Everyone knows what a trumpet looks like, but have you ever seen a trumpet with something inserted into the bell to change the sound of the instrument? We know these as trumpet mutes, and when used correctly they can completely alter the way a trumpet sounds!
Not all mutes are the same, though. We use some for finding the perfect timbre for a certain piece of music, while others are used to quiet the trumpet so the player can practice without disturbing others.
Let’s look a little deeper into the different kinds of trumpet mutes!
What Is a Trumpet Mute?
A trumpet mute is a device that, when inserted into, or used to cover, the bell of the trumpet, will change the tone of the instrument or make it quieter for practice purposes.
There are quite a few different varieties of trumpet mutes, which produce distinct sounds to fit certain pieces and genres of music. Jazz music especially employs the use of a mute often for artistic reasons.
A mute will either be inserted into or around the bell of a trumpet and will either clip-on, have cork that allows it to stick inside the trumpet, or need to be held in by hand.
Trumpets aren’t the only instrument that uses mutes to soften or change their sound, either. Tubas and trombones can use mutes, and there are even mutes for woodwind instruments, though mutes are most prevalent in brass instruments.
Mute are usually crafted from materials like metal, cardboard, and fiberglass. As a rule, mutes will lower the volume of lower notes but increase the volume of higher notes because of the resonance in the mute and bell of the trumpet.
What Are the Different Types of Trumpet Mutes?
Mutes come in all different shapes and sizes, and they can drastically change the sound of the trumpet to help spice up the sound of some music pieces.
Below, we’ll describe the most common types of trumpet mutes and what differentiates them from one another.
By far, the most common trumpet mute, and often the first mute a trumpet player will own, is a straight mute. The straight mute will quiet the volume of the trumpet while also giving it a brighter sound that can sway towards shrill at higher volumes.
There are dozens of different types of straight mutes, all with slightly unique sounds, but whichever one you choose, it will almost assuredly be your most used trumpet mute.
A straight mute is a cone-shaped mute that is usually made from different metals like aluminum or copper, fiber, or stone-lined cardboard. It is held into place by three small wings of cork on the thinner end of the mute, which is the end that is inserted.
A cup mute is similar to a straight mute but has an additional cup on the end, which is an inverted cone that covers nearly all the bells of the trumpet. The cup mute restricts air from exiting the trumpet anywhere but the very edge of the bell, creating a quieter, darker tone than the straight mute.
The most common materials that a cup mute can be made from are stone-lined cardboard and aluminum, though it isn’t uncommon to see copper cup mutes, too.
Cup mutes can also be found in adjustable models, so the player can control how much or how little air may escape while playing. Lastly, there are felt-lined cup mutes too, that provides an even more muffled and quiet sound than a traditional cup mute.
Harmon mutes are some of the most unique of the commonly used trumpet mutes. They are either cylindrical or bulbous and round in shape and almost always made from aluminum.
Unlike the straight or cup mutes, the Harmon mute completely restricts all airflow from escaping the bell. Instead, there is a hole in the middle of the Harmon mute that the air has to pass through, which causes the trademark Harmon mute sound.
To stay inside of the trumpet bell, there is a band of cork on the small end of the mute. There is also a second piece, called a stem, which is a long insert with a flared end that goes in the middle of the mute.
Harmon mutes cause a metallic, muted sound that can be changed by removing the stem. When inserted, the stem will exacerbate the metallic, penetrating sound of the mute, while playing without the stem will cause the sound to be more subdued.
Some Harmon mute users believe that denting their mute improves the quality of the sound, but whether this controversial tip is true or not is yet to be confirmed.
While Harmon mutes are sometimes seen in orchestral pieces, they are most commonly used for jazz. Most people will recognize the Harmon mute from the wah-wah effect that can be caused by covering and uncovering the hole on the mute with your hand.
As the name suggests, a plunger mute is just the rubber head of a bathroom plunger! Always make sure to use a brand new plunger for a trumpet mute, but other than that, any old plunger head from the hardware store will do the trick.
Plunder mutes won’t fit into the bell of the trumpet and are used by holding the mute in one hand and using it to cover and uncover the bell, creating a wah-wah sound effect. This can create a sound reminiscent of speech.
Some players like to drill a hole in the plunger mute to improve the sound, though whether the sound is any better is a personal opinion. If you don’t like the idea of using a toilet plunger as your mute, we can buy a professionally made plunger mute that was purpose-made for trumpet muting, not toilet plunging.
A fun fact is that the voices of the adults in Charlie Brown are created using a plunger mute!
A mute that is rarely seen, but that still shows up often enough that we want to make a note of it, is the bucket mute. The bucket is a bucket-shaped mute that fits over the outside of the bell, that is crafted from cardboard and filled with noise dampening cotton to produce the most muffled, or covered, sound of any mute.
Bucket mutes will be clipped onto the outside of the trumpet’s bell, but more recently, models have been created that go inside of the bell, more like a straight mute.
If you’re asked to use a bucket mute, it’s usually because you’re part of a big band or a pit orchestra. They aren’t often seen outside of these two scenarios.
Silencer or Practice Mute
The silencer, or practice mute, is a mute that is only used for solo practicing. It is never used in performance because it muffles the sound of the trumpet a great deal, so you can practice while still maintaining a polite volume for those around you.
Practice mutes are shorter than other types of mutes and resemble a miniature Harmon or straight mute. They are made from aluminum and have a circle of cork around the small end of the mute to hold it in place inside of the trumpet bell.
While the practice mute will make it possible to practice in apartments or in crowded homes, they restrict the air resistance of the trumpet. Always practice a piece without the practice mute before performing it, so you have the opportunity to get used to the difference in effort and air required to play the piece.
Trumpet mutes are devices inserted into the bell of a trumpet, or on the outside, to change the sound of the trumpet. There are many mutes that all have unique qualities, and a properly used mute can add a substantial amount of nuance to a piece.