Instruments produce noise. There’s just no getting around it.
You might not be bothered by it if you’re the one practicing, but what about your family, roommates, or neighbors? Do they complain or ask you to stop? Worse, do they call the cops on you?
If you’re enthusiastic about music, at some point, your practice ethic is going to increase, and you might even end up wanting to bring friends over to jam with you. Basically, noise levels are only going to go up from here.
So, controlling volume becomes a significant concern, and that goes for electric and acoustic guitars too.
In this guide, we’ll look at how you can practice guitar quietly without disturbing the peace around you.
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Practicing Electric Guitar Silently
It’s entirely possible to practice electric guitar quietly if you use some basic problem-solving skills.
But time and again I’ve come across guitar students who don’t entirely understand how their gear works and aren’t willing to work with it to achieve desired outcomes.
So, it may be necessary to debunk a few myths, which is exactly what I’m going to do here.
Myth: You Can’t Play Electric Guitar At Low Volumes
When you say you can’t practice at low volumes, in effect, you’re saying you have no self-control. And if you have no self-control, how much are you actually practicing anyway (making noise on your instrument is probably going to bug others more than practicing songs)?
Here’s what you need to know…
Electric guitar amps come equipped with gain, volume, and master knobs (sometimes all the above, sometimes one or a combination thereof). You can take advantage of these to affect the amount of noise coming from your amp.
If your knobs are pointed at 12 o’ clock, it generally means they’re at half or 50% volume (100% volume is at 5 o’ clock). Turn them to the far left (about 7 o’ clock), and your amp should go silent. Gradually bring it back up from there, to about 8 o’ clock, to where you should have a respectable practicing volume that won’t leave anyone’s ears bleeding.
I admit that this isn’t very “rock and roll.” Then again, practicing loudly and being shut down by those around you limits your ability to truly rock and roll.
So far as I’m concerned, you can play electric guitar at low volumes, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. You can control volume levels such that no one around you is bothered.
Note that you can also use smaller amps (Blackstar FLY3, Orange Crush Mini, Marshall MS2, etc.) which generally have less headroom. If you have no restraint whatsoever, that’s your answer.
Myth: You Can’t Practice Accurately Without An Amp
Another myth I often hear repeated is that you can’t practice (accurately) without an amp. Well, I must suck at guitar then, because out of the 19 years or so I’ve been playing, most of my practice has been done without an amp.
Sure, I’ve had my off nights, but in general, “you suck at guitar” is not a comment I hear from others, unless it’s being said in a sarcastic manner.
Practicing without an amp allows you to play quietly and improve on your instrument.
I don’t find it to be a major sacrifice myself, and I don’t mind saving my ears one bit.
But to be effective, you must apply the same mindfulness to your practice as you would with an amp. Depending on an amp to hear your mistakes, in fact, is lazy. If you’re attentive enough, you should be able to catch and hear your mistakes unplugged too.
Practicing unplugged is a simple and practical solution, since it means you can bring your electric guitar with you and practice wherever you go, without having to carry around a heavy amp.
Myth: Using Headphones Is A Bad Way To Practice
Using headphones is a great way to practice, since most amps come with a “Phones Out.”
When you think about it, if you’re tracking in the studio, there’s a good chance you’ll be using headphones to hear the click, drums, bass, etc. So, it’s better to get used to them sooner rather than later.
Some guitarists, like Paul Gilbert, even use headphones live!
Headphones aren’t just practical in terms of volume levels. They’re great for a variety of applications. In addition to plugging into the “Phones” out on your amp, you can also:
- Plug into a multi effects pedal or rack-mount guitar unit. In some ways, this is the preferred way to hear exactly how those amp models are sounding.
- Plug into your computer. Open your Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) software and load up your favorite emulated heads (VST plugins) and Impulse Responses.
- You can even plug into a digital multi-track audio recorder. These days, many of them have amp models built into them.
You can even play along to metronomes or drum tracks using this method.
Your options don’t shrink when you use headphones. In many ways, they broaden!
Practicing Acoustic Guitar Quietly
The acoustic guitar is naturally louder than an electric guitar. Notice how I said “naturally”, since when an electric guitar is plugged in, it can go quite a bit louder than an acoustic guitar.
But the sound of an acoustic guitar can certainly carry further than you might think, depending on how it’s being played, and by whom.
So, let’s look at how you can reduce the volume of your acoustic guitar to keep the peace around you.
Use A Soundhole Cover/Feedback Dampener
Soundhole covers or feedback dampener are generally used for live performance. By placing this device over the soundhole, you can greatly reduce the amount of feedback coming from a plugged-in acoustic guitar (some acoustic guitars come with electronics).
But that doesn’t mean it can’t also be used for practicing in your bedroom or basement.
Another advantage of a feedback dampener is that it tends to reduce bass frequencies, which can be the most audible and hard to eliminate when it comes to acoustic guitars.
The main downside? The dampener isn’t going to do a whole lot to reduce volume levels. Yes, it can help, but it’s not designed to “kill” the sound of your acoustic guitar.
There are more effective solutions if you go looking for them.
Take Advantage Of A Guitar Mute Silencer
These are made of silicone, rubber, or other materials, and sit beneath the strings (they sort of “pinch” the strings and hang on them). These mutes are designed to reduce the sound of your guitar significantly.
As with a dampener, a mute doesn’t 100% eliminate the sound of the instrument, but it can be more effective overall.
