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Right Hand Muting (Floating Thumb & More!) (L#38)

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In this lesson, I’m talking about “right hand muting”. There are various ways to mute the strings with your plucking hand on the bass, and it’s important that you know and use at least one of them. If you’re not convinced, the first example I give in the video, in which I play a scale without muting any strings should make it pretty obvious! Yes… there’s a lot of noise going on and it sounds… horrible!

There are two basic techniques to mute the strings you don’t play on the bass:

  • The ‘floating thumb’ technique –used by guys like Gary Willis, Todd Johnson, etc.
  • The unnamed technique ;), which consists in muting the unplayed strings with the ring finger and pinky (although I call it ‘index’ in the video, I meant ‘pinky’ or ‘little finger’, sorry!). This technique is used by guys like John Patitucci, Jaco Pastorius, among others.

No muting technique is better than the other and there are great players using each of them. Plus, you can use both, depending on the context… A video with nice close-ups should make all that clearer…


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  • Ben Crossgrove

    For my technique the string seems to mute from my picking fingers hitting it. Do i have excessive picking motion?

    Thanks, Love your vids, Ben

    • scott

      No… this is part of many muting systems. If it works… it works ;)

  • Aniki

    Hi Scott,

    Nice lesson!
    In your video you shows how to mute when ascending, but how to mute when descending, since i can’t mute the g string when i play e with your method,right?
    Another question, do we really use mute when we play music? my finger can’t do so much task at the same time. i suppose when we play fast (or normal speed) the noise can’t stay long? right?
    Thanks again.

    • scott

      Hey man, when your descending the higher strings are muted with the left hand fingers… not the finger tips, farther down towards the palm. The lower strings are muted by the same way you mute when ascending. Hope that makes sense man… give me a shout if it doesn’t ;)! ez, Scott

      • Tom

        Hi,
        love your videos.
        Do you have a video on left hand muting technique as well?
        Cheers

  • http://www.myspace.com/sphereofsouls Kees Harrison

    Hi Scott,

    Like the tutorial on raking, etc., this one prompted me to have a thorough look at my right-hand technique and how I actually mute. A lot of the techniques are already in there in some form or other, but it prompted me to put them under the microscope and see how I could coordinate them better, or where I could perhaps use some alternatives. Great stuff!

    However, I was wondering if you always pick with two fingers or whether you occasionally throw in your ring finger for certain types of grooves or patterns. I do use mine, but in a somewhat random fashion, so it’s still not as integrated into my playing as I would like. Any tips?

    Cheers,

    Kees

    • scott

      Hey kees, I generally just use two fingers although when I’m playing chords I use my ring finger too. Ez, Scott

  • leonardo

    I mute the strings using the left hand… is there any problem?
    should I change it?

    • scott

      Not a problem at all… but the bass strings can be a problem sometimes so it’s good to use both hands.

  • Jason

    Great lesson Scott! I’m a beginner (4 months) and trying to put a lot of effort in being able to play clean, I figure speed will come with time I hope :)
    Your open discussion of both techniques and choosing a style based on what you feel more comfortable with is important. I initially started playing bass with the floating thumb then had a couple of lessons which I was told that is incorrect and I must use pinky muting. After watching your lesson I’m switching back due to it feeling more natural, of course this is a personal preference and different for every person.
    Thanks again for the great lessons.

  • Mac

    You playing is extremely clean: it is kinda hard to tell from the angle, but it seems that with your
    hybrid approach that even though the tip of your thumb is always anchored on a string, that your thumb is also laying flat or at least making contact with the un-fretted strings.
    For example, if your playing a note on the G string, your thumb is still maintaining contact with
    the low E string?

    Also, nice to see your dog put in a cameo appearance around 7.58′ mark of the video. :-)

    • scott

      Yeah that’s it man… my thumb kinda dampens the other strings at the same time. Thanks for tuning in man! Scott

      • Mac

        Thank you for making all this valuable info available.
        Having decided to actually learn proper technique rather than just thumpin’ away, I discovered it is rather “painful” to develop good right hand movement. But essential: so a few more basic questions if I may.
        Analyzing your right hand motion, the key to producing consistent tone & volume across all the strings seems to be maintaining the angle of attack the same across all the strings?
        …or do you change the angle of attach slightly as you cross the strings?
        ..and is the plucking motion a pulling back across the strings with the pad of the finger, or more finger tip?
        Thanks

        • scott

          Hey Mac good question.The angle is always pretty much the same… it obviously changes a tiny bit but nothing noticeable. I kinda use the finger tip to pluck the string as using the pad gives me a little bit to much resistance against the string and ends up slowing me down. Hope that helps! Scott.

