Guitar Technique Tip of the Month

Your Personal Guitar Lesson

Douglas Niedt




In Parts 1 and 2, we learned how to damp bass strings going from a lower to a higher string. In Part 3, we will learn how to damp going from a higher to lower bass string. We will then be able to play any piece with an absolutely clean, linear bass line.

In Part 3, we also will learn to damp melody lines going from a higher to lower string. Hang in there, next month Part 4 will wrap everything up.

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STRING DAMPING, Part 3

By Douglas Niedt

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

• MORE ON CLEANING UP THE BASS. (Going from a higher string to a lower string.)

• PLUS, USING LEFT-HAND FINGER DAMPING TO CLEAN UP MELODIES. (Going from a higher string to a lower string.)


We have learned how to damp bass strings going from a lower to a higher string. Once we learn how to damp going from a higher to lower bass string, we will be able to play any piece with an absolutely clean, linear bass line.

In Twinkle here are the spots where we must damp going from a higher to lower string.

Example #24:



Twinkle Twinkle Little Star Spots to String Damp


There are three methods by which we can execute string damps going from a higher to a lower bass string.

Method #1: Damping higher string X after plucking lower string Y

I have already explained this method in detail when going from a lower string to higher string. The technique is the same here with the same advantages and disadvantages of execution.

Example #25:



Twinkle Twinkle Little Star Damping X after Y


Method #2: Use thumb rest stroke to damp higher string X as you play lower string Y.

Thumb rest stroke is very easy for some players to use. It can be very awkward for others. This is usually due to differences of thumb length, thumbnail length, and hand position. If it comes naturally to you, it is a great way to do string damping when going from a high string X to a lower string Y. By the way, this method only works with adjacent strings. It would not work for example, going from the 4th string to the 6th string.

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 #26:



RestStroke Damping On Open Strings


Watch me demonstrate in this brief video (Video #1).

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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 practice playing other strings with the bass notes. Once again, practicing all these patterns may seem tedious, but these can be particularly difficult or awkward for some players to master.

Example #27:



Rest Stroke Damping On Bass Strings And Fingers Trebles Part A

Rest Stroke Damping On Bass Strings And Fingers Trebles Part B

Rest Stroke Damping On Bass Strings And Fingers Trebles Part C


Watch me demonstrate how to do thumb rest-stroke string damping on chords (Video #2).

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Once again, here is Twinkle in its entirety with the string damps from higher string X to lower string Y. To damp higher string X, play lower string Y with the thumb rest stroke.

Example #28:



Twinkle Damping With Thumb Rest Stroke Complete


Watch me demonstrate the thumb rest-stroke damping technique on Twinkle (Video #3).

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Thumb rest stroke can be used relatively easily on Gymnopedie No. 1 by Erik Satie as arranged by Christopher Parkening.

Example #29:



Gymnopedie No1 Thumb Rest Stroke Damps


Watch me demonstrate thumb rest-stroke string damping in Satie’s Gymnopedie No. 1 (Video #4).

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SPEED DOESN’T MATTER

The thumb rest stroke 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. Higher string X is always damped at the same moment lower string Y is plucked. We don’t 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.

Example #30:



Grand Overture Arpeggio Thumb Rest Stoke Damp


Watch me demonstrate the ease of damping with the thumb rest-stroke technique in a fast passage from Mauro Giuliani’s Grande Ouverture (Video #5).

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Thumb rest stroke damping has its advantages and disadvantages:

PROS:
  1. The higher string X is damped simultaneously as the lower string Y is played rest stroke with the thumb. 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. Higher string X is always damped precisely as the lower string Y is played, resulting in a perfectly legato and clean bass line.

  4. In bass lines with consecutive changes from high string to low string to high string, thumb rest stroke can work very well in combination with back-of-the-thumb string damping.

  5. For those for whom thumb rest stroke comes naturally, the moments when the thumb is resting on a string will lend stability to the right hand.
CONS:
  1. Playing thumb rest stroke is awkward for many players. It may require a change of hand position (usually arching the wrist) resulting in inaccurate playing. If the thumb is extended further to the left to avoid arching the wrist, the tone quality of the thumb may be adversely affected.