The downside of a mute like this is that it changes the natural feel of the guitar. It’s not impossible to work with but practicing with it might feel a little strange at first and take some getting used to.
So, if you’re using a mute, don’t expect your guitar to feel exactly as it does without one. It will feel a lot like playing while someone is heavily palm muting your strings.
Put Soft Clothing Inside Of Your Guitar
Though a little unconventional, this is among the best solutions when it comes to dampening the sound of your acoustic guitar.
T-shirts and other soft clothing naturally absorb sound. It’s the reason some people utilize their closets when recording from home.
If you’re planning to use this method, I recommend using soft clothing specifically, as you will need to take the clothing in and out of your guitar. You don’t want to damage the woodwork (or electronics) on the inside.
Assuming you’re careful with your instrument, however, this method should give you some mileage.
Solid Alternatives – Practice & Travel Guitars
Practice and travel guitars are much quieter by design.
Practice guitars are generally made up of little more than a neck with a few frets (so you can practice your fretting and chord shapes), so they don’t produce any sound at all.
And, when it comes to travel guitars, many of them are designed to be played with headphones, or don’t produce much of a sound to begin with.
Just look out for small acoustic guitars. While they can be great for travel (because of their durability and size), they can still produce quite a bit of noise, which impacts their value as applied to quiet playing.
Still, practice and travel guitars are solid alternatives when it comes to reducing noise.
Are There Techniques I Can Use To Play Guitar Quietly?
Both acoustic and electric guitars are dynamic instruments that respond to your touch. But all things being equal, acoustic guitars are more responsive than electric guitars.
Meaning – changing your technique is going to have a greater impact on the volume level of your acoustic guitar than your electric guitar.
But changing your technique can absolutely make a difference when it comes to volume levels.
Picking and strumming softly and even using softer picks can make a significant difference.
Further, you can utilize muting (especially palm muting) techniques to keep the noise levels down.
So, don’t ignore how you’re playing when it comes to noise levels. In the same way drummers sometimes say they can’t play quieter guitarists also sometimes say they can’t. The truth is they’re just unwilling.
Isn’t it worth developing more techniques rather than fewer?
Work on your technique and see what you can do.
Does The Environment I Play In Make A Difference To Noise Levels?
Generally, rooms with more furniture are better to play in because furniture absorbs sound. This doesn’t mean the living room is automatically a better space than your personal room. You’ve got to think in terms of space-to-furniture ratio.
So, practicing in the basement (especially an unfinished basement) can have the opposite effect of keeping volume levels down, because cement can reflect sound, and if there isn’t much by way of furniture, carpeting, or insulation, then it may even sound like the noise is being amplified by the room.
If you have a garage, and the space to be able to practice in it, then it can work quite well. Again, this will depend on how well the room is insulated. But assuming it’s decent, it could help with noise issues.
As I mentioned earlier, a closet full of clothes can also be a good spot, since the clothing absorbs much of the noise. But closets tend not to be spacious and aren’t always practical.
In an ideal world, you would have a practice room that’s been acoustically treated and soundproofed. This can cost money, time, and typically working knowledge of how sound travels. So, even if it is the best solution, it can be a little costly and complex to work out.
If you think you may have found a few good spaces to practice in, try them out and gather feedback from those you’re trying not to disturb. Some rooms may be better than others and allow you to cut down on some of the noise they’re worried about.
Do I Need Specific Tools To Practice My Guitar Silently?
In some cases, depending on your chosen method, you might require additional tools.
Here’s what you need to ensure you can play your electric or acoustic guitar silently.
Small (Or Micro) Guitar Amp
Generally, applies to electric guitars only.
Micro amps usually don’t go as loud as their larger counterparts. The good news is they tend to be perfectly adequate for practice.
If you’ve seen School of Rock with Jack Black, it’s quite likely you’ve seen (and heard) what a micro amp sounds like.
Can be found at most music and electronics stores. Headphones are easy to find and are especially effective for personal practice on electric guitars.
With headphones, you can plug into your guitar amp(s), multi effects pedals or outboard units, and even your computer, where you can load up your favorite guitar VSTs.
Basically, headphones are versatile and are a great practice tool for electric guitar.
For use with acoustic guitars (since electric guitars don’t generally have soundholes), soundhole covers/feedback dampeners can come in handy for practice and live performance.
A cover won’t fully eliminate your guitar’s sound and will only reduce it. But you’re certainly better with than without.
Guitar mutes are also for use with acoustic guitars specifically. A guitar mute sits under the strings and gives your strings a heavily palm muted quality, reducing overall volume levels while playing.
Playing with a guitar mute, however, might take some getting used to. It will affect the “feel” of the guitar since the mute is directly in contact with the strings.
You probably have some T-shirts lying around you could stuff inside your acoustic guitar to reduce its volume significantly.
But do be careful while inserting or removing the clothing from the soundhole. You don’t want to damage the inside of your guitar, be it woodwork or electronics (if your guitar comes with electronics).
How To Play Guitar Quietly, Final Thoughts
Where there’s a will, there’s a way. If you’re desperate to practice your guitar quietly and reduce noise levels, you should be able to find the right tool (or right environment) for the job and make it happen.
It doesn’t matter whether you play electric or acoustic guitar. There are different methods suited to each type of guitar.
We hope you found this guide helpful, and that you’re able to meet your needs as a student of guitar, as well as the needs of those around you who don’t appreciate the noise.