If you’re curious about a ghost note on the guitar and how this musical feature works, you’ve come to the right post!
Defining a Ghost Note
What we first need to figure out is what a ghost note is.
We use the term not just for guitars but for plenty of other instruments as well.
There are also a few different ways to define what a ghost note is, but let’s try to keep things as simple as possible.
A ghost note is a musical note with no specific detectable pitch.
In its essence, a ghost note serves a rhythmic or percussive function.
At the same time, a ghost note is significantly quieter compared to other notes.
A ghost note can also be performed on a percussive instrument.
However, it’s more than just an unaccentuated note, but rather something even more deemphasized.
In a way, we can say that it’s something between a quietly-played percussive part and a stop.
It fills the space in between two notes and can add to the groove of the musical piece.
Ghost Note on a Guitar
Ghost notes on a guitar are pretty common.
Essentially, ghost notes on a guitar involve playing muted strings.
You mute the strings with your fretting hand and strum them with your picking hand.
As defined above, it’s a percussive sound with no discernable pitch.
But I’ll get to the technique itself below.
These can be performed on their own or more than one at the same time.
In fact, they’re rarely played on just one string.
From my experience, you’ll have two or more notes together with an additional ghost note in between.
It’s pretty common to have three or four notes functionally serving as a chord plus one or two ghost notes.
This adds that percussive quality to what you’re playing.
Things get super-interesting if you do it with a slightly overdriven tone through a tube-driven amp.
But I’ll get to that.
The Technique Explained: How to Play a Ghost Note?
The technique of performing ghost notes seems pretty simple.
However, it takes time to master it and use it properly.
There’s more to it than just strumming muted strings and making weird sounds with your guitar.
Lay your fingers over a few strings anywhere on the fretboard without pressing them down.
I should point out that this isn’t the same thing as doing harmonics.
What you want to do is put more than one finger over the strings.
This will mute them entirely.
This will remove any unwanted frequencies ringing out as harmonics if you’re muting it on one of those frets.
Meanwhile, simply strum the strings with your right hand and you’ve got yourself that percussive sound.
While picking the strings, I would suggest that you slightly reduce the pick attack.
This will make it much easier for you to strum faster if needed.
However, things can get complicated if you want to play one or more notes along with a ghost note.
So let’s start off with an example.
For the 5th string, use your index finger to press it on the 5th fret.
Meanwhile, use the rest of the index finger and lay it on the rest of the strings underneath it.
At the same time, use your other fingers and lay them gently over the 4th and the 3rd string.
Then just strum these three strings and let only that one note ring out.
It’s a bit tricky but you’ll figure it out.
Playing an Interval
Let’s now make things more complicated and add another note to the equation.
In the example below, we have an octave interval with a ghost note in between.
For this one, you’ll have to mute the 4th string with the rest of your index finger.
But you also have to avoid getting those harmonics ringing out on the 5th fret of the 4th string.
For this example, put your ring finger on the 3rd string 7th fret and press it.
But aside from pressing the 3rd string, the tip of the ring finger should also slightly touch the 4th string and completely mute it.
Practice this by moving this same shape all over the fretboard.
Playing a Chord
Now let’s take this one step further and play three notes as a functional chord.
You can use this one as a D minor 7 chord.
For this example, you’ll have to mute the 4th string with the rest of the index finger.
Due to the specific fingering, your index finger will have to be at a slight angle.
At the same time, the middle finger goes onto the 3rd string and the tip additionally mutes the 4th string.
Up next, press the 2nd string on the 6th fret with your pinky.
Speaking from my experience, this technique isn’t something that you can easily practice.
The problem is that you need to apply a different amount of pressure on different fingers.
At the same time, you also need to use the tip of one finger to press the string and mute the neighboring string.
It’s one of those things that you figure out over time, just like palm muting.
As you can see in the example above, we mark the muted strings with an “X” symbol.
We have this same symbol in regular notation and you’ll see an “X” over one or more staff lines.
Implementation in Practice
As I already mentioned, this isn’t one of those things that you can easily practice.
Sure, you can try and work on these examples or try something similar from time to time.
But I’d rather advise you not to spend much time on this and just be patient and let it happen.
After a while, you’ll notice that you’re doing it.
You’ll notice ghost songs in various genres, but I’d say that it’s especially prominent in funk and some blues.
Check out any of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s live performances, and you’ll see that he does it often.
Ghost notes are also common in rhythm parts, although they can come in handy for some lead stuff as well.
I hope this article has helped you understand ghost notes on the guitar!
And if you have more questions about guitar theory topics like this one, then check out:
Lastly, feel free to leave a message in the comments below if you have more questions about this or another guitar-related topic!