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Hitting Unwanted Strings When Bending? Here’s What to Do!

Bending is one of the most widely used techniques when playing guitar, particularly solos and licks. A common problem with bending is hitting unwanted strings which completely ruins the sound.

The main reason for hitting unwanted strings when bending is that you aren’t muting the strings you don’t want to hit. If you learn to mute the strings you’re not playing, your bends will sound much cleaner, along with the rest of your playing.

Like with everything related to guitar playing, practice is key too. Being aware of the solution is one thing, but you won’t see results until you keep repeating your bends over and over.

In this article, we’ll take a look at the different ways you can mute the strings and a few other tips to avoid hitting other strings when bending.

You Need to Mute Unwanted Strings

It’s often what you don’t play that has the biggest impact on music. That applies to things like leaving space to create tension, but it also applies to making sure you only play the notes you intend to play.

If you find that you’re hitting other strings when you play a bend, the chances are you need to work on muting the strings you aren’t playing.

You can mute the strings either with your picking hand, your fretting hand, or usually a combination of both.

Muting with Your Fretting Hand

The easiest way to mute the strings higher than the string you are bending is with the first finger of your picking hand. For example, if you’re bending the G string at the 12th fret, gently rest your first finger on the B and E strings around the 10th fret.

Make sure you don’t press down too hard or you will start to fret the note rather than mute the string.

However you mute the strings lower than the one you’re bending, you’re going to want to perfect the technique above for muting the higher strings.

If you want to mute with only your fretting hand, you can barre your first finger across the d,g,b, and e strings to mute all of the surrounding strings. With this method, you won’t need to worry too much about muting the strings with your picking hand since your fretting hand has taken care of it.

An advantage to this method is that you can pick the strings a little bit more aggressively. A great example of using this method to mute the strings is the main riff to Can’t Stop by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Although it doesn’t utilize any bends, it’s a great riff to practice to get your fretting hand muting on point.

You can purposefully play some of the muted strings with this method to create an attacking, aggressive tone like in Can’t Stop.

Muting with Your Picking Hand

Alternatively, you can use the palm of your picking hand to mute the strings lower than the one you are bending. You will still want to use your fretting hand to mute any higher strings though.

For example, if you’re bending the 15th fret of the b string, you would use the first finger of your fretting hand to mute the high-e strings around the 12th or 13th fret and would mute the rest of the strings. You don’t necessarily need to mute all of the strings, but you will want to at least mute the G, D, and A strings.

Muting with your picking hand is great for when you’re playing softer and more precise. You’re not going to be able to attack the strings like if you use your fretting hand to mute, but it’s perfect for delicate solos and licks with bends.

Use the Correct Bending Technique

Making sure you’re muting unwanted strings is the key factor, however, you also want to make sure you’re using the correct technique for your bends.

If you can’t control your bends, you’ll find it difficult to mute strings and avoid hitting them. The video below is a great guide for beginners.

A couple of key points that are particularly important when you’re having trouble avoiding hitting unwanted strings are:

  • Use your wrist – You should be using your wrist to control the bend rather than just your fingers. This will give you more control and make it easier to avoid accidently hitting other strings.
  • Fret with your finger tip – Make sure there’t a slight bend in your knuckle closest to the tip and you’re using your finger tip to fret the string you’re bending. If your finger is too flat, you’re going to inadvertently fret other strings as you bend.

Consider Using Lighter Gauge Strings

Ligher gauge strings have less tension making them more flexible and easier to bend. At least whilst you’re perfecting you bends, it might be a good idea to try a lighter set of strings.

Lighter gauge strings won’t necessarily prevent you from hitting unwanted strings directly, but by making it easier to bend, you can focus more of your attention on muting the strings.

There are a few downsides to lighter gauge strings:

  • Harder to maintain intonation – The problem with strings that bend easily is that they can sometimes bend when we don’t want them to. When you use lighter gauge strings, it can be quite easy to accidentally bend the strings making it sound like you’re playing out of tune.
  • Brighter, thinner tone – This one isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, it is worth considering that lighter strings will have a brighter, thinner tone. If that’s what you want – great! But it isn’t ideal if you want a thick, full tone.
  • They will break more easily – Obviously, thinner strings are going to be weaker. If you’re a frequent string breaker, you’re going to find you will break even more strings if you use a lighter gauge. Although to be honest, you should be changing your strings before they get to the point of breaking anyway.

Raising the Action on Your Guitar May Help

All the tips above should be enough to get you bending without hitting unwanted strings (with enough practice), but there’s one last thing that may help. If you’re action is too low, the strings might be catching on your finger as you release the bend.

Raising the action can help keep the strings stacking up against your fingertips
rather than under your fingertips.

You can check out Sweetwater’s guide on changing your action here.

Practice, Practice, Practice!

When it comes to anything related to learning guitar, practice is the most important factor. Yes, you want to be practicing the correct things, but repetition is key.

Try to identify which strings your hitting and whether it’s your picking hand hitting those strings or your bends catching other strings. Figure out the most comfortable way for you to mute the string and just keep practicing over and over.

Like everything with guitar playing, the more you practice, the easier it gets. In time, you won’t even notice that you’re muting the strings, it will just become second nature.