Do mutes affect intonation?

April 6, 2009 at 03:54 AM ·

I live in a small apartment here in SoCal. When I practice, I usually use a mute to avoid disturbing my neighbors. I prefer to do this over my silent electric violin (which I dont particularly like).

What I am starting to realize is that I am getting used to playing muted and the full sound of the unmuted violin seems to throw me.

I am thinking that during the day I may just start playing and ask my neighbors if this is a problem. (It's easier to ask forgiveness than permission!) I figure half an hour unmutted then either play the silent one or put on the mute.

Does anyone have any advice for dealing with neighbors or the mute issue?

Replies (51)

April 6, 2009 at 07:57 AM ·

Oh, I feel for you, Eric! 

I think you should give a little afternoon playing a try, and if no one mentions anything, consider it permissable.  I don't consider afternoon playing to be inconsiderate.  I've found that practicing with a mute lets me be a bit sloppier with the bow.  You will sound more in tune with a mute because the bow interferes less.  You cannot practice for a good sound if you always use a mute, so either find a time of day that makes everyone happy, or start looking for a different place to practice.

It's not like you're a drummer or anything, though...

April 6, 2009 at 12:31 PM ·

I use a heavy practice mute in my apartment. No neighbors complaining, yet. I don't think it effects intonation. To think that it is effecting your intonation should improve your intonation because you will constantly be thinking about your intonation.

April 6, 2009 at 01:23 PM ·

Intonation; no...but when I used a mute for practice purposes I found constricted once the mute was removed. It was a bold new experience to once again open up, sound  wise.

April 6, 2009 at 02:42 PM ·

I have a rubber practice mute.  It's not that much quieter than the regular mute itself.  If you do need to cut the volume down even more use a metal practice mute.

April 6, 2009 at 02:57 PM ·

I doubt it's affecting intonation, but practice mutes definitely affect the overall gestalt experience of your sound, which you may have trouble parsing into all its individual components and so it may sound like intonation problems, or otherwise just "throw" you, as you say.

I have a big heavy metal practice mute that I use occasionally, especially when I practice between 11 and 12 p.m.  I find that it is a good situation to work on intonation, because issues of projection and dynamics are just not normal using the practice mute.  

One thing that might help you at this stage of your learning is an electronic tuner.  Don't use it all the time, but sparing use of it when you're in situations that make you feel unsure of your intonation (such as when using the practice mute, or when getting rid of your finger tapes) might help give you more confidence in what you're hearing.  I got one a few months ago and I think it has helped me a lot with higher positions on the E string that I just wasn't hearing correctly.  I heard shrillness and harshness of tembre first and foremost, and that somehow covered up the pitch problem and made it hard to parse, especially when my teacher was not there to tell me what was wrong.  The tuner told me that I was, in fact, sharp in pitch, and that was contributing to the harshness/shrillness.

April 6, 2009 at 03:15 PM ·

Can't hurt to ask your neighbors if they'd mind.  You could phrase the question either as "would you mind if I practice until X o'clock" or "what times would be OK for me to practice?" 

Is there a policy about quiet hours in your lease?  I once lived in a building that had a "quiet hours" policy, and I would practice up until that time.  There was a neighbor who complained, but she had to shut up once I reminded her that she had signed the same agreement.  :-)

April 6, 2009 at 03:24 PM ·

OUCH...those big heavy metal mutes...I always feared it might slip off damaging the instrument and it can't be too great for the bridge itself

April 6, 2009 at 03:49 PM ·

Karen... wrote.."I got one a few months ago and I think it has helped me a lot with higher positions on the E string that I just wasn't hearing correctly.  "... electronic means of correcting  higher E string notes,.... I am having the same trouble... hearing deteriorating with age perhaps,  are these gadjets readily available? . I already have a simple electronic tuning gadget which tells me if I tune the individual strings correctly... but to be able to find cromatic pitches of those higher E string notes would be very useful.... advice please....!

