The first word Dictionary.com uses to describe the word mute is ‘Silent’. While some parents of beginner brass players may wish it were so, this is not what is meant in the world of music.
By the 17th Century brass instruments were undergoing some major innovations and in Monteverdi’s Toccata, from his Opera L’Orfeo, we have one of the earliest examples of mutes being used in orchestral music: ‘Clarino con tre trombe sordine’.
So mutes have been around for a long time and remain much loved and used today to create wealth of diversity within the timbre of brass instruments.
What are the different mute types?
In many ways this is the fundamental must have mute that’s good for just about anything. Usually made of aluminum, card or (as in Humes and Bergs case) a ‘secret formula’ these mutes have a cone like shape that fits the bell of the brass instrument, held in place by three strips of cork. Depending on the material used these mutes can make a stuffy or more piercing sound, either way the instrument is quieter with a straight mute in.
Where the name for this mute came from is not too hard to guess. With a similar basic construction to a straight mute that fits your instrument in the same way the addition of the cup on the end helps create a mellower and softer sound.
Now we are onto some mutes that make some really interesting sounds!
Highly popular in Jazz music (a favorite of Miles Davis) this goes by many, many names; Harmon mute; Wa(h) Wa(h) mute; wow wow mute; bubble mute; or as our website quite literally names it Extending Tube mute. This clever design allows a multitude of different sound to be created.
Firstly you can play with the stem in, the stem out or somewhere in between. This mute can also be used to create a wa-wa sound (hence the name) by the player using their hand to open and close the hole at the end.
Held to the instrument by the player as unlike the previously mentioned variations this mute has no cork. Similarly to the above mentioned Harmon this mute also makes a wa-wa but on a much grander scale. In music it is notated as to how to use the plunger. O for open and + for closed.
This mute does exactly what it says on the tin. Although nowhere close to being silent this mute greatly muffles the player. This isn’t a mute you’ll ever see scored on a piece a music but nevertheless it is an extremely useful piece of kit that allows you to practice without overly disturbing others as well as proving useful for warming up before a gig.