What Is A Ghost Note On Guitar?

If you’re new to guitar and you come across an X on your sheet music, you might wonder what it refers to.

Ghost notes can be confusing for learners because they appear to indicate a note that shouldn’t be played.

What Is A Ghost Note On Guitar

Ghost notes are strummed notes that add a percussive element to your playing by muting the movement of the string. They lack pitch but have rhythm.

Creating a sound that isn’t quite a sound, ghost notes add a surprisingly expressive layer to music.

To discover more about the ghost note, including how and when to play them, take a look at this guide. 

What Is A Ghost Note On A Guitar?

A ghost note on the guitar is a note that is played for a rhythmic value, but lacks pitch.

The string tends to be muted by the fretting hand, although the picking hand or palm can also be used as a mute.

Despite being muted, the string is still played, producing the rhythm without pitch.

Ghost notes are also sometimes referred to as muffled notes. This terminology is less common, but perhaps better helps beginners to understand the effect of a ghost note.

The presence of sound distinguishes the ghost note from a rest. 

Some choose to play ghost notes as faint notes, but this isn’t the standard usage.

Experienced guitar players sometimes prefer this option, depending on the sound they’re trying to produce.

For beginners, it’s important to learn ghost notes in their correct form. 

How Do Ghost Notes Appear In Notation?

Ghost notes are most commonly shown in notation with an ‘X’, but they’re also displayed as a note in parentheses, such as (15).

Both usages are correct, but tend to be used at different times.

Parenthesis is often used to introduce a ghost note when the tablature is quite complicated.

This might be a piece where a musician will choose to use slightly different notes on occasion.

Funky rhythm guitar lesson beginner...
Funky rhythm guitar lesson beginner to advanced: adding16th ghost notes to your playing

The ghost notes will show where these can be added in for some extra oomph, or to introduce rhythm and percussion.

The X notation for a ghost note is standard, and typically indicates the muted string should be lightly played for the percussive element.

Many musicians feel the parentheses indicating a ghost note offer more freedom. You may choose to play a muted string, play the note as normal, or not play it. 

How To Play Single-Note And Chord Strumming Ghost Notes

Getting to grips with ghost notes isn’t difficult, and it can help add some rhythm to your licks.

When playing a ghost note with a single-note melody, the best method is to use the fretting hand to mute the string.

Press the finger lightly to the string, between chosen notes.

By rhythmically lifting and pressing your finger, you can create the ghost note as needed. You should notice a slight percussive sound. 

This method can also be utilized when chord strumming.

Keep your finger flat and lightly touch all the strings, lowering pressure on the fret. As you strum, the sound produced should be gently percussive. 

Instead of using the fretting hand, you can use the picking hand for ghost notes.

Slapping the strings with the picking hard produces a rougher percussive noise, with the thumb creating most of the effect. 

What Is A Ghost Note On Guitar (1)

When Are Ghost Notes Used?

Listen carefully to some of your favorite songs, and you might hear a ghost note being played.

Or maybe not. After all, they’re called ghost notes for a reason.

But even though you might not hear them in context, you’d probably notice if the ghost notes were removed. 

Ghost notes are used to add percussive sounds, which means they tend to be found in rhythm heavy guitar pieces.

Funk and bluegrass often makes use of the ghost note, using that ‘click’ noise to emphasize the powerful rhythm.

But ghost notes are found in many pieces of music, and they aren’t contained to one genre.

The percussive beat of a ghost note adds emphasis and individuality, and can be adapted to suit numerous styles.

Practicing Ghost Notes On The Guitar

Ghost notes aren’t difficult once you’ve had some practice, although the trick is often nailing the amount of pressure you have to apply to mute the string.

Beginners should practice by alternating between playing the note normally, and playing the note muted.

This can help you to work out the best method for producing the rhythm.

Start by practicing single notes. Try to incorporate them into your scale runs, so you get used to playing ghost notes in a rhythm.

Once you’ve got the hang of this, incorporate ghost notes into songs you’ve already learned.

Play around with where you put them, to add your own twist to the compositions.

Doing this not only makes ghost notes easier to play, but it helps you understand when or why they’re used. 

Next, you can start incorporating ghost notes into chords.

Again, begin by playing them separately, before gradually working up to songs you know well.

Experiment with adding ghost notes to things you know, and keep an eye out for melodies that already incorporate ghost notes.

What Are Guitar Rakes?

Guitar rakes use ghost notes to incorporate percussion into notes.

Guitar rakes use several ghost notes in a row, before the note is played. This adds a clicking noise that builds up the note, creating rhythm and flair.

Rakes are popular in blues music, and help to make a piece expressive and personal.

Do Other Instruments Use Ghost Notes?

Yes, ghost notes are used by many other instruments, but different methods produce the percussive sound.

Many stringed instruments employ the ghost note using a similar technique.

Ghost notes are also found in percussion. On the drums, a ghost note is a note played at a low volume. 

Final Thoughts

Ghost notes have percussion without pitch, and can add rhythm to a piece of music. Often appearing in notation as a simple ‘X’, ghost notes can bring expression to your playing.

They’re surprisingly common in music, even if the quiet features of a ghost note makes it difficult to hear. 

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