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Thread: Palm mute

  1. #1
    Registered User gordonjackson83's Avatar
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    Default Palm mute

    Hi, when I mute the strings of my mandolin or octave mandola it creates a very bassy sound. Great! I was just wondering if anyone knows what is actually going on. My guess is that somehow it's actually the higher frequencies that are cut out, leaving just the lower ones. Is this correct? Cheers, Gordon

  2. #2

    Default Re: Palm mute

    Yes, the higher frequencies are dampened while fhe lower ones still sound, albeit also slightly dampened.

    There are other factors which one can utilize to dampen the higher frequencies.

    First off, one of the standard tropes embraced by bluegrass mandolin players is rhe dampened high-end response of F-hole and of carved-top instruments. That's why so many such players recommend avoiding flat-top and oval- and round-hole inatruments.

    Secondly, a more flexible pick acts as a spring when used, storing the energy by bending when used, and releasing it when it lets go each string. That higher energy excites more high frequencies from the strings. Again, those higher-frequencies are considered negatively in bluegrass mandolin. Instead, people start pursuing thicker picks which will dampen that high-end response.

    Palm muting allows one to dampen those upper frequencies on demand, instead of relying on a unremovable blanket which is continuously applied to the sound.

  3. #3
    Registered User DavidKOS's Avatar
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    Default Re: Palm mute

    Quote Originally Posted by Explorer View Post

    First off, one of the standard tropes embraced by bluegrass mandolin players is rhe dampened high-end response of F-hole and of carved-top instruments. That's why so many such players recommend avoiding flat-top and oval- and round-hole inatruments.

    Secondly, a more flexible pick acts as a spring when used, storing the energy by bending when used, and releasing it when it lets go each string. That higher energy excites more high frequencies from the strings. Again, those higher-frequencies are considered negatively in bluegrass mandolin. Instead, people start pursuing thicker picks which will dampen that high-end response.

    Palm muting allows one to dampen those upper frequencies on demand, instead of relying on a unremovable blanket which is continuously applied to the sound.
    I have an alternative opinion for those of us that play oval hole and bowlback and other non-F style mandolins, particularly with pointed less thick stiff but still "springy" picks and like the ringing sound of those high frequencies.

    Palm muting similar to a classical guitar pizzicato, dampens the string by both attenuating some highs but also stops the sustain, like a piano damper pedal in a way. You palm dampens the string's vibration, which gives an optional sound for certain effects.

    I like your explanation of the "standard tropes embraced by bluegrass mandolin players".

  4. #4

    Default Re: Palm mute

    Quote Originally Posted by DavidKOS View Post
    Palm muting similar to a classical guitar pizzicato, dampens the string by both attenuating some highs but also stops the sustain, like a piano damper pedal in a way. You palm dampens the string's vibration, which gives an optional sound for certain effects.
    Gee, David, you're absolutely right. I was focused purely on Gordon's question regarding the frequency response. Gordon, sorry for not bringing up that facet of palm muting.

    I actually got in most of my palm muting practice in the context of using eBow on the 8-string guitar. The driven strings can get pretty unruly without palm muting at the bridge, so sustain normally isn't even on the radar in that context. *laugh*

    Quote Originally Posted by DavidKOS View Post
    I like your explanation of the "standard tropes embraced by bluegrass mandolin players".
    Yeah... there have been numerous topics here at the Café, wherein either a beginner is asking about, or people are discussing, optimum mandolin tone. There is often at least one bluegrasser who isn't aware that there are more possible musics than bluegrass, and more approaches which don't have Bill Monroe at the root. That person then embarks on, and occasionally defends, that one-bluegrass-size-fits-all idea.

    Cheers!

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  6. #5
    Registered User gordonjackson83's Avatar
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    Default Re: Palm mute

    Hey guys, thanks for your responses. Seems like my guess about the frequencies was correct, though still not sure why it should be so. The stuff about the sound holes was completely new to me, all my instruments having round or oval holes. I usually use a large thin plectrum, because I like the light sound they produce (I only occasionally palm mute). I find the heavier the plectrum, the duller the sound, but the faster I can play. However, I'm happy to sacrifice a bit of speed to get a sweeter tone. When I need the speed, I'll use a medium. I most often palm mute when accompanying on octave mandola (I'm English, can you tell?).

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  8. #6

    Default Re: Palm mute

    Quote Originally Posted by gordonjackson83 View Post
    Seems like my guess about the frequencies was correct, though still not sure why it should be so.
    Think of it this way: there's all kinds of basic oscillations occurring in a plucked string, with the lowest oscillation being a swing of the center section back and forth. This is the strongest oscillation, with the other ones getting progressively weaker. Muting with the palm inhibits the upper harmonics, starting at the highest and weakest, with the harmonica being deadened downwards from there. (Of course, the range of upper harmonics dampened by a palm mute depends both on how many would normally be present based on the strength of the pluck/pick, and then by the amount of damping applied.)

    Quote Originally Posted by gordonjackson83 View Post
    I find the heavier the plectrum, the duller the sound, but the faster I can play.
    As long as a pick is not so thin that it has no spring left, that pick will mechanically store the energy of a picking motion in the bend, and then release it all at once when it is released in that same picking motion. A stiff pick will not bend, and will not have stored energy to release as it pulls past the string.

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  10. #7
    Oval holes are cool David Lewis's Avatar
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    Default Re: Palm mute

    A stiff pick held lightly has the same affect, and then gives you support when you need to do a fast single line passage.


    on palm muting:
    Listen to how Sam Bush chops with the 'whisper' he puts in and compare it to say, Adam Steffey. The chop is a form of palm muting.Both are excellent mandolinists - this is a stylistic comparison for the ears, not a judgement on either player. There's a lot to be said for palm muting. And, as you get better at it, it brings in a whole tonal palate.]
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