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I've been learning guitar on my own for a bit now, and I've noticed that there are a couple of errors and bad habits a music teacher will catch immediately and correct you. When learning on your own this is obviously not the case.

Bringing me to the question "what should I do with unused strings". Say I'm playing a chord, or a simple riff and not using the thin e string. Should I still curl my fingers to try and not touch it? Or does it not matter at all? What about something more advanced like scales? Will it benefit me then to always curl my fingers enough?

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Always use your ears. If something makes the sound better, it's good. If it makes the sound worse, it's bad. If it has no audible effect then it doesn't matter (unless you can think of other factors, like cramp).

In this instance, you need the ability to leave open strings untouched, so that they sound cleanly.

However if you don't want to pluck that string, this doesn't apply. If you gently touch the string with a spare part of your left hand, then you mute the string, and prevent it from sounding, which is often what you want.

Indeed, if you can't mute that string with your left hand (due to the other stuff the left hand is doing), then you often need to mute the string with your right hand instead.

Other times, if you don't mute, even though you don't pluck the string, it will vibrate due to resonance. This is audible. For a clear demonstration, leave all the guitar strings untouched, pluck the bottom E string loudly, then immediately mute just the bottom E. The other strings continue to sound, with the resonant frequencies.

Sometimes this is musically desirable, and sometimes it is not. So you have to make the choice from moment to moment.

The decision is affected by what kind of guitar you are playing.

The notes on classical guitars don't sustain for long, and you're less likely to accidentally hit a string with your right hand. Muting is necessary, but is a small part of all the other things you're doing.

On an electric guitar through a distorted amp, the tiniest touch of a string triggers a loud sound -- so controlling that through muting becomes a major factor of playing a distorted electric guitar.

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Yes it is good to rest your fingers on unused strings. Muting unwanted strings will make your sound a lot more tight. If you are playing on a high gain setting then you will naturally get some background noise and good muting technique could very much help with that.

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    Maybe this is a style thing: It seems to me that the best first word for this answer is actually "no" as in "no you shouldn't try to not touch unused strings". You should try to touch unused strings to mute them, which is what the rest of this answer says. May 11 '15 at 11:02
  • How do you mute them without touching them?
    – Neil Meyer
    May 12 '15 at 8:13

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