The final element that we are going to analyze in the series on strumming is percussive sounds. Strumming patterns take on a new dimension when used with the percussive noises available on the guitar.
What Are Percussive Mutes?
Firstly, when we talk about percussive sounds while strumming, we are really talking about the mute sound that occurs when the right hand strums the strings of the guitar without any notes ringing clear. It produces a muted sound because the palm of the hand follows through, touching the strings and preventing the strings from ringing. The result is a dead, thud-like sound that sounds more like percussion than guitar. Keep in mind that this is different from the traditional ‘palm mute’ which involves playing notes while the palm lightly touches the bridge of the guitar to produce a dry, but still clear notes.
A good exercise to do is this: Clasp the guitar with your left hand. Put just enough pressure on the strings with your left hand fingers so that each string is being touched, but not enough pressure to allow a note to resonate. Now strum with the right hand. It should sound like a dry, percussive sound. You shouldn’t be able to hear any notes, just the percussive sound. This is the sound that we want to inject into our strumming patterns. The only difference is, we want to be able to produce this sound mostly with our right hand. This requires quite a bit of technique and practice. The hardest thing to do when starting out, is getting a full, muted sound, without any notes accidentally ringing. I will update this post with some video demonstrations soon, but for now, just experiment and try to master the mute.
Once you have mastered the mute with your right hand, the challenge is to be able to switch between a muted sound and a clean, ringing sound at will. This will allow you to play the strumming pattern that you want and add a layer of percussiveness that just sounds really good!
How To Use Mutes:
For some people, knowing where to put the percussive sounds comes naturally. But when starting out, a good rule of thumb is to use the percussive mute on the 2nd and 4th beats of the bar. What this effectively does is replicate the backbeat that a drummer plays. A backbeat, in modern music, is a drum beat that has a snare drum sounding on the 2nd and 4th beats of the bar. It is what creates the groove and there have been millions of songs in a wide range of styles that use this back beat as a rhythmic back bone.
Obviously, it’s impossible to strum a normal ‘ringing’ strum and a muted strum at the same time, so what generally happens is this – If the strumming pattern contains a normal strum on the 2 or the 4 of the bar, the percussive mutes are not used. However, if one of those beats is ‘free’ (there is no strum on one or both of those beats) a percussive mute can be executed in that place.
This is a VERY big generalisation. Mutes can be used on any beat, or an subdivision of the beat. Especially when 16th notes are used, mutes can be played for a very busy, percussive effect. But the most common beats to use the mute on are the 2 and/or 4.
Playing mutes seamlessly in strumming, is almost an advanced technique. That’s not to say you can’t start working on it from an early stage, but keep in mind that you can strum effectively without using mutes, so if you are still trying to master basic chords and rhythms, don’t worry too much about mutes.
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