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Left-Hand Muting (i.e. keeping noises from happening)

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by LeftHandMuting, Apr 9, 2010.

  1. LeftHandMuting


    Apr 9, 2010

    I've had this same problem for 5 months since I started playing bass and I haven't found good information nearly anywhere on it.

    I was wondering if anyone could detail the specifics of using the right hand to mute the strings (NOT muted notes like "---x---" which a lot of information available will talk about).

    I play a four string bass and I've been using the floating thumb technique to mute the A-string while I play the G-string and to mute the E-string while I play the D-string. This works okay most of the time but there are a lot of songs that make that thumb just be in the way. I've tried using my ring finger of my right hand to mute the A-string but that gets in the way too. Now, I see a lot of people that keep their thumb anchored and move fluidly up and down the strings with their right-hand and do the majority of their muting with the left-hand.

    For example, they use their left thumb to mute the E-string at certain times, or keep the middle up, or...this is where my problem is--I'm not really sure what they do. I also would like to learn to slap bass better and I would need to learn this for that too--so having one solid sort of technique would be great. I watch videos of people online but they're usually too blurry, or fast to tell, and sometimes it seems arbitrary.

    I try to figure it out and, say if I'm muting the E-string with my thumb, my ability to play four note stretches on the A and D-strings are severely limited.

    If someone could help me out here with specifics like, "Mute the E with your middle unless you use it, then mute with thumb" or something. And any suggestions on how to develop it would be great.

    Thank you so much to whoever can help--this is a very distressing problem for me.
  2. DrVenkman


    Jan 22, 2010
    Pacific NW
    Well I've been playing for less time than you have, so take this with a grain of salt.

    I think most people use a combination of left and right hand muting, rather than rely on either one alone. That's what I do.

    - The string I'm plucking is either ringing, or muted because it's got a finger on it waiting to pluck the next note.

    - The string right below that one is either muted with my alternate plucking finger, because I just plucked the string above, OR:

    - Strings lower than the one I'm plucking are muted with my right hand thumb (floating thumb technique).

    - Strings above the one I'm plucking are muted with my left hand.

    I don't know if you have any experience playing guitar or not. I have a little, and one difference I had to learn with the bass was to NOT arch my left hand fingers to much. If I'm fingering a note on the A string with my index finger, that finger is flattened enough to mute the D and G strings.

    Another thing I'm doing (that I'm less certain is correct) is to place my right hand thumb on top of the strings. When I very first started, I would put my thumb kind of behind the string to use as an anchor. Terminology may be tripping me up here - imagine where your thumb would be if you pinched a string. That's what I'm now NOT doing. When I was doing it that way it made transitions between strings much harder. Just resting my thumb on top of the strings keeps it more up and out of the way, and makes the transitions between strings much quicker and easier. I have to admit it felt weird at first and I'd be interested in hearing from others if I'm doing a bad thing here.
  3. LeftHandMuting


    Apr 9, 2010
    Thanks, man. But that still doesn't help slapping or playing with a pick. And I've tried that with the floating thumb on top--but I'd liek to know how to do it the other way.
  4. maxiegrant

    maxiegrant Bassist in Transition

    Nov 26, 2007
    Sellersburg, IN
    This is one of those things that bothered me when I first started 25 years ago but I have pretty much completely tuned out how I even do it. So I had to look down at my hands while I was playing just now to get it.

    First off, almost any part of your hand that isn't engaged in making notes can be used to mute. When I am plucking with two fingers (right hand) and I'm ascending (that is in pitch) from say the D to the G string, and I want to mute the D while I play the G, I see that my middle finger plucks the G and drops onto the D string to stop it from vibrating further.

    When I'm slapping, I mute the string with the fat part of my right hand on the pinky side after I've slapped. When I'm popping, I drop the base of my pinky (or just below it) onto the string I just popped.

    My left hand typically is moving around too much to mute strings (and that's way too complicated). I have one technique which as far as I know is unique to me, and that is where I want a really "pumping" sound out of my 8th or 16th notes I will let off my left-hand finger (whichever one is fretting the note) but keep it touching the string, in between plucking the notes.

