Guitar Technique Tip of the Month

Your Personal Guitar Lesson

Douglas Niedt




There is a possibility you might need to begin eating mass quantities of donuts, potato chips, cheeseburgers, Twinkies, Oreos, and cupcakes to improve your back-of-the-thumb string damping technique. Find out why in Part 2 of my technique tip on String Damping.

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The PDF of this article contains embedded videos. You can save the entire article plus the videos to your computer. However, the videos will not play well unless you save the PDF to your computer first. After downloading and saving the file, open the file you just saved and the videos will play smoothly. Because of size restrictions, String Damping Part 2 had to be divided into two separate downloads: pages 1-8 and pages 9-19.

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STRING DAMPING, Part 2

By Douglas Niedt

Copyright Douglas Niedt. All Rights Reserved. This article may be reprinted, but please be considerate and give credit to Douglas Niedt.



Method #2 Use the back of the thumb to damp string X at the same time you pluck string Y

This is the method I use almost exclusively when going from a lower string to a higher string. Use the back of the thumb to damp the lower string as you pluck the higher string. The great advantage of this method is that the lower bass string is damped at the same time the higher bass string is plucked. There is no overlap of the two notes. When done correctly, it is perfectly clean and perfectly legato.

However, most teachers donít like this method because it requires a small change in the position of the right hand and thumb. The amount of the change of position will vary from player to player. It is easiest for those of us with relatively wide (fat!) thumbs and hardest for those with slim thumbs. If your thumb is too slim, try eating lots of cheeseburgers, shakes, Oreos, and Twinkies!

If your thumb is the right size, this method is vastly superior, easier, and more natural to execute than the preceding method.

This technique is difficult to describe in words. Please watch this video to learn how to execute this valuable technique. This could change your life. Or not.

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Be sure to watch the video on full screen. Click the symbol to the right of "HD" in the lower right-hand corner after the video begins playing. Hit escape "ESC" on your keyboard to return to normal viewing.

Letís look again at Twinkle.

Example #12:



Twinkle Twinkle Little Star Measure 1-2


As we go from measure #1 to measure #2, we need to damp the lower A string as we play the higher D string. By using the back-of-the-thumb damping technique we can now damp the open low A simultaneously as we play the open D.

Example #13:



Twinkle Twinkle Little Star Measure 1-2


If you are new to this, I recommend practicing the technique on open strings as shown in the following exercises. I have also notated what this technique actually sounds like. Note that with this technique there is no overlap of the two notes.

Example #14:



Open String Exercises


When you practice the exercises be very careful not to damp the first note a split second before playing the second note. The two notes should be connected (legato) with no dead space between them.

Watch me demonstrate the required changes in the hand position and how to execute the technique:

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Be sure to watch the video on full screen. Click the symbol to the right of "HD" in the lower right-hand corner after the video begins playing. Hit escape "ESC" on your keyboard to return to normal viewing.

To master this technique and to use it in real-life situations, it is important to learn to play notes on the treble strings with the fingers at the same time you play the bass notes with the thumb. I know. Practicing all these patterns may seem tedious.

NEWS FLASH. Sometimes, mastering technique often requires what seems like endless repetition. But practice smart. Focus. Practice each repetition slowly and correctly. You will master it quickly and be done with it. Then it wonít be tedious.

Example #15:



Twinkle Twinkle Little Star Measure 1-2

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star Measure 1-2


Again, be careful not to damp the first bass note before playing the second bass note. There should be no dead space between them. Some of these combinations can be tricky to execute and some may feel awkward. Fear not.

Watch as I demonstrate:

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Now, go back to Twinkle and try the string damp using the back of the thumb.

Example #16:



Twinkle Twinkle Little Star Damp With Back of Thumb Measure 1-2


Once again, here is the entire piece with the string damps marked. Use the back of the thumb to execute the string damps. Note that these are only the string damps going from a lower string to a higher string. We will cover how to do the damps going from a higher string to a lower string in a later section of this technique tip.

Example #17:



Twinkle Twinkle Little Star Complete. Damp with back of thumb


Watch this video as I execute these string damps on Twinkle Twinkle Little Star using the back of the thumb. And to think, I studied at Juilliard and the Segovia Master Classes for thisÖ

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SPEED DOESNíT MATTER

The back-of-the-thumb damping technique may be used very easily in fast passages. Unlike the technique of damping after a note is plucked, no decisions have to be made about when to execute the damp. String X is always damped at the same moment string Y is plucked. We donít have to delay damping an offensive-sounding bass string because of technical speed issues. It can be damped cleanly as the next note is played with no over-ring. Look again at the Sor piece.

Example #18:



Sor Study damping with back of thumb


Remember Romanza aka Romance aka Romance de Amor? With the other technique, we had three options of when to do the string damps. The choice was dependent on the tempo you chose to play the passage and your skill at coordinating the damping movement with playing the other notes. And, no matter which option you chose, there was still over-ring of the offensive bass notes.