April 6, 2009 at 04:11 PM ·

A mute can possibly affect intonation; the question is whether it would affect your playing or not, which I don't know. What I do know, however, is that with various changes to the harmonics of a note (which is one effect of a mute, as well as being one of the problems of piano tuning), the perception of the pitch of that note changes, requiring some adjustment, theoretically. I'm able to find a lot of very technical research on this topic on the web, and the causes seem to be in debate, but it's clear something is going on. But as I said, whether this would affect your playing is another issue.

April 6, 2009 at 04:15 PM ·

Of course mutes affect intonation....if you play french horn, trumpet, trombone, or tuba. ;)

April 6, 2009 at 04:27 PM ·

I usually practice in my bedroom, where all the echos are pretty much dead. I close all the windows, put on curtains, close the door, and practice like mad, probably nobody in the next door can hear me. Not enjoyable like I do when playing in living room which has more echos, but practicing in dead acoustic room improve intonation.

I do need some air-con to cool the air, though, not good for our dear earth. But I only have my air-con switched on when I'm practicing violin, and I have all-year summer here, so...Guess it's not avoidable.

April 6, 2009 at 07:17 PM ·

I use a rubber mute when I practise in the middle of the night. My neighbours are either very forgiving or heavy sleepers. :) However, if given the choice, I'd ditch the mute. I don't think muting affects the intonation, but there's always a voice at the back of my head telling me that it is hiding my mistakes. It makes me feel really paranoid. :S

April 6, 2009 at 08:23 PM ·

I have found my big rubber practice mute effects my intonation.  Maybe it changes the string length, or deadens the overtones, and I'm not wonky enough to figure it out, but it is different somehow.  I also have bow arm issues, as I tend to try to find sound that is just not there.  The only time I use the practice mute is when I have a crack-of-dawn gig, and have to warm up in the very early a.m.

I have lived in attached housing my whole adult life, and dealing with practicing and neighbors can be a mixed bag.  Here are some things I have done to get along with neighbors:

  • Be super nice, and apologize profusely every time you see your neighbors.
  • Bring them presents at holidays.  Bake them goodies.
  • Stay within restricted noise hours.
  • Do a little soundproofing (heavy carpets, drapes, etc)

You might be surprised.  I got a new downstairs neighbor this year, and the first thing she ever said to me when we met was "Are you the one making all of that beautiful violin music?"

(Talk about nice!  She doesn't seem to mind endless mornings of Sevcik bowing exercises, bless her heart...)

April 6, 2009 at 08:45 PM ·

I use a rubber practice mute since the metals ones are too expensive and metal on wood doesn't seem right. I live in a town house so you could easily hear the next day neighbour music if it's near the wall. So far no compliants playing at 11pm to 1am without mute or with. Intonation isn't really affected but that "wow factor" after the mute is off the next day bugs me.

April 7, 2009 at 03:34 AM ·

i've never noticed any intonation issues w/ my mutes.  i often will use a mute on my acoustic violins in the studio - they produce a real deep velvety tone through the mics.  hope that helps.

-ross christopher

www.rosschristopher.com
www.myspace.com/rosschristopher

April 7, 2009 at 09:06 AM ·

Yes, mutes affect intonation somewhat. The natural resonances of a violin will "pull" notes around a little bit, and a mute will change where some of these resonances occur.

Also, any note you play on the violin is actually many pitches put together. A mute will change the relative strength of these component pitches. This can alter your perception of intonation, depending on which of these components you get your intonation cues from (this can vary from one person to another).

