D

G String – The D string is now muted with the LH first finger tip and the barre mutes the B & High E while G string is pressed

LH Mute G

B String – The G string is muted by the LH first finger tip only High E is now muted by the underneath of the LH first finger while B is pressed

LH Mute B

High E String – Now only the B string is muted by the tip of the LH first finger

LH Mute High E

The strings which the left hand could not mute are muted by the right hand which brings us to –

The Right Hand

Low E String – The fleshy pad which houses the thumb is a key ally in right hand muting but is not needed yet. All of the muting is done by the left hand when on the Low E

A String – Again the right hand is not needed but can stay generally close as extra insurance against extraneous string noise and can also be called upon quickly for any palm muting needs (although a different part of the right hand is used for palm muting – the ‘karate chop’ area)

D String – The first time the right hand is called into action to mute for me is when I have crossed to the D string. The Low E string is now out of reach of the left hand and needs to be muted by the fleshy pad which houses the thumb

RH Mute D

G String – The right hand now mutes the Low E string and the A string

RH Mute G

B String – The right hand mutes the Low E, A & D strings with the fleshy pad

RH Mute B

High E String – The RH now mutes the Low E to G strings

RH Mute High E

Neither hand can ignore it’s muting duties. Clean, accurate playing requires this level of attention to detail and I am always reviewing my technique for any flaws in muting (in either hand) and listening back to recordings I make to judge how clean everything I play is.

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