How To Improve Your Guitar Technique - Part 2 Stop Unwanted Guitar String Noise And Sloppy Guitar Playing

by Tom Hess


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Let's be honest:

No one likes the sound of sloppy guitar playing.

So how can you improve your guitar technique and play guitar clean? 

The first thing to know is:

Sloppy guitar playing is rarely caused by the notes you want to hear.

Sloppy playing is most often caused by: unwanted guitar string noise.

There are 2 types of unwanted guitar string noise:

  • Unwanted guitar string noise from lower (in pitch) strings.
  • Unwanted guitar string noise from the higher (in pitch) strings.

There is more than 1 way to mute guitar strings. However: some methods offer advantages that others do not.

Here are the best methods for muting each type of string noise:

Muting The Lower Strings

Many guitar players use the palm of their picking hand to mute lower strings.

This technique is pretty good at keeping most of the lower strings quiet...

...but it has several disadvantages.

Watch this video (starting from 2:58) to see why it’s hard to mute excess string noise using your palm (and what to do instead):

Here are the main problems caused by using your palm to mute string noise:

  1. When you change strings, it takes a moment for the palm to begin muting the string you just played a moment before. This creates brief moments of unwanted guitar string noise.

    The noise occurs for 2 main reasons:

    1. The flesh of your palm is very soft. This means it takes more time for your palm to actually stop the string from ringing.
    2. It is not easy to get your palm in the perfect position to consistently mute lower strings in all playing situations.
  1. When you use your palm to mute unwanted string noise, the natural position of your guitar pick (when not playing) is away from the strings. This is what I call your “Natural Point Of Rest”.


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Why is this bad?

When your pick is at rest up and away from the strings, your picking hand has to move a lot more to play notes.


The more your picking hand moves, the higher the chance of sloppy playing, unwanted string noise and slower picking speed.

So, what is the solution?

A great alternative to using your palm to mute lower strings is to mute with your picking hand’s thumb.

It looks like this:

Muting guitar string with thumb finger

Notice that the “Natural Point Of Rest” when using thumb muting is now ON the strings (as shown in the picture). This greatly reduces wasted motion and enables you to pick faster with much less effort.

(Want to learn more about playing guitar fast? Download this free eGuide about doubling your guitar speed while cutting your practice time in half). 

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Muting The Higher Strings

Many guitar players don’t know how to mute unwanted guitar string noise from the higher (thinner) strings.

This part of your playing can be a big cause of sloppy guitar string noise.

There are two main techniques for muting noise from the higher strings that I teach to my students to help them improve their guitar technique.

The first technique involves using the underside (the fingerprint side) of the fretting hand’s index finger.

This part of your finger is used to lightly touch the higher strings that you want to mute. (The key word in the last sentence is “lightly”. )

You do not want to press down so hard that these notes begin to sound like regular fretted notes. 

Simply rest your finger on them, preventing them from making noise.

It looks like this:

Muting guitar string with fingerprint side

You can also mute the higher strings with the unused fingers of your picking hand. These are the fingers that are not being used to hold the pick, such as middle, ring and pinkie.

It looks like this:

muting guitar string with picking hand

This extra layer of muting ensures that there is no possibility for the higher strings to ring out and create sloppy unwanted guitar string noise.

When you combine these ideas with thumb muting, your playing will instantly become much cleaner than before. 

Now, every time you play, the only guitar strings making sound will be the ones you want to hear! 

Now that you know how to improve your technique and play guitar clean, the next step is to learn how to increase your guitar speed and play guitar as fast as you’ve always wanted. Download this free guitar speed eGuide to discover what it takes to play guitar like the guitarists you look up to. 

Tom HessAbout Tom Hess: Tom Hess is a guitar teacher, music career mentor and guitar teacher trainer. He teaches rock guitar lessons online to students from all over the world and conducts instructional live guitar training events attended by musicians from over 50 countries.

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