Palm Muting is the rather broad term to describe techniques used to dampen string vibration. Because you are actually muting the sound of the strings, string muting might be a more accurate description. When done properly, you can produce short bursts of clean sound, or thumpy/crunchy sounds typically associated with a driving beat.
There are two standard methods used to achieve string muting: one uses the strumming hand, the other uses the fretboard hand. Each produces a slightly different sound.
|SIDEBAR: To keep it as clear as possible, in this article I'll refer to the muting done with the strumming hand as 'Palm Muting'; I'll call any muting achieved with the fretboard hand 'Chord Muting'.|
Palm muting is any technique used to place part of your strumming hand on the strings, usually at or near the bridge. This technique creates a sound some call 'percussive', others refer to the sound as thumpy, crunchy, "chucka-chucka" or some similar descriptor.
Chord muting is usually used to quickly dampen a clean-sounding chord, cutting short a burst of sound.
Not sure what this sounds like?
You'll hear good examples of palm muting using both techniques in these songs: "Animals" by Nickleback, "Smoke On The Water" by Deep Purple, "Back In Black" by AC/DC, "Are You Gonna Be My Girl" by Jet, "Turn Up The Radio" (the introduction) by Autograph, "Too Much" by The Dave Matthews Band, "Better Life" by Keith Urban, and "Every Breath You Take" by The Police.
On "Back in Black," for example, palm-muting is certainly used for the first six counts. Then, Angus Young's bursts of chords are probably clipped short using chord-muting.
How To: Palm Muting
Palm muting dampens string vibration when you apply pressure. Use it for percussive, power-beat sounds.
Palm muting primarily uses the outside edge of your hand, the portion an excited speaker would use to pound on a podium.
You want to press some part of your strumming hand onto every string you plan to pluck. This can take some practice. For beginners, you may find that strumming while pressing down across all strings is not easy. If so, begin with power chords, then work up to all six strings.
The key is to apply pressure to every string, to prevent it from vibrating freely.
You can move your hand toward the headstock, or toward the butt of the guitar, to create a wide variety of sounds. In addition to your hand movement, the exact sound is influenced by the pickups on an electric guitar.
Get ready to strum a chord as you normally would. Rotate your hand at the wrist and move it down until the edge of your hand is pressing against the strings. You don't need a lot of pressure, just enough to prevent the strings from vibrating freely. Strum one or more strings. Adjust the amount of pressure to eliminate any buzzing or open strings.
Repeat a few times. Start with your hand resting on or near the bridge, where it's most likely to be comfortable. Try power-chords at first, then strum a few full chords. This technique works with open or barre chords, but you can combing palm muting with chord muting when using barre chords.
Experiment. Move your hand up and down the strings. Start at the bridge, where you have the most control over the amount of dampening. Move past each pickup on an electic, or the sound-hold on an acoustic. Listen to the different sounds. Use varying amounts of pressure. Discover where your hand is most comfortable and how much of the side of your hand is needed. Primarily strum the higher strings, then the lower pitched strings. Explore the wide variety of sounds available.
Next, try strumming a chord normally, then apply pressure on the strings. This is an alternative to the chord-muting technique described below. This method is very effective with either barre or open chords.
Problems? If your strings may buzz you need to apply more pressure. Strings ring open? You're not covering one or more strings. Reposition your hand, use your little finger, or don't strum those strings.
Practice a bit and you'll have added a great technique to your bag of tricks.
How To: Chord Muting
Chord muting dampens string vibration when you release pressure.
This type of palm muting works best with barre-chords (chords where your index finger acts like a moveable capo), but it can also work fairly well with open chords if you avoid strumming open strings.
To use chord muting: strum the chord normally, then release finger-pressure on the fretboard. Some describe this as releasing thumb-pressure. Regardless of how you think of it, when done correctly the volume of a strummed chord falls off quickly.
To try this, strum a barre chord. Then, slowly release the grip of your fretboard hand until the strings lift off the frets. If you release pressure slowly enough you'll hear some buzzing, then the ringing notes will stop. That's the right amount of pressure for this technique.
Don't lift your hand off the strings, and don't change the shape of your hand.
Repeat a couple times, until you have a feel for the right amount of released pressure needed to silence the chord, but avoid buzzing. Next, try speeding up. See if you can sound a series of staccato chords.
Problems? If your strings may buzz you need to release more pressure. Strings ring open? You're releasing too much pressure, your fingers must maintain some pressure on the strings to dampen them. Open strings ringing? Try to avoid strumming them. If that's not possible, try pressing one of your fingers down on the open string to silence it. If one still rings... use it, ignore it, or figure out a barre chord you can use.
With just a bit of practice you should be able to master this technique.