April 7, 2009 at 10:45 AM ·

what do musicians mean by intonation exactly?

here is from an online dictionary:

–noun

1. the pattern or melody of pitch changes in connected speech, esp. the pitch pattern of a sentence, which distinguishes kinds of sentences or speakers of different language cultures.
2. the act or manner of intonating.
3. the manner of producing musical tones, specifically the relation in pitch of tones to their key or harmony.
4. something that is intoned or chanted.
5. the opening phrase in a Gregorian chant, usually sung by one or two voices.

i am not sure if everyone here is talking about the same thing because intonation issue is often considered rather loosely as pitches too high or too low.  clearly the tone is different with a mute, but it is not due to pitch change from fingering differently  (well, we hope).   if the perception of a good intonation without a mute involves hearing and processing an amplified and complex interplay of overtones, it is conceivable that if muted the resultant tone is considered "wrong".  may be some ears are sensitive enough to appreciate diminished "tones" while others may not. 

similarly, comparing hearing/playing near the bridge, playing near the fingerboard at ppp may also lead/mislead the ears into thinking/hearing something different.  for the most part, it is.

disclosure: from an amateur acoustic imagineer wannabe.

 

April 7, 2009 at 11:29 AM ·

On a violin, the overtone series isn't exactly "in tune" with the fundamental. The result is that pitch perception depends on the strength and frequency of not just the fundamental, but other components as well. Experimentally, we can tweak the overtone recipe to cause listeners to "hear" pitch changes, without making any change to the fundamental itself. We can even get them to "hear" a completely different note.

With many musical sounds, there is no such thing as a "correct" pitch. The pitch is a judgement call, derived from complex brain processing of mulltiple inputs. Change any of those inputs (which a mute does), and the perceived pitch can be different.

April 7, 2009 at 12:18 PM ·

I have noticed in practicing with my metal mute that passages that I had found difficult were easier with the mute.  There is some damping of the bow action on the string, I think, that makes this so.  Unfortunately, the effect does not usually last after I take the mute off, so I try to get time to off the mute, even when I am traveling and in hotel rooms. 

April 7, 2009 at 02:53 PM ·

I know that with a mute, using my current violin, I can begin to get sloppy with my contact points.  A mirror and practice without the thing are essential!

April 7, 2009 at 02:58 PM ·

Musical instruments tend to "stand out" aurally - I was recommended by a friend that if I wanted to practice late, put the tv on at a lowish volume and play with it in the background.   Worked so far for me (touch wood)  as people seem more used to hearing a tv in a neighbouring building/apartment than they are a violin.

 

April 7, 2009 at 03:35 PM ·

Thanks for the explanation David!

April 7, 2009 at 04:40 PM ·

FIrst, I like David B.'s ideas on this.

Secondly, from my own experience, whether it really is in tune or not, the mute affects my ability to hear the proper intonation.  It doesn't matter why so much, but if I'm practicing without knowing whether I'm in tune or not, then I feel I may be doing more harm than good.

 

April 8, 2009 at 02:07 AM ·

Greetings,

Menuhin actually advocated practicing with a mute although I don`t know what kind he meant.   Its anecdotal but I do know people who have been forced to practice with a heavy mute for long priods and found their instrument was vibrating less freely sans mute after some time .   Nobody said the effetc w spermanet but it was bothersome.

Cheers,

Buri

April 8, 2009 at 05:49 AM ·

One option, if you need to practice with a practice mute, is the ARTINO:  Traditional metal heavy practice mute, with a protective plastic coating. Slightly less muting than an uncoated mute, but less danger of damaging your instrument if the mute should fall off during use. (quote from Shar web site)  I use it occasionally and like it bertter than my all metal practice mute.   It's availabe several places on the web. 

April 8, 2009 at 04:08 PM ·

Anything that touches the bridge will effect the tuning of the strings. The degrees of which are determined by several factors. If it's a heavy mute it will push down on the bridge and this will cause a lessening of tension of the strings and therefore the strings would go flat. If you push a mute onto the bridge there's the possibility that you will move the top of the bridge forward. This will change the length of the string slightly and change the tuning.

 

Regular performance mutes aren't necessarily made to lessen the dynamic, rather it's to change the timbre of the instrument. These mutes don't usually effect the intonation unless for some reason the mute touches the strings (or you put it on to hard and change the orientation of the bridge). Heavy mutes are for making the sound quiet, but they are more likely to change the pitch of the strings.