  2. It will be difficult for many players to pluck two or more strings simultaneously if they play the bass string rest stroke with the thumb.

  3. It will be difficult for some players to get consistent simultaneous flesh/nail contact with thumb rest stroke, especially when playing another string with a finger at the same time.

  4. For some players the change in hand position can adversely affect the tone quality of notes played by the fingers.

  5. Rest stroke is inherently louder and fuller than free stroke. When playing lower string Y with rest stroke, care must be taken that its volume and tone match the notes preceding and following it.

Method #3: Use the left-hand fingers to damp higher string X at the same time you pluck lower string Y

Some players prefer left-hand finger string damping as an alternative to right-hand methods. We have two “flavors” of left-hand string damping.

Flavor #1 of Left-Hand Finger Damping: Fingertip Damping. Touch the offensive string with the tip of an available left-hand finger

Any available left-hand finger may be used to damp a higher string X at the same time a lower string Y is plucked. Touch the string lightly with a left-hand finger.

If you are new to this, I recommend practicing the technique on open strings as shown in the following exercises. Be sure to practice damping with each of the left-hand fingers: 1, 2, 3, and 4. I have also notated what this technique actually sounds like. Note that with this technique there is no overlap of the two notes. It also doesn’t matter how strings X and Y are plucked. They may be plucked rest stroke or free stroke, with the thumb, fingers, or combination of the two.

Example #31:



LeftHand Fingertip Damping Open Strings Complete


Watch me demonstrate basic left-hand fingertip string damping (Video #6):

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Fingertip damping in situations where only the bass strings are played is pretty simple. In Fernando Sor’s Lesson No. 3, the 4th-string open D needs to be damped as the 5th-string open A is plucked.

Example #32:



Sor Op31 Nr3 LH damp


We could damp the 4th string after we play the 5th string. Or, we could play the 5th string rest stroke with the thumb. Or, perhaps the easiest thing for many players is to damp the 4th string with the tip of the left-hand 3rd or 4th finger as the 5th string is plucked.

Watch me demonstrate the passage from the Lesson No. 3 by Fernando Sor (Video #7):

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Another example occurs here (and a few other spots in the piece) in Bach’s well-known Prelude in D Minor. To produce a clean bass line, we need to damp the 4th-string open D’s as we play the 5th-string open A’s.

Example #33:



Bach Prelude Dm LH Fingertip Damps


The open D’s could be damped with the thumb after plucking the open A’s. Or we could damp the D’s by plucking the open A’s with the thumb rest stroke. But again, many players will find it very easy to damp these D’s each time by touching the 4th string with the left-hand 3rd finger as the 5th string is plucked.

Watch me demonstrate this passage from Bach’s Prelude in D minor (Video #8):

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In Mauro Giuliani’s Grand Overture we find an arpeggio passage with a wide string jump from the 4th-string open D to the 6th-string open E played at high speed. Trying to damp the D immediately after playing the low E would be difficult. Playing the 6th-string E with the thumb rest stroke and coming to rest against the 5th string will do no good because it is the 4th string we are trying to damp. The perfect solution is left-hand fingertip damping. To damp the 4th-string open D, touch it lightly with the fingertip of the 1st or 2nd finger as you pluck the 6th-string open E. If you use the 4th finger to play the G#, you would also have the option to use the 3rd finger to damp the 4th string.

Example #34:



Grand Overture LH Finertip Damps


Watch me demonstrate the passage from Giuliani’s Grand Ouverture (Video #9):

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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.

But what about situations where other notes are played at the same time as the bass note? Coordinating the plucking of other notes at the same time you touch a string lightly to damp it can be a tricky coordination problem.

Example #35:



Villa-Lobos Prelude 1 LH FingerDamp


Or here in John Dowland’s Allemande.

Example #36:



Dowland Allemande LH FingerDamp


Watch me demonstrate how this is done in John Dowland’s Allemande (Video #10):

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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.

