Trombone Mute Technique

by Alex Jakubik

Mutes give trombone players a wider variety of sound colors to choose from when playing their instruments. Numerous varieties of mutes exist and different mutes require different techniques for effective use. Trombonists practice smooth transitions with their mutes to avoid potentially awkward stage moments during their performances.

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Basic Trombone Mute Technique

The most basic motion in mute use while playing the trombone remains placing the mute into the bell of the instrument. If the music calls for a mute, the player keeps the mute within reaching distance. It could simply sit on the ground in front of him, in his lap or on his chair. If an arrangement calls for a variety of mutes, some trombone players prepare mute stands or tables for easier access to the mutes. Ideally, the placement of the mute during a piece of music should cause as little interruption possible.

Plunger Mutes for Trombones

Plunger mutes, simply made by using the rubber end of a plunger with the stick removed, covers the bell of the trombone. The trombonist holds it at different angles to produce different qualities of sound with the same mute, an attractive feature. He holds the bell of the instrument with the base of the hand just above the wrist. The same hand holds the plunger end at whichever angle the player desires. Trombonists consider a 45-degree angle open. They close the angle by bringing the plunger end towards the bell to produce the alterations in sound they find expressive and attractive. Using a plunger mute requires a certain amount of coordination that takes some time to get used to. Don't hesitate to persist and practice.

Extending-Tube Mutes for Trombones

Extending-tube mutes, sometimes referred to as Harmon or wah-wah mutes, work on the same principle as plunger mutes. They allow the player to alter the bell space of the trombone to produce different sounds. In this case, the mute itself holds the variable part so the player does not have to coordinate holding the mute while playing, as with the plunger mute. The trombonist either pulls out or pushes in the tube in the mute, depending on the sound he desires. The tube also has an open end that the player covers and uncovers with his hand while playing to change the sound. Refining your extending-tube mute technique usually just requires experimentation to find what sounds you like from the mute and practicing to achieve them consistently.

Customized Trombone Mutes

Many trombonists seek a higher level of individuality in their playing by modifying several of their mutes. Plunger mutes benefit from added holes. Adding a coin or other small object to the interior of a mute creates an interesting buzz. Making these alterations should enhance the musical sound, though, rather than detracting from it. Alterations in mutes often result in pitch changes, so compare or check the notes with a tuner before a performance.

About the Author

Alex Jakubik began his writing career in 2000 with book-cover summaries for Barnes & Noble. He has also authored concert programs and travel blogs, and worked both nationally and internationally in the arts. Jakubik holds a Bachelor of Music degree from Indiana University and a Master of Music from Yale University.

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