  • Kevan

    Hi Scott, this is a fantastic resource for any bass player. I’m 53 and just starting from nothing, it became obvious almost straight away that I need to focus on my right hand technique before I can even remotely think about what my left hand is doing. It’s all very well learning from scratch with scales etc but if you’re trying to learn from nothing it’s impossible to concentrate on both hands simultaneously. I’m saying this should be the first three lessons for any beginner: 1. ‘THE’ most important bass lesson I ever teach! 2. Strap Height 3. Right Hand Muting (Floating Thumb & More!). Kev.

  • wilson

    thanks a lot man Godbless

  • Anders Fagerjord

    In this video, Jaco Pastorius is moving his thumb to rest on the A string when playing on the D and G strings, just like you do. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5reMx8v1J5k He’s not moving it further to the D string, however, as far as I can tell.

  • Darius

    Hi Scott!
    Firstly, I’d like to thank you for what you’re doing – your all advices are very helpful in developing bass-plaing skills, and thanks to your cheerful and positive approach to teaching, your lessons are very inspirating and motivating as well:) Thanks a lot!
    Also, I’ve got some question to you about how to mute (or play ghost notes) on bare (hollow?) strings in simple one string 8th groove in faster tempo, so as to notes sound staccato? Its better to play some kind of pulm muting, alternate index and middle fingers with thumb, or use left hand muting? but in the last case the whole process would be in 16th, and its hard to follow up?! I will be very grateful if you give me some advice.
    Thanks in advance!
    Best regards from Krakow, Poland.

    PS .Sorry for my English;)

  • Hannes

    I’ve learned much so far playing on my only bass, a 5-string. I’ve got plenty of questions and things as my muting technique is quite different from yours (more like the pivoting technique — I chuckled when you tried to pivot and your thumb just insisted on following out of habit) but I believe your technique is a lot cleaner than mine (besides the fact that you are way more experienced).

    But! Primary question first: I would really like to download this video to my hard drive, and my otherwise very capable downloader is not working here. Can I download it? I understand if you do not want your videos to be downloaded and thereby seperated from the site, cause many people don’t, but then I’d just like to mention to you that most of us here in the ‘third world’ have very limited internet connections (compared to European standards) and we often struggle with the bandwidth-inefficient way of doing things that has become extremely common in societies with easy internet access (I visited England and was shocked to see that my friend casually uses youtube as a musical playlist — and it actually works)

  • http://scottsbasslessons.com Benjamin Morrod

    Hi Scott really enjoying you’re lessons, but I’m having trouble with playing clean. The hybrid method seems most natural but I find it hard to play fast coming back up because my thumbs in the way. I have been struggling with this for a while now, any advise? cheers :)

  • ru32day

    I’m only a couple of months into my bass journey. I’ve started way too late in life to ever become a maestro, but I’m really enjoying myself. I was, however, getting really frustrated with what I thought was buzzing strings. I thought the problem was in my fretting technique but I now know it was a muting issue!

    I’ve been practicing the “movable not quite anchored with floating” technique, with your dynamics exercises. Although concentrating on muting and dynamics at the same time is “doing my ‘ead in”, there’s already a dramatic improvement in the quality of my sound and I’m not feeling anywhere near as frustrated. I’m hoping that the way it makes my brain hurt is a) temporary and b) working as an Alzheimer’s prevention exercise too!

    Your advice has made such a difference … thanks:)

  • Robin Lee

    I seem to have the same technique as your hybrid floating thumb. Gonna try the regular floating thumb now and see how it feels. I’m hoping it’ll help with my speed and accuracy too.

  • Fer

    Hi scott! I’m a bit confused. In this tutorial when you play the G string you put your thumb in the D string. But in another tutorial (right hand technique) when you play the G string you put your finger in A string. Which method is correct?

    Thanks a lot!!

  • Thomas

    Hello Scott, I was wondering about the first technique you demonstrated. How does the muting work with say, 5 or 6 string bass guitars? I’m currently using 4 string bass, but I might get a 5 or 6 string bass in the future, so does this technique work with them or am I better off using the floating thumb technique (or the hybrid equivalent) on those guitars, since there are too many strings in order to mute them all?

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