Articles Intermediate

How to Use Palm Muting to Write Great Electric Guitar Riffs Palm muting technique is an option you can't do without if you're writing riffs

If string bending and vibrato are the techniques the lead guitar player can’t get enough of, palm muting technique is the one rhythm guitar players cannot do without.

For good reason.

As we’ll explore below, palm muting technique gives a different sound to the same note/chord you’re strumming, thus it gives you an infinite amount of rhythmical opportunities when creating your guitar riffs.

You execute palm muting technique by resting the flesh of your right hand on the strings of the guitar (that you want to mute), near the bridge.

This gets your chord to make that chugging sound that is very common in Rock, Heavy Metal and Punk music among others.

If you’re completely new to palm muting technique, I would suggest experimenting a bit with getting the right sound before you try the rhythmic patterns below.

Make a power chord on the low E string with your fretting hand while adjusting your right hand to execute palm muting technique, giving particular attention to:

  1. How hard the flesh of your right hand is pressing on the strings.
  2. How far your right hand is from the bridge.

In general, your hand should not be far away from the bridge and should be pressing enough to get the “chugging” sound from the chord, but not as much as to deaden its sound.

 

Creating palm muting rhythmic patterns

Now that you found a sound you would like to come out from the palm muted power chord, let’s start getting creative with rhythmic patterns.

You create rhythmic patterns by applying palm muting technique to some of the chords, while playing others without palm muting.

Play this riff and apply palm muting technique to every chord:

While there’s nothing wrong with this riff, and for sure there are some great riffs that use palm muting all of the time, the real fun starts when you start applying palm muting to only some of the chords.

This shouldn’t be done in a random fashion but in a way that makes sense rhythmically.

The next riff, is exactly like the previous one except that the chords that fall on a crotchet are not palm muted but the ones that fall on quavers are.

To play this riff, you need to rest your right hand on the strings while playing the chords that are within the P.M—-] bracket and lift it off when you come to the rest.

You can probably see that the rhythm in this riff is much more interesting than that of the first riff, all because of the palm muting applied.

The following riff is also based on the two above, except that the second quaver in the second beat is divided into two semiquavers, to get what’s known as “galloping style”.

While the palm muting pattern of this riff is the same as the one before it, the rhythm sounds more fast paced and made more interesting with the semiquaver patterns.

The next riff, is based on the I IV V chord progression which is very common in Rock and Pop music.

Play this riff very slowly at first to get the rhythm and the palm muting right.

All the above guitar riffs are made solely from power chords, which may get boring after a while.

The next riff, introduces single notes, from the A minor pentatonic scale, two of which are palm muted.

In this riff, palm muting is used less frequently than in the ones before except on the power chords at the end.

Like with every other technique you learn, you can use palm muting as much, or as little, as you want.

Also notice the slide from the A5 to G5 at the end. Slides are another set of techniques you should have in your bag of tricks when it comes to writing riffs.

The next riff, apart from mixing single notes with power chords, as well as chords which are palm muted and chords which aren’t, also introduces rests to add more variety to the rhythm.

Rests, are another powerful item you should add to your riffing bag of tricks. Make sure absolutely no sound comes out of the guitar during the rest. Unlike palm muting, where the chord just gets a more rhythmic sound, rests require a complete muting of both the chord and any unwanted noise coming from open strings you are not playing.

This is less of a problem to an acoustic guitar player, but if you’re playing electric guitar with distortion, unwanted string noise may ruin an otherwise great guitar riff.

The following riff, uses single notes only. The repeated open E string is palm muted, while all other notes are heard entirely. This creates both a strong rhythm as well as a catchy melody.

In the next riff, I indulged in using as many techniques as possible in just three bars to give you an idea of how many things you have at your disposal and how you can use them creatively.

Let’s go into some components of this riff.

  1. Motif and variation

You may have noticed I’m using only two rhythmic patterns in this riff. Either a two quaver pattern, or two semiquavers followed by a quaver pattern.

This would have been pretty boring (especially if the riff was longer) if I was playing the same two notes.

Thus, here we have a rhythmic motif followed by a melodic variation at times.

Playing around with motifs, the shortest item in the music, that is repeated again and again in different variations, is one good way to write riffs.

Think of a concept, it can be just two or three notes, maybe a few more, and repeat that same changing either:

  1. The melody – as above, repeating the rhythmic pattern but changing the notes
  2. The rhythm – it works the other way round too. You can keep the same notes but change the rhythm.

As well as apply different guitar phrasing techniques, which we’ll deal with in the next component.

  1. Guitar Phrasing techniques

Phrasing is related to how notes are played and there is wide array of techniques the guitar player can use to get a different sound from the same note or chord.

Palm muting is one of them. You’re playing the same chord but the sound coming out of it is different.

The other phrasing techniques used in this riff are:

  1. Hammer ons and pull offs in the first bar.
  2. Slides in the second bar
  3. Vibrato on the last note of the second bar.

To see how much value these phrasing techniques have, play this same riff and remove every technique: the palm muting, the hammer ons and the pull offs, the slides and the vibrato.

The melody is still there, but way less exciting then when it had the phrasing techniques applied to it.

Palm muting technique is just one of this array of tricks you can use to write your own great riffs.

Learn as many techniques as possible but make sure you also use and apply these techniques and create music with them, rather than just know them.

Application is not only the fun aspect of guitar playing, but also one of the most important factors that will make you the great guitar player you deserve to be.

If you’re practicing regularly of course. Otherwise you wouldn’t really deserve it ☺

 


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