Here's a post in the playing silence series that describes techniques for muting the guitar strings with the fretting hand. If you're a beginner to intermediate player these techniques will help you to improve your guitar sound.
1. Fingers rest on one or more strings with just enough pressure to mute them.
2. A fingertip frets a string while the side of the finger mutes a higher string.
3. A finger pad frets a string while the tip mutes a lower string.
Now let's look at each of the techniques in a little more detail.
1. Fingers resting on one or more strings
This technique is used mostly for rhythm guitar. You rest one or more fingers across the guitar strings to silence them. It can be done between strums to play a rest or to create a short staccato feel. Other times the strings are strummed while muted to create a percussive scratching sound.
There are two different ways to perform the technique depending on the type of chords played. When playing bar chords you simply lift your fingers a little. The strings leave contact with the frets but your fingers keep enough contact with the strings to stop them vibrating. When playing other types of chords you reach with one or more fingers to rest them across the strings. You might have to briefly release the chord if you don't have a spare finger.
2. Side of the finger mutes a string
Sometimes you need to mute just one string to eliminate a note that might accidentally sound if you strike the string. You can use this technique when playing single notes, chords, and often when playing intervals such as sixths (XXX:link) or octaves - there is a string to mute in between the two strings that form the interval.
You can use this technique when the string to mute is below a fretted note - i.e. a higher string. Simply lean the finger fretting the note towards the bottom of the neck so that the side of the finger touches the next string. The part of the finger that mutes the string is either the fleshy pad below the finger tip or the side of the finger. It depends on the position of your hand when making a chord.
You might have learned that you should keep your finger tip straight, perpendicular to the neck to fret a note correctly. This is one case where you have to break this rule so the side of the finger can mute the adjacent string. You usually don't have to lean the finger too far and the tip should still remain securely in place on the string it is fretting.
3. A finger tip mutes a string
When the string you want to mute is on a lower string, above the fretted note it is not very convenient to learn a finger towards the top of the guitar neck. So what do you do if you want to mute a string that is above the one you're playing? The answer is to reach over with your finger tip.
To perform this technique you have to adjust the way you finger a fretted note. Instead of pressing the fretted note with the tip of the finger you use the fleshy pad just below the tip to hold the note. The finger tip extends up just enough to touch the string above and mute it.
This technique can be used when playing bar chords with their root on the fifth string. The tip of the index fingers extends upwards to mute the sixth string. The technique is also often used when playing bended notes to prevent noise from adjacent strings as you release the bend.
The techniques presented in this lesson might break the rules you have learned about good technique - fretting with only the finger tip, keeping the finger perpendicular to the fretboard. They are used in many guitar styles though, so it's worth mastering them. I hope you'll have fun learning and playing with them.
Photo by jsome1.