Mutes for Brass Instruments

Brass mutes are shaped to fit inside the bell.

One common misconception about brass mutes is that they only serve to make the instrument softer. While the dynamic level can be reduced significantly, the type of mute employed can also change the timbre. One famous example of an entire section using mutes for a dramatic effect is Vaughan Williams' "Symphony No. 6," starting in measure 39. In this example, the horns, trombones, and trumpets are all using straight mutes to create a metallic and subtle textural change.

Straight Mute

When a mute is called for in an orchestral score and there is no additional information about the type of mute to use, brass players will use a straight mute. The straight mute received its name from the fact that it is a simple mute that comes straight out of the horn. This mute softens the instrument and can be made of fiberboard or metal. Depending on the material used, the sound will change from cutting to soft.

Cup Mute

Cup mutes are named because of their cup-like shape. They are rarely used in orchestral music and can most often be found in jazz pieces. The cup mute has the ability to create a pale whispering quality in the music. Cup mutes can be held with one hand while supporting the instrument with the other. This allows the instrumentalist to adjust the mute in and out to varying degrees. The variations allow for a range of sounds, from a dark to lighter timbre.

Harmon Mute

The Harmon mute is also commonly referred to as a wa-wa mute. The mute is separated into two separate parts. One part inserts inside the mute and can be pulled in and out to create a variety of textures. The internal part, called the stem, can also be completely removed for additional effects. In orchestras, the Harmon mute is rarely used, but it is commonly found in film and TV when a comical effect is called for.

Bucket Mute

The bucket mute is a large mute that is able to block most of the sound the instrument produces. When used, the tone of the instrument becomes extremely soft and mellow. This is a commonly used mute in orchestral music and can be used effectively with double-reed and single-reed woodwinds. Key Concepts brass mutes trumpet mutes horn mutes trombone mutes tuba mutes


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