 

That being said, one of my old orchestra directors always said "It's not the 'A' that counts, it's the 'B'", meaning that even if the instrument become out of tune YOU must still play in tune.

April 8, 2009 at 04:45 PM ·

I completely agree that you should always be able to play in tune even if the instrument is slightly off.  As far as I am aware, a mute is not going to lessen the tension of the strings.  Yes, if you tip the bridge a bit it will impact length, but hopefully you have some concept of where your bridge should be.  Hopefully players are keen enough to routinely check and tweak bridge twist and position issues... and hopefully if you're playing around with mutes, this doesn't seem impossible.  That's a lot of hope. 

I can confirm that the plastic coated metal mutes seem to be the best material combo.  I have a chromed brass mute, and a cheap heavy rubber mute as well.  The heavy rubber one failed after a while, because it conformed to the bridge shape, and started to rattle... get what you pay for.  The metal mute was fine, but it's a little nerve wracking to have a hunk of metal on your bridge.  That's why the rubber coated metal seems to be my current favorite for a practice situation... not all metal... not all rubber... medium weight. 

The sound of the violin will always be thrown off a bit, but it can be tuned when muted... you CAN practice muted... it's not going to make you a horrible player.

April 11, 2009 at 09:31 PM ·

I've always had a propensity to play muted. I guess I like the sound.  In fact, I have a good collection of mutes with preferences!

My overall skill level has greatly improved in spite of the quieted sound.

Yes, I get suprised when first unmuted, but I adjust quickly. 

However, I do think it affects my bowing.  I tend to use too much pressure at lessons which I attribute to the mute. So I wouldn't recommend it. 

Funny this has come up because I decided to play sans mute more often.  In fact, stairwells and tiled rooms appeal to me as practice sites.

I started as an adult, playing for enjoyment and challenge. I have surprised myself after a lot of intense hard work. So the mute didn't affect my goals. 

If it's a matter of playing muted or not playing, go muted.

That's the way I hear it.

Mary

 

 

 

April 17, 2009 at 06:08 PM ·

I have noticed that when I play with a mute it is much easier to play and be in tune than without it, and as soon as I remove the mute it is almost a different feel to playing. If you can play without one then I would reccomend that over practicing with one.

September 6, 2009 at 06:44 AM ·

All of you people are just too **** polite.

I practice loudly all day long in my apartment. The secret is simple - lock your door and never talk to your neighbors. They can't call the cops till 10pm.

Seriously, what are they going to do? "Some guy is playing violin upstairs, bust him!" - It's not gonna happen until after 10pm. So practice a lot, then at 10pm put on your hotel mute and keep going.

Stop being polite.

Look, the truth is, we don't play muted at concerts very much, and even then, usually the mute is an orchestral coloring tool. We play solo pieces without our mutes, for the most part. So, the mute will effect your ability to play, and it will make it more difficult to resolve - as someone said - "the nasties."

Practice without your mute as much as you can. Practice with your mute when you are required to - but don't be polite. Don't ask your neighbors permission to play the violin. That's weak. If they don't like it, let them move out.

September 7, 2009 at 09:04 AM ·

It is a blessed thing to consider one's neighbors and respect their right to quiet. It seems that we live in a world of noise as it is (car stereos, dogs barking, kids screaming as if they are being murdered, etc.) and anything one can do to lessen it is a plus. There is never any excuse for disregard or disrespect, and often it is a very dangerous thing today to knock on anyones door and let them know that you are being disturbed by their noise. I would only expect from them what I would do-this is a golden rule in any situation in life.

I have often found that silent violins are great for late practice. There is nothing dramatically different in the way that the sound is produced ( considering the physics of the bowing). With a silent violin one can tailor their sound with whatever effects units that they may have, and use earphones. I have found that the production of sound, produced by the selected effects used sparingly, will not only enhance the performance aspects, but usually inspires one to more satisfying practice time.

