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What is a ghost note and how is it different than holding the previous note ?

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3 Answers 3

A ghost note is played, but very lightly, and sometimes just sounds from the fretting movement.

I've heard it called an anti-accent or negative accent, and normally heard it used with regard to drumming and other percussion instruments.

edit - holding the previous note is just a longer note, whereas a ghost note is played, just quietly

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A ghost note, dead note, or false note, is a musical note with a rhythmic value, but no discernible pitch when played. On stringed instruments, this is played by sounding a muted string. "Muted to the point where it is more percussive sounding than obvious and clear in pitch. There is a pitch, to be sure, but its musical value is more rhythmic than melodic or harmonic...they add momentum and drive to any bass line." –  Håvard Geithus Jul 25 '12 at 18:43

I believe that a ghost note is a very faint note. I play them by either:

  • Fretting the note without picking it, although that gives a slight metallic attack
  • Playing it as normal, but very lightly (the side of my thumb works well)
  • Muting the strings
  • Not fretting the note, or not fretting it clearly, heavily muting the strings (i.e., scratching)
  • Picking the note close to the bridge or over the neck, or fretting it higher up on the neck (which makes the note more tinny-sounding than lower in volume)

There's no right way to do this, and it depends on the song.

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Consider pipes, especially from the Scottish tradition. You do not stop the notes, you just keep a long stream of breath, and in fact they developed means to keep the notes going while the piper breathes more normally, i.e. bagpipes. So the notes don't stop. Now, imagine the melody hitting one note over and over. In that styles, you don't have a way to stop the melody. Long tests to take a breath maybe but no quarter note rests. So, you play quick hits on other notes so that you can hit that note again.

That is the ghost note.

Strings don't with like that, so guitarists don't need to do it that often. The one thing that comes to mind is in chicken pickin', where you alternate a ghost note with a loud and clear note to get "bk-bawk!" sound.

In researching this, I saw that some use it as a term for artificial harmonics. I prefer the Rev. Gibbons' term for those, which is "squealers".

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