Trumpet players always like gadgets, and mutes are gadgets that we actually need. It's always interesting to experiment with the different sounds you can produce. There are so many mutes on the market, it's hard to keep them straight, no pun intended. If you are really into trumpet accessories, you can collect mutes for the rest of your life and never be finished. Every year, manufacturers come out with new brands and varieties.
|Trumpet with paper straight mute inserted; below are (left to right) straight, wah-wah (Harmon), and cup mutes. - (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
When all is said and done, you will need three basic mutes...a straight mute, a cup mute, and a Harmon-style or Wah-Wah mute. The Harmon style mute is the one that is the most fun. My trumpet teacher used to tell us that if we left our mutes at home, we had left half of our horn at home. They were that important.
The first category is straight mutes. These are the basic mute used in trumpet playing the most often, and usually should be the first mute you purchase. If the music says "muted" or "con sordino", it means with a straight mute. Many parents will go and purchase the cheapest mute they can find. Metal straight mutest sound much better than others for most circumstances. Make sure you research mutes before you buy one. Whatever mute you decide to get, you want to try and match the rest of your section because they all sound different.The most popular brands used today are the Tom Crown, Leblanc Vacchiano, Jo-Ral, and Dennis Wick. I have around ten different straight mutes that all produce different sounds that I use for different circumstances.
Next, we have cup mutes and Harmon Style Mutes. These resemble a straight mute, but have a cup at the end that changes the sound. The Harmon, or Wah-Wah Style mute is a totally different sounding mute. I've also seen them called the Wow-Wow, and Jo-Ral calls theirs a Bubble Mute. The Harmon Brand mute is the one that started it all. In fact, regardless of the brand, they are usually called a Harmon Mute. The Harmon Brand is still a good mute, but most professional players play other brands.
A plunger is another one to keep handy if you play in jazz band. You can purchase one made for trumpet playing, but I just use a normal sink plunger with the handle removed. A sink plunger is smaller than a regular toilet plunger and it works better for the trumpet. Save the toilet ones for the trombone players.
The last category of mutes I think a trumpet player should always have is a practice mute. With a good one, you can practice in a hotel room at 3:00am and not disturb anyone. There are numerous ones on the market today. That used to be very different. When I was in college, there were only a couple available, and only one of them was good. Practice mutes are a great thing to have, but they are not something that you should use all the time. The back-pressure is different than an open trumpet, and prolonged use could cause problems with your playing.
Harry Richardson has been a band director for 14 years with college degrees in trumpet performance and music education. For more information on selecting and purchasing trumpets and accessories, please visit
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