This lesson deals with three methods for creating that muted note sound you can hear in old soul and reggae tunes. It’s also useful in creating an imitation upright bass sound.
The first technique is that of Palm Muting in the plucking hand, the second technique is muting with the fingers of the fretting hand and the third method involves using sponge, felt or rubber to physically mute the strings near the bridge.
This method is very popular in rock music due to the heavy ‘chugging‘ sound it creates. To palm mute, press the strings down firmly with the heel of the right hand and pick with the thumb. Practice on just one note to begin with, then when you feel comfortable, move on to the other strings.
You’ll notice when you do this technique that you can’t keep the right hand in one position – you have to move it across in order to keep the muting consistent.
This technique works great for getting that old retro vibe so you can imitate people like James Jamerson. A lot of Motown bass players used to have Precision basses with a metal case around the strings at the bottom with a piece of rubber inside to deaden the sound. Palm muting can achieve a similar sound to this without the need to alter your instrument.
The heavy attack and quick decay of palm muting can make the technique great for imitating an upright bass.
You can sometimes lose a bit of bass response when palm muting, so make sure you adjust your EQ levels accordingly and boost your volume if necessary.
Adding The 1st Finger
Using the thumb to pluck every note can sometimes feel a bit slow and blocky as you are constantly down-picking. To help take some work away from your thumb and speed your playing up, try using the first finger as well. It might feel strange at first, but as with everything, you just need to practise.
Muting With The Fretting Hand
You can get a similar palm-muted sound by muting with the fingers on the left hand – fret the note with your first finger and gently rest the other fingers over the strings below. This will sound slightly different as you get more attack from the right-hand fingers, but it can be used in pretty much the same way as palm-muting.
The harder you press on the strings with the loose left-hand fingers, the more muted the sound will be before eventually becoming a ghost note.
Once you have nailed this technique, you can start to move the hand around a little bit more. However, it is a little bit limiting because we are playing one-fingered most of the time.
Muting With Foam
Another way to get a muted sound on bass is to stick a piece of foam under the strings close to the bridge. This lets you play muted notes to your heart’s content without having to change your technique at all. You simply have to cut a rectangle out of a piece of foam or sponge – play about with the size as you don’t want the notes too muted or not muted enough.
One of the downfalls of this technique is that you can’t adjust how muted the notes are once you’re into a song, so it is essential to make sure your sponge is cut correctly beforehand.
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