For brass musicians looking to discover new sounds, mutes may be the way to go. They change the instrument’s sound by reducing airflow, altering the volume, and changing the resonance. Typically made of copper, aluminum, or brass, mutes can be placed either in the interior, or on the exterior of the instrument. Exterior mutes are usually clipped onto the rim of the bell.
Choosing one mute (or a few) to fit the sound and style of music you want to produce is fairly simple with the right information. It is best to bring your instrument with you when shopping, and test multiple types. The two most common types of interior mutes are straight and cup. Straight mutes are cone-shaped and create a nasal sound. A cup mute has a cover that is placed over the bell creating a more stifled sound, which is a softer, almost flat tone in comparison to straight mutes. A triple play mute is a great option for trumpet or trombone players, because it offers three mutes in one—straight, plunger, and cup mutes.
A totally different concept is the practice mute. Practice mutes are inserted into the bell to create an easy solution when you just want to play quietly or silently. The most advanced versions allow you to practice through headphones, so you don’t disturb others at all. However, be mindful of practicing too much with a practice mute because it changes your instrument’s response.
The solo-tone (or clear tone) mute is an old-school mute used in jazz that produces a sound similar to a megaphone. It was famously used in 1937 for Tommy Dorsey’s “Song of India.” Another mute with some history is the derby. Created in the 1920s, it was designed for trumpet and trombone players. Shaped like a men’s derby hat, these mutes are great for jazz players who want a classic jazz sound. Bucket mutes, like derby mutes, are exterior mutes placed on the rim of the bell and are a modern version of the derby mute, producing the same high-frequency, muffled tone.
One word of advice, though: the addition of mutes may change your grip on your instrument and the angle you need to hold it at, so it may take some extra practice to get used to playing with one.
Silent Practice Mute
Though sometimes a bit pricey, electronic silent mutes are perfect for practicing without disturbing others. They stream the sound to headphones so players can hear themselves, while their neighbors do not hear a thing.
Named for the hat that was popular during the big band era, this mute has a similar effect to a plunger mute. Humes & Berg began making the Stonelined derby mute at the suggestion of Glenn Miller.
Bucket mutes produce a muffled tone because they are usually stuffed with cotton. They are often used by big bands or in orchestras.
Horn players use their right hand to control and direct the sound in the bell of their instruments. The hand can completely close off the bell to create a “stopped sound” that can be either harsh and penetrating or soft and distant. A stopping mute can create the same effect.