Why You Should Mute the 6th String on Some Chords?

Imagine you are trying to get into the world of guitar chords, so many shapes, different finger positions, multiple sections on the neck, and a lot of doubts. 

Learning chords could be a tough task, quite overwhelming for those who are starters but don’t worry, we intend to help you.

When you see the chord diagrams you can notice that some chords don’t use the sixth string, why does that happen? 

When playing chords you are not supposed to hit every string? Well, that is not always the case and let me explain to you why.

Not every chord needs the sixth string to be played. In most cases, this is because chords require the note that gives their name to be the lowest one sounding, and it might not be available at that part of the fretboard on the sixth string.

In this article, I will clarify why low E string is not present in every chord plus I will give some tips to avoid it while playing. 

In the end, you will know everything about this topic, when to use that string, or even if the same happens to the rest of the strings when playing chords.

Why are there some chords that don’t use the 6th string?

The sixth string should be avoided to play certain chords and that is because in the open position there aren’t available notes from the intended chord in the first frets

What I mean to say is that, as the sixth string in the open position is low E, couldn’t be needed to play specific chords because is not part of them.

Besides, when playing open chords, the lowest note is meant to be the one that gives the name to the chord. 

That’s why if you are playing an open D chord, for example, you shouldn’t hit the sixth open string, you will be playing an E as the lowest note which will change not only the chord you are playing but also its sound.

Would it be wrong if you still played the 6th string?

I wouldn’t say that it would be wrong to play the sixth string in chords where is not needed. 

What I do think is that you need to bear in mind that by playing that string, you might be adding extensions to the chord or even changing the bass, resulting in a different chord than the intended one.

In addition, it is not that some chords are played without using the sixth string, the truth is that the sixth string in that position does not provide any note that belongs to the chord. 

For example, if you play an A major open chord and play the sixth open string, you will be changing the bass, being E the lowest note in the chord.

In this case, is not “wrong” because E is still part of an A major chord. 

However, in the case of A# major, if you play the open sixth string you will be adding a note that doesn’t appear in that specific chord.

Are there chords that require you to skip any other strings?

Chords can be played in a lot of different ways and shapes so, in short, you can come up with many chords that skip other strings apart from the sixth. 

The common, usual chord shapes we know also do that, think of the D major open chord, you are supposed to skip not only the sixth string but also the fifth, otherwise, you will be changing the bass.

The interesting thing is that the chords applied are up to each player, for example, some guitarists tend to mute the fifth string when playing a G open chord just to eliminate the third. 

Some others only use the root, third and fifth of the chord just to play the triad which is great because by doing that you will find your own chord shapes or the ones you like the most.

Other musicians are fond of octave chords, only two equal notes but different in pitch, and although this chord doesn’t provide a complex sound, it is commonly used. In that case, you will be skipping the string in between, the best way to do it is by muting that string.  

Moreover, you can experiment with changing the voicings of a chord, in that way you will get those new shapes and inversions which will give you a fresh sound. 

What you have to do is to think about the notes that comprise a chord and think of a strange way of playing it on the neck, after a while you will get the hang of it.  

How to know which chords don’t use the 6th string?

If we talk about open chords, we can notice that some of them don’t use the sixth string, that is because their fundamental is not located in that section of the neck. 

We can distinguish three main open chords which avoid the low E string: A, C, and D.

Regarding C open chord, we need to avoid the E open string because the first note should be a C which is found in the third fret of the fifth string. 

An open chord should omit the sixth string because its root note is found in the open fifth string.

Something similar occurs with D open chord but on this occasion, the root note is placed on the fourth open string. 

What is more, these last two chords undergo the same process whether they are in their major or minor form.

To know the chords which don’t use the sixth string you should be aware of the notes that comprise a chord itself. 

The main notes in a triad are the first, the third, and the fifth, being the root note the lowest, and the one that gives the name to the chord.

By knowing that, you will be able to see if any of those notes are available to be played comfortably. 

At that point, you will only have to add the notes that belong to the chord.

Can you play something in the 6th string that works with those chords?

As said above, you can play notes in the lowest string that still work with those chords, what you have to do is look for notes within the chord. 

If we think of D or A we can add an F# playing the second fret on the sixth string.

You can also do the same by fretting on the third fret on the same string and you will be adding a G note. 

Be careful when doing this because, although both notes belong to the chords, you are changing the bass of them, make sure that doesn’t interfere with the rest of the elements within the song. 

When playing C in its open position we also have alternatives to add notes paced in the sixth string. 

The easiest and commonest is just playing the open sixth string adding an E note as the lowest in the chord.

You can do exactly the same with F and G, you can play the first fret to get an F whereas you can get a G by playing the third fret. 

Again, by doing this you are playing a different bass note so, pay attention to the whole piece before adding anything.

How to avoid playing the 6th string with these chords?

The best way of avoiding the sixth string is by muting it and there are different options to do it. 

You can mute it with your left hand by holding it with your thumb or with your free fretting fingers.

Another manner to do it could be with your right hand, placing it softly on the lowest string preventing it to vibrate when playing. 

In addition, you can combine both methods and mute the low E using both right and left hand, practice every approach to decide which one suits you better.

Is there a different strumming technique to avoid the 6th string?

As strumming is pretty straightforward we cannot state that a different strumming style will help you avoid the sixth string. 

Although you could try not to strum certain strings, it will be quite difficult to do it properly, you will find yourself unconsciously hitting the string eventually.

That’s why the best and easier way is to just mute what you don’t want to play. 

Otherwise, you will be paying half of the attention needed for playing to avoid strumming unwanted strings.