    My advice is, don't worry too much about this as it will become second nature after awhile. I don't remember specifically trying to solve the problem, but typically the hand that plucked the note will also be the hand that mutes it when you're done with it.
  5. nic salsus

    nic salsus

    Mar 16, 2010
    I sat down for a few minutes before replying to think about what I haven't had to think about for a real long time. I don't recall ever practicing it but what I'm doing is a combination of the thumb on the E string (pretty obvious), using the first or second finger not involved in actually plucking a note at the time (also pretty obvious) and reaching in with the ring finger on the A and sometimes D. I'm using both sides of the ring finger too....the meat side AND the nail side. Like maxgrant says though maybe not a good idea to obsess over this too much. Practicing the MUSIC part of playing on a dedicated and daily basis will solve a lot of your problems. Keep in mind that what I just described I wasn't really aware I was doing and it evolved over 35 years.

    The other thing I would recommend regarding muting is to find a copy of Rocco Prestia's instructional video and work on your left hand muting. Rocco is one of the absolute masters of this and he shows you exactly how he does it. Only real problem is he makes it look easy.;)
  6. PluckyThump


    Jan 4, 2008
    The Hammer
    I play fingerstyle and I do probably 90% of my muting with my plucking hand. It is possible to mute the top two strings with your thumb and the bottom string with your ring finger. Put your hand at about a 45 degree angle across the strings and have the side of your thumb against the E and the tip against the A. Put your ring finger on the G. Your other two fingers can whack away on the D. Move your whole hand up or down to change which string you pluck. You also need to learn to pluck with only one finger sometimes, that way you can mute with the other finger.

    If you play with a pick then you will need to plam-mute and use left-hand muting as well. Hence why I don't use a pick.......ever.......not that there's anything wrong with using a pick, if it works for you.

    Anchoring the thumb is no good if you want to slap. You've got to move that thumb baby!

    Try practicing with headphones. It will drive you nuts at first because you'll really hear the ringing strings. But you'll soon find a way to mute out of neccessity.
  7. LeftHandMuting


    Apr 9, 2010
    Thanks for you help guys!

    I'm still not exactly sure what I'm going to do, but I guess if I just keep playing it will evolve naturally. Is that Rocco Prestia video called "Fingerstyle Funk" ? Thanks again.
  8. nic salsus

    nic salsus

    Mar 16, 2010
    That's it. A word of caution is that what he is doing is unlike the way anyone else plays. If it seems totally unnatural just take from it what you can. Some form of left hand muting is essential to get going on though. Muting is a two handed effort. The string just needs to stop vibrating when you need it to and that can happen with either hand in all sorts of ways. The only thing I'd completely avoid is reaching around with the thumb of the left hand. This puts the left hand fingers totally out of position to function.
  9. I use A LOT of floating thumb however, I also forgo it and just mute my strings by gently lifting my fretting fingers enough to stop the string from playing. It's effective especially on the higher strings.
  10. maxiegrant

    maxiegrant Bassist in Transition

    Nov 26, 2007
    Sellersburg, IN
    One final word, because this kind of went in and out of my head all weekend as I practiced: when I am ascending the fretboard (in pitch, that is crossing strings going higher) it looks like I usually mute the notes behind me (as in, ones that I just played) with my plucking hand. When I am descending the fretboard, it looks like I usually mute the notes behind me with my fretting hand.

    I say usually. Again this is something that I remember being worried about as I started playing, and then I seem to have pretty much forgotten it as it became second nature.
  11. After reading this last week, I actually paid some attention to how I'm muting and I've determined that I'm a freak. :)

    I use the anchored thumb, and found that I'm muting the string above the one I'm playing with my ring finger...'the floating ring'?

    If slapping, I found that I'll use the meat of my slapping hand to do a bit of muting. I'm not one the guys who flails his whole arm to slap, it's all in the wrist, so my hand is always close enough to get a quick touch in.

    That said, the majority of my muting is done with my fretting hand. There isn't a singular thing I'm doing, but a combination of things. Barring without fretting with my pointer finger behind the notes I'm playing is the main thing during an uncomplicated groove...but it's pretty much having a finger always resting on an unplayed string.

    I also found that when I'm playing staccato runs, that I'm fretting the note and releasing quickly without pulling the finger completely off the string. I guess I'm unconsciously aware of harmonics as I'm not having them ring, so I must be doing something to prevent it...just didn't notice what it might be.

    I just hope that paying attention hasn't messed with my muting mojo. :eyebrow:

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