Thumb-Muting Exercise to Mute Bass Strings in Guitar Music

The bass notes in music usually provide the foundation for the melody and harmony. The bass should be solid and clear.

But it should also stay out of the way. Sometimes, bass notes can ring together in ugly ways. And this clouds the music and muddies the proverbial water. So here’s an exercise that will help you to mute bass notes when you need to.

Click Here to Download this Exercise as a PDF.

The Problem: Over-ringing Bass Notes

Bass notes may clash if allowed to ring over one another. This creates unpleasant sounds.

The low vibrations can cause dissonance. And this can lead us to crinkle our noses and question if what we’re hearing is correct.

This happens most often on the open strings. The low E and low A especially can bleed over one another. And it does not sound good.

The Solution: Mute the Bass Notes as Needed

In an ideal world, each bass note stops when the next one plays. So the lower texture is always full and rich. But we avoid any distracting over-ring.

This means we stop the preceding note with our right-hand thumb as soon as possible after playing the next note.

To do this, we need control and forethought. We need to plan this ahead of time and move intentionally.

And here’s an exercise to help.

The Thumb-Muting Exercise for Guitar Practice

This exercise is a variation of one found in Abel Carlevaro’s guitar method. We’ve adapted the exercise here to work on thumb-muting. The original exercise lets the bass strings ring over.

We use a diminished chord in the left hand. We can move this up fret by fret. And this allows for a sense of progression and movement. But the main focus is on the right hand.

exercise for guitar thumb

Use this Thumb-Muting exercise for better separation of bass notes.

Click Here to Download this Exercise as a PDF.

Steps for Practice

This exercise can be very difficult if we go at it all at once. Instead, we can work in stages. This type of work allows us to master each element in turn. Then we combine them.

  1. First play the fingers alone, without the thumb.
  2. Next, play the fingers with the thumb. Let the bass notes ring for this step.
  3. Then, play the basses alone, muting each note immediately after playing the next.
  4. Lastly, put the thumb and fingers together, muting the thumb.

When we work this way, we’re more likely to improve from the exercise. And we are less likely to miss mistakes or moments of sloppiness.

The goal should be crisp, direct movements with the thumb. Each bass note should mute as quickly as possible after the next note plays.

Once you master this exercise, you can change the pattern of the fingers, keeping the bass the same.

Click Here to Download this Exercise as a PDF.

Good luck, and have fun!

Allen Mathews

Hi, I’m Allen Mathews. 

I started as a folk guitarist, then fell in love with classical guitar in my 20’s. Despite a lot of practice and schooling, I still couldn’t get my music to flow well. I struggled with excess tension. My music sounded forced. And my hands and body were often sore. I got frustrated, and couldn’t see the way forward. Then, over the next decade, I studied with two other stellar teachers – one focused on the technical movements, and one on the musical (he was a concert pianist). In time, I came to discover a new set of formulas and movements. These brought new life and vitality to my practice. Now I help guitarists find more comfort and flow in their music, so they play more beautifully.
Click here for a sample formula.

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