I want to talk about mutes since noticing an alarming trend of players not having proper mutes, or ill-fitting mutes. I remember my very first mute. It was a red and white Stonelined brand straight mute and although I don’t remember where I purchased it (actually, where Mom purchased it since I was 10 years old and made a penny a paper delivering the PennySaver), I do remember wearing that mute out until the bottom fell out and promptly got a new one. Upon getting that mute, my band director, who was also a decent trumpet player, carefully shaped the cork to the bell of my trumpet so that it got the proper sound. The reason that the corks are not pre-shaped is simply because each brand and model of trumpet has a slightly different shaped bell and what may fit a Bach 72, may not fit a Bach 37 or a Martin Committee for that matter. I have done many clinics with college students that had cup mutes hanging out an inch over the bell and that is not a pleasant sound. A cup mute should sit about a quarter inch from the bell after you cut down the corks. I use a safety razor blade, but if you are a “young’un,” you might want to get a competent adult to do it for you. I bet that the shop you bought it in will do it for you if you ask nicely and they have tools. FYI, a repair shop can also recork your mute saving you lots of money.
The straight mute: It gets a very bright sound that can mimic an oboe part if there isn’t one in your concert band. It should sit snugly to the bell but not so close that it sounds muffled. Always check your pitch with mutes as they alter the sound but can raise or lower pitch depending on the mute. I prefer the copper top Tom Crown, but I also used a Dennis Wick to match the other trumpets in the JA’s. I find that the newer designs don’t alter your pitch as much as the older ones, but the tendency is to make the trumpet sharp so pull the tuning slide out a bit. Check yours on a tuner and see how yours affects the pitch of the trumpet.
The cup mute: Just a straight mute with a cup on the end. My favorite cup is the Stonelined brand by far. I have a Dennis Wick that you can adjust the cup to be closer or farther away from the bell and has a more mellow sound, but if I’m playing Shiny Stockings by Count Basie I hear that Stonelined sound and no other. A recent favorite in the new Trumcor cup that is a cross between the Stonelined and the Wick. It gets a nice classic sound and with modern materials gives it better intonation. I also bought an old Shastock cup from the 1940’s but I’ll send it to Roger Ingram to get overhauled. Check out his site @ http://www.mutemeister.com. Roger will overhaul your mute and has many reconditioned mutes for sale as well. My favorite players that defined cup mute playing in different ways are Snooky Young, and Dizzy Gillespie. See if you can find other players that have distinct cup sounds. My cup tends to make my pitch flat so I compensate by pushing the tuning slide in a bit.
The Harmon mute: Harmon is actually the brand name of what used to be called the wah wah mute. Harmon mutes come with a stem that when you place your hand over the stem and release, you will get a “wah” sound. This is great for older styles and will call for “Harmon with stem” however Miles Davis really made the Harmon into his trademark sound by removing the stem in the mid fifties. The Harmon mute makes the pitch go sharp so pull out the tuning slide about a quarter inch. Other brands, like Joral, may not affect pitch as much but generally still make you sharp. Insider’s secret, put a couple of dings in the side of the mute to get a better buzzing sound. Be careful not to over-do it, I am not responsible for you trashing your mute. Your call.
The bucket mute is just about what it says. It’s a small bucket with three prongs to attach it to the bell of the trumpet and make the sound mellow and slightly muffled. I mostly see it in older big band settings. Some sections will use flugelhorn instead for a couple reasons. First, not everybody carries one (but you should, especially for recording sessions). Second, sometimes the phrase may lay better on flugelhorn depending on the range. However, I like the sound of the bucket and use it whenever I can. The bucket will make your pitch flat so pull in.
As of late, the Soulo mute has been gaining popularity because it is lighter and adjustable. Be careful though as it is more delicate and can crack if you put in a mute bag and check it in airline baggage. (Insert smiley face). I don’t have to adjust pitch when using this and generally use the inner notch to use as a bucket. The outer notch is useful for soloing but won’t blend as well with others using older style bucket mutes.
The plunger mute is pretty much what it sounds like, a plunger without a stick. Clark Terry and Snooky Young are my role models and perfected the use of the plunger to create many vocal-like effects. Clark recommended to me (and everyone else) to cut a hole in the middle of the nub where the stick normally goes. The hole prevents the mute from shutting down the sound from the bell and also improves the intonation. In the music, a closed plunger is notated as a + while open plunger is 0. A wah is created when you slowly open the mute during the note. It is notated as a +0 or wah
So far these are the bare essentials that everyone should carry to every gig.
Occasionally, I’ll be asked to use a pixie mute which gives the trumpet a 1920’s ricky-ticky sound. If you put a small plunger mute over the pixie it becomes a French mute. The 2 part mute is likely the origin of the modern cup mute, but that is only a guess.
There are just a couple more that are expected on certain jobs, but these mutes listed above are what every trumpet player should show up to rehearsal, gig or session without being asked. Fit your mutes to your bell, bring your mutes, and adjust the tuning slide… Every time!