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Trumpet Mute Basics

Thanks to modern day technology, keyboard players have a seemingly endless variety of sounds at their fingertips. But trumpet players aren't envious. Whether King Oliver was putting a kazoo in his horn, or Duke Ellington was making great use of plungers, trumpet players have been creating different sounds for ages.

Exploring the massive range of trumpet mutes can greatly enhance a players abilities. In fact, having a firm grasp of mutes is an essential part of becoming a professional trumpet player.

There are many kinds of mutes available. To assist you on your musical adventure, we've compiled a list of the most popular kinds.

The Straight Mute is the most common type. Used in most styles of music, this mute has a simple cone shape that fits into the bell of the horn, and is stabilized with small, dispersed cork pieces that to allow for an easier flow of sound. Straight mutes provide an almost nasal tone. The more often seen straight mutes come courtesy of Humes & Berg, but there are other common brands as well, including the Jo Ral trumpet mute.

The Cup Mute is popular mute used in jazz (specifically in big band music). This mute resembles a straight mute, but has an inverted cup on its end. Its tone is somewhat akin to a straight mute, but softer, and not as bright and nasal. An industry standard cup mute is the Humes & Berg Stone-lined Cup Mute. Another great option is the Denis Wick DW5531 Cup Mute, which contains a removable cup, allowing it to be used as a straight mute. It can also be adjusted for a wider range of sounds.

The Wah-Wah Mute has an impressive stylistic range. These mutes are actually more commonly known by the brand name "Harmon". The solid corking of this mute forces the horns entire sound to travel through it where it's then collected within a bubble-like metal, then released through a tiny hole in the front. In its initial state, this mute contains a stem with a little bowl at its end. The "wah-wah" sound is created by covering and uncovering the bowl with your hand. It's a sound you'll recognize right away from funny shows and cartoons you watched as a kid. However, by removing the mute's stem, the wah-wah mute can quickly go from "silly" to "cool". In fact, Miles Davis was known for using this mute on many of his most classic recordings. While the most common wah-wah mute is from Harmon, other versions are available.

The Plunger Mute sounds exactly how its name suggests! This mute has a classic jazz sound, and even has a human-like resemblance at times. If you can remember the voice of Charlie Brown's teacher from those classic animated specials, that should give you an idea of what this mute sounds like. Plunger mutes were also used by plenty of jazz greats, who took advantage of its ability to "growl" when some flutter tongue was thrown into the mix. Many stone-lined and metal mute variations are available. A popular choice is the Mutec rubber plunger mute, which is well known for sounding just like an actual toilet plunger.

The Derby Mute is basically a hat. Similar yet less bold than a plunger mute, derby mutes are used by closing over and removing it from the bell of the trumpet. This mute can take the sound of a trumpet from muffled to bright. The horn can sound like it's in another room when the bell is covered. But when the bell is removed, the horn can sound like it's in the same room. Metal and stone-lined derby mutes are available.

The Bucket Mute creates a dark and warm sound when placed over the bell of a trumpet. These are superb for smaller jazz combos, but big bands use them as well. Bucket mutes come in a wide range of forms, including "inside the bell" models and "attached to the bell" models.

The Practice Mute could easily be your neighbors favored choice. The closest a player can get to silencing their horn while playing is by using a practice mute. These mutes aren't meant for musical settings though. Practice mutes are intended for what their name suggests.

Exploring the different kinds of mutes can be a lot of fun, and there are several other types of mutes available. However, it's important to keep in mind that all mutes can affect your pitch, notably the wah-wah mute. For this reason, make sure a tuner is always close by when a mute is used on your trumpet.


Woodwind & Brasswind is proud to offer a broad range of mutes for musicians from professional to beginner. Every product you buy from The Woodwind & Brasswind is covered by our 110% Price Guarantee, assuring that you won't find your music gear at a lower price anywhere else.

Tony Guerrero is a freelance trumpet player in Los Angeles California. Performing and recording with a wide range of artists ranging from John Tesh to High School Musical, Tony is at home in nearly any style on both trumpet and piano. For more information on Tony including his latest Recording titled "Blue Room," visit www.tonyguerrero.com

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Tony Guerrero

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