You donít have to worry about any of that with the back-of-the-thumb damping technique.

Example #19a:



Romance damping with back of thumb


And, example #19b:



Romance damping with back of thumb


The back-of-the-thumb technique of string damping is straightforward with no over-ring of the offensive bass notes.

Or, remember the problems encountered with Adelita because of the slur? No more.

Example #20:



Adelita damping with back of thumb


Watch me demonstrate all three of these pieces, executing the string damps with the back of the thumb:

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Be sure to watch the video on full screen. Click the symbol to the right of "HD" in the lower right-hand corner after the video begins playing. Hit escape "ESC" on your keyboard to return to normal viewing.

The technique of damping with the back of the thumb works relatively easily when damping an adjacent string as in the examples above. It is a little more difficult and can be awkward on string jumps such as the following. Fortunately, you will not encounter these very often. When you do, you can use alternative methods of executing the damps.

Example 21:



String Jumps damping with back of thumb


These require a pronounced distortion of the thumb and hand position as you will see in the video that follows. For that reason, many guitar teachers would be appalled that I would suggest the use of such a technique. But if you have the right thumb anatomy, it works. I donít care how it looks as long as itís useful and sounds good.

Using the back of the thumb to damp wide string jumps is even more difficult and awkward when other notes must be played with the bass notes.

Here is an example at the beginning of the Gagliarda from Six Lute Pieces of the Renaissance transcribed by Oscar Chilesotti.

Example #22:



Gagliarda damping with back of thumb


If this is too awkward or your thumb anatomy does not support back-of-thumb string damping, you could always damp the 6th string after playing the E.

Back-of-thumb string damping is useful in this chord change from Study in A Op. 60, No. 3 by Matteo Carcassi:

Example #23:



Carcassi damping with back of thumb


Damping with the back of the thumb may be a little awkward going from the 6th to the 4th string, but in this instance I prefer it to the alternative of damping the 6th string after playing the E#.

Watch as I demonstrate how to use the back of the thumb damping technique on string jumps in general and specifically on the Carcassi study. If you get nauseous viewing distorted hand positions, just turn your head awayÖ

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Be sure to watch the video on full screen. Click the symbol to the right of "HD" in the lower right-hand corner after the video begins playing. Hit escape "ESC" on your keyboard to return to normal viewing.

THE BIG PICTURE, CLEANING UP THE BASS WITH THE RIGHT-HAND THUMB. Going from a lower bass string X to a higher bass string Y.

A. You have the option of damping the lower bass string X with the thumb after playing the higher bass string Y.

PROS:
  1. The technique can be used by anyone, regardless of their hand/thumb size and anatomy.

  2. Works well on wide string jumps.
CONS:
  1. Does not produce a super-clean bass line. The two notes will ring together, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. The bass line can still end up sounding muddy.

  2. Can be difficult to use in fast passages, arpeggio passages, and passages containing slurs.

  3. A decision must be made in each case exactly when to damp the offensive note. Several options may be available, none of them optimal.

B. You have the option of damping the lower bass string X with the back of the thumb at the same time you play the higher bass string Y.

PROS:
  1. Produces a very clean bass line. There is no over-ring of the offensive note and the notes will be perfectly connected.

  2. Easy to use in fast passages, arpeggio passages, and passages containing slurs.

  3. No decision has to be made about when to damp the offensive note. It is always damped precisely as the next bass note is played, resulting in a perfectly legato and clean bass line.
CONS:
  1. Requires an alteration of the basic hand and thumb position. Sometimes that alteration is dramatic.

  2. Can be difficult or impossible to do if your thumb is slim, your hand small, or your fingers short.

  3. Difficult or awkward to use for wide string jumps.

  4. There is a danger of accidentally damping note X a split second before note Y. This will result in a disjointed connection.

More to come:

  • How to clean up the bass voice when going from a higher string to a lower string.
  • Left-hand string damping.
  • How the style of a piece affects the use of string damping
  • Observing written rests
  • Controlling sympathetic vibration and unwanted harmonics
  • Damping several strings at once
  • Damping on scales
  • Notation of damping

All explained and illustrated with great musical examples and stunning videos


pdf icon

The PDF Version

The PDF of this article contains embedded videos. You can save the entire article plus the videos to your computer. However, the videos will not play well unless you save the PDF to your computer first. After downloading and saving the file, open the file you just saved and the videos will play smoothly. Because of size restrictions, String Damping Part 2 had to be divided into two separate downloads: pages 1-8 and pages 9-19.

Download String Damping, Part 2, pages 1-8.pdf

Download String Damping, Part 2, pages 9-19.pdf

Note: You must have Adobe Reader 10 or later installed on your computer to play the videos contained in the PDFs. Download Adobe Reader here.