If you need practice with the technique, practice on open strings first. This is probably overkill, but try at least a few of these.

Example #37:



LH Damping With Chords Open Strings

LH Damping With Chords Open Strings

LH Damping With Chords Open Strings

Watch this brief demonstration (Video #11):

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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.

Finally, let’s go back and try out this left-hand fingertip method of string damping on our beloved Twinkle.

Example #38:



Twinkle LH String DampsComplete


Watch my virtuoso performance of Twinkle as I demonstrate left-hand fingertip damping (Video #12):

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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.

Flavor #2 of Left-Hand Finger Damping: Allow a left-hand finger to lean over to touch the offensive string.

This technique is most often used to damp open strings when going from a higher string to a lower string. Three changes in the hand and finger positioning are made to execute this technique:

  1. The hand is placed in a lower position causing the finger which will damp the open string to lean over slightly toward the open string.

  2. The finger which will damp the open string is not placed on its tip. It is placed on its note off the tip.

  3. The tip joint of the finger which will damp the open string is straightened very slightly.

This method can work well for damping not only strings in the bass register but the treble register as well. Here is a simple exercise to get the feel of this technique and understand how it is done.

Example #39:



LH Finger Lean Over Exercises


Watch me demonstrate this easy but very effective technique (Video #13):

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Most players already use this method of string damping in many situations without realizing it. They don’t give it a second thought and use it without anyone teaching them how to do it.

Example #40:



LH Finger Leaning Over Sor Op31 No1


Watch me demonstrate (Video #14):

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The technique is used frequently in scale passages containing open strings. A scale, by definition, is a series of notes sounding one at a time with no ring-over between the notes. If we play a descending G major scale, we do NOT want it to sound like this.

Example #41:



Descending G Scale Without Damping


If the open strings are allowed to ring freely without any string damping, the passage no longer sounds like a scale. Well okay, maybe it resembles a scale, but it is a very messy and sloppy scale.

The scale is very easily cleaned up with the application of left-hand finger string damping using the lean-the-finger-over technique.

Example #42:



Descending G Scale With Damping


Again, many players already automatically use this technique. They use it without thinking about it and without having been instructed to use it. If the left-hand position is properly lowered, the technique is very easy and natural to use. It can be used on any descending scale passage containing open strings.

Watch me demonstrate how to play clean scales using the left-hand finger leaning-over technique (Video #15):

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It is also used to play melodic passages as pure lines, one note ringing at a time. Again we go to Twinkle.

Example #43:



Twinkle Melody Damping LH Finger Lean Over


Watch me demonstrate how to play Twinkle with a clean melody line using the finger-leaning-over technique (Video #16):

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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.

Let’s use the technique on a more challenging piece. Here is a passage from an Alman by Robert Johnson. The open E’s and B’s are easily damped using the left-hand lean-the-finger-over technique. The result is a clean melodic line.

Example #44:



Alman Robert Johnson LH Finger Leaning Damping


Watch this (Video #17):

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In J.S. Bach’s Bourée from Lute Suite No. 1 (BWV 996), measure #9 is a problematical measure. We have an open G and open B in the upper voice that need to be damped, and an open D in the lower voice that needs to be damped. These notes need to be damped to preserve the contrapuntal texture of the piece. In other words, only one note should be allowed to ring at any given time in the upper voice, and only one note should be allowed to ring at any given time in the lower voice. Open strings ringing against fretted notes destroys the two-voice counterpoint.

Fortunately, this knotty string damping problem is easily taken care of with the left-hand lean-the-finger-over damping technique.

Example #45:



Bach Bouree LH Lean Finger Over Damping


Watch how I turn disaster into beauty using this easy, natural, and effective technique on Bach’s Bourée (Video #18):

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More to come:

  • Using the right-hand fingers to damp strings
  • 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
  • Notation of damping
  • Putting it all together in actual pieces

All explained and illustrated with great musical examples and stunning videos


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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. The file is nearly 3 GB so it could take a few hours to download.

Download String Damping, Part 3.pdf

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