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"Woodpeckers": Spice up your playing!

How to Practice Pick Mutes on Guitar

"Think of your pick like a woodpecker's beak."

pick muting on guitar

What I call "woodpeckers" are a great way to add some spice to your playing. They're almost hidden from view, but a big part of creating an authentic sound on guitar!

Let's begin with a single bar example, using only 2 notes presented in a musical (in this case rhythmically satisfying) manner. I'm using notes from the A minor pentatonic scale which give a bluesy sound when played over an A major backing. It's a good example of how to turn plain scale notes into music.

pick mute foot tap guitar

See video below.

The circled "x" on beats one and three indicates what I term a "woodpecker" (WP). Think of your pick like a woodpecker's beak. It "pecks" through the guitar strings and sits on the D string ready to pick downward. As it touches the D string in preparation, it stops it ringing (mutes it). Sometimes it's useful to use other parts of the right hand to mute other strings at the same time ... experiment!

Don't hold back!

On solid body guitars It can help to "peck" right into the guitar body. In the pattern shown above you'll get the feel of the pick hitting the guitar at the same time your foot taps on the ground which can help add to the strength of the lick. Of course you may spoil your guitar's nice paint job, so this may not be for the more precious among you! If you really don't want to peck at your guitar try using your thumb for the pecks and down picks, and index finger for the up picks. As you can see I stopped worrying about things like that a while ago.

beaten up guitar pick mute

13 years worth of Pick, peck and pock marks on my Blue Blueshawk.

Here's a slow run through showing the pattern shown above played repeatedly. I am tapping my foot and counting out loud while playing, ie. I am following precisely all of the instructions shown in the Taplature notation.

Counting out loud and foot tapping like this is IMO the quickest way for you to get things filed in the part of the brain which allows them to become easy. If you're having trouble running the bar in its entirety, it will help to pull out the individual beats in isolation and become familiar with their nuances. The free Taplature Crash Course sent to all subscribers covers this approach in detail, and over time in this blog we'll be looking at many ways of breaking things down to get them properly learned!

Today's Challenges - Get pecking!

Here are a couple of famous riffs using woodpeckers. Both examples are recommended to be played using only down picks, and clearly have more than a bit in common with each other! As ever the challenge is: can you play the notes shown while tapping your foot as shown and counting out loud?

In this first one, from Cream's "Sunshine of Your Love" I've added (what I think is) an extra woodpecker on the last offbeat, to get us ready to begin again. Pay special attention to how the woodpecker on beat two of the second line allows us to jump position, from using finger 1 at fret 10 to using finger 3 at the same fret. You can hide a lot of preparation behind a woodpecker!

sunshine of your love pick mute

Here's a guitar version of the riff for "Get Ready (Here I Come)" by the Temptations. For a real challenge, once you've got the lick down you can try singing the (backing) vocal line shown along with the riff. In one way it's quite simple rhythmically, using only straight 8th notes throughout however the woodpeckers and offbeats can make singing and playing together here a real puzzle!

rock riff pick muting on guitar

It's the sort of combination that can remain problematic for a very long time, but using the ideas covered in the free Taplature Crash Course there's actually nothing in here that can't be learned easily by anyone.

Any questions, or if you can think of a good woodpecker based riff or tough guitar and vocal combination that might warrant a blog post here, let me know here in the Taplature Forum!


Old Swanner.

taplature foot tap system for guitar


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