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Brass Mutes - An Overview
By Dan Jacobi
2/21/2013 9:52:00 AM

Brass mutes are asked for in a variety of situations when the music calls for a change in sound or to a lesser extent to soften the tone. Students should take great care in selecting both their mouthpieces and mutes, as these two items together will make a student or step-up model instrument sound better. Listed below is a brief overview of mutes commonly used within the brass family.

Three commonly used mutes:

Straight Mute

  • Description: Cone insert with three pieces of cork to hold it in the bell.
  • Uses: General all-purpose mute often called for in a variety of music.
  • Materials: “stone-lined”, aluminum, copper, brass, wood.
  • Manufacturers: Humes & Berg, Denis Wick, Tom Crown, Jo-Ral.
  • Sound Produced: Most straight mutes play sharp - adjust main tuning slide when playing a straight mute.
  • Other Considerations: Aluminum is most common. Humes & Berg “Stone-Lined” is popular among younger players.

Cup Mute

  • Description: Cone insert with cup bottom that covers bell of instrument.
  • Uses: The Humes & Berg Stone-Lined is the cup mute sound many prefer.
  • Materials: “stone-lined”, aluminum, copper, brass.
  • Manufacturers: Humes & Berg, Denis Wick, Tom Crown, Jo-Ral.
  • Sound Produced: Muted sound, commonly associated with Humes & Berg. A small piece of fabric may be inserted into the cup to vary the sound.
  • Other Considerations: Filing or shaving cork may be required on the Humes & Berg models to achieve the required distance between the bell flair and the mute cup. Corks will naturally compress over time, so wetting the cork and inserting the mute into the bell overnight will compress the corks before filing. Denis Wick cup mutes have an adjustable sliding cup that negates the need to file any cork

Harmon (Wah-Wah) Mute

  • Description: Also referred to as a “wah-wah” mute that includes a removable stem.
  • Uses: Mostly used in jazz and becoming common in wind ensemble literature.
  • Materials: Stone-lined, aluminum, copper, brass.
  • Manufacturers: Harmon, Humes & Berg, Denis Wick, Tom Crown, Jo-Ral
  • Sound Produced: Nasal or buzz sound depending on stem in or out.
  • Other Considerations: Harmon mutes have a tendency to raise pitch substantially. Remember to pull out the main tuning slide and adjust pitch when using this mute

Other mutes (and devices doubling as mutes):

  • Bucket Mute
  • Bubble Harmon Mute
  • Derby Hat
  • Lyric Mute
  • Pixie Mute
  • Plunger
  • Practice Mute
  • Solo Tone Mute
  • Tri-Tone Cup Mute
  • Cloth or Handkerchief in the Bell
  • Player’s hand covering Bell or in the Bell
  • Playing into the Stand

Adapted for use with permission from Guide to Trumpet Mutes. Copyright, Michael Huff, DMA; Assistant Professor of Music, Mississippi State University.

Tags: brass mutes, straight mute, cup mute, harmon mute
Categories: Band & Orchestra
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