9 June 2008

How to Avoid Muffled Guitar Notes

Muffled guitar notes are often a frustrating part of learning the guitar. It is not easy to get a good sound out of the guitar when starting out or when learning a new technique.

There are solutions to problems that cause muffled notes, though. And this article describes one very common one.

Causes of Muffled Guitar Notes

Muffled notes usually arise because a string is not pressed correctly or because it is touched by a finger pressing a nearby string. Both of these problems can have a common cause - your finger tips are not straight enough.

The end of the finger, up to the first joint at least, should point straight up out of the fretboard, like a tree. In this position the tips of the fretting fingers should be in contact with the strings.

Fingers that lean instead of standing up straight pose two problems.

First, there is a good chance that the finger tip is not pressing the string. The string is pressed instead by the fleshy pad just below the finger tip. Press this pad on your fingers now, see how much much softer it is than the tip?

A string pressed with this soft pad is harder to keep on the fret. A poor string contact can result in a muffled sound or buzzes or other unwanted noises.

If you do manage to press the string down with this pad it requires more force. This causes tired fingers and can lead to injuries through repetitive forcing.

Secondly, the leaning finger risks to come into contact with a neighbouring string. This will interfere with the string's vibration and muffle the note.

Practice Slowly

How do you correct this problem if your finger tips are not correctly positioned?

Practice your left hand only (or right if you are left handed) without strumming or picking. Place your fingers lightly on the strings to form the chord. Do this slowly and ensure that you place only the tips of the fingers on the strings. Make sure that each finger tip is standing up straight.

Relax and remove your fingers, then repeat the process again. You must perform this exercise very, very slowly. It is important that you teach your fingers the correct position before you think about speed.

When you have repeated the above movements a few times continue with the same movement but add pressure to press down the strings. Do this carefully, ensure that you place your fingers lightly first, and then press down in a separate step. Ensure that your fingers remain straight, press by simply squeezing your hand without any large movements.

With time the correct, vertical, placement of your fingertips will become a habit and you will avoid muffled notes.


You might want to take some lessons with a classical guitarist to work on your technique. You can also find classical guitar methods that dedicate many pages to correct finger positioning and technique. This knowledge will serve you well whatever style of guitar you play.

Remember that muffled guitar notes are a normal part of learning to play guitar. Muffled notes can be a problem both for beginners and more experienced guitarists so don't worry too much about them. Focus on correct technique and be assured that you will fix the problem with time and correct practice.

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