How to Get the Clearest Sound Out of Your Guitar

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Overcoming Dead and Muffled Strings

Young man playing guitar
Nine OK/Photographer's Choice RF/Getty Images

Guitar beginners often complain that their guitar strings are producing dead and muffled sounds. There could be an issue involving finger placement with, for instance, the G major and C major chords where the index finger always seems to touch the string below it. A straying finger prevents the string from giving you a clear ring. 

This is a very common beginner problem, and it is often the result of poor hand positioning on the fret. To try and correct this problem, pay attention to the thumb on your fretting hand (the hand that holds down notes on the fretboard). Let's look at this in depth.

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Correcting Improper Guitar Chord Finger Positioning

guitar chord improper position

Here is an example of the wrong way to position your hands to play basic guitar chords. Notice the thumb on the fretting hand is resting on the top of the fretboard. This changes the entire position of the fretting hand. When this happens:

  • The palm sits underneath the fretboard, which decreases mobility and the ability to stretch.
  • The fingers flatten out when playing notes on the sixth and fifth strings. As a result, fingers will likely come into accidental contact with the wrong strings, causing muffled notes or so-called "dead strings."

Please note that at some point in the future, you may actually use your thumb to wrap around the neck of the guitar in order to fret notes on the sixth string. You may also notice that some of your favorite guitarists grip the neck in a manner similar to the way illustrated here. It is a hand position that can be effective in the proper situation, but it will make learning the guitar much more difficult. For now, avoid it. 

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Proper Guitar Chord Finger Positioning

proper guitar chord finger position

The image accompanying this slide illustrates the proper way to grip the neck of your guitar. The thumb should rest gently at the center of the guitar neck's underside. Your hand position should be curled so that fingers approach strings at approximately a right angle, using the tips of the fingers to make contact with each string. This will help to avoid accidentally touching two strings with one finger, and it will go a long way towards eliminating muffled notes.

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A Final Check to Correct Problems

 If you're still having issues with muffled notes, then isolate your problem, and try to come up with a solution.

For example, if you notice that your G major chord isn't ringing clearly, then play each string in the chord, one by one, noting which strings do not ring. Next, identify why the string isn't ringing. Are you not pressing the strings hard enough? Is one of your fretting fingers not curled enough, and is it touching two strings? Is an unused finger lazily touching the fretboard? When you've isolated the problem or problems, try to correct them, one by one. Chances are the same problems are occurring whenever you play that chord. Divide and conquer.