 With a good electric violin and the proper digital effects unit, one can literally sound as if they are playing in a small chamber or a cathedral. One could practice all night and no one would be the wiser. It is a matter of virtual acoustics which would only enhance the playing of a violinist and is a great tool for getting a taste of the real thing, if the acoustical elements are known in general before one has to perform.One can clearly see the advantages to such technology in that respect.

The problem I have encountered from neighbors, when they hear the fiddle fire up, is the tendency for them to knock on the door and ask for free concerts or get a jam session going. If, on the other hand, one is disturbing them, they will often come up with very creative ways to return the favor in the form of a loud stereo system, with enhanced sonic bass,  that only plays rap music. Never fight noise with noise.

 Oddly enough, I have read that some local laws only pertain to acoustic instruments. This literally means that one could blast an electric violin until the walls crumble, and the law will only ask you to turn it down (disturbing the peace). An intelligent individual will not repeat the process.On the other hand, play a tuba in an apartment and you could face a ticket, a fine, and the removal of the tuba from ones' posession. It is an amazing world we live in.

September 7, 2009 at 10:41 AM ·

Forget about 'the mute' , get a muted violin, well that's what I call it because I only sometimes play it through the head phones . I've had it only a few months and I will swear that playing the mute fiddle, even without headphone or amplification, has improved my bowing tech and my intonation , go figure, on a mute fiddle?.  Maybe it's because I need to listen more closely, but deffinately  I'm getting more practise.

Now I never use a mute on my accoustic fiddles, a good reason not to that I think is because the violin suffers, it does'nt recieve the full vibrations, they are retricted by the mute. 

What a pleasure it is to play my accoustic fiddles after hours of muted practise, fortunately I live in an abode that I'm able to do this during some days of the week. 

September 9, 2009 at 08:59 AM ·

Yeah, I bet it was bothersome... well done, buri :)

September 9, 2009 at 01:21 PM ·

Me I don't care about my neighbors. They keep their cats in their houses, I don't play after 8. (with a mute, maybe :)

 

September 9, 2009 at 07:02 PM ·

Why is it, that if I write somewhere something these days, nobody ever writes after me? :)

 

 

September 9, 2009 at 07:59 PM ·

 Not true anymore!

September 10, 2009 at 12:11 AM ·

"Why is it, that if I write somewhere something these days, nobody ever writes after me? :).."

 

Ha, Ha, you'll get used to that, it wont take long I promise...........:-))

September 11, 2009 at 11:39 AM ·

Very funny.... taking fun of other people's social discomfort .. :)

September 11, 2009 at 02:42 PM ·

Krisztian- You're not the only one my friend!

September 12, 2009 at 01:32 AM ·

Krisztian- You're not the only one my friend!

 

Hey yeah, this is what I was meaning!! I was speaking from my own experience, you'll get used to it, I promise you!!

 

Anyway, I had the opportunity to play on my accoustic violin yesterday....sans mute!!

Like I said...I don't use a mute anymore, rather I play my muted violin, accoustically, which I played for about four days in row. 

Just a shear pleasure to hear the fruits of my labour....ringing-ness from practising minimal finger pressure and the improved tone from the bow strokes. I can practise these techniques on the muted violin without being concerned about makeing music for those who maybe hearing me, so I am released from the obligation to perform. Now I am forming a new habit, everytime I pick up my accoustic...........I am in performance mode.

It's nothing like practising  on the accoustic with the mute and then trying to adjust once it is removed.I figure it must be because absents makes the heart grow fonder.   

 

 

September 12, 2009 at 10:36 AM ·

Sounds like a good solution... in fact I also feel I rather play in front of people, then having them listen from somewhere I forget about them. But, of course, somehow even if I forget, I am still aware somewhere that someone's listening...

September 12, 2009 at 10:39 AM ·

I have a digital piano, which can be used with the headphones. I can't really play the piano, it's more for chord structure, and harmony comprehension.

September 14, 2009 at 08:49 PM ·

Hi, I have a heavy metal mute, and thank GOD for it! I don't know if it's used as a crutch as far as intonation is concerned, but just ask a professional......

 

September 15, 2009 at 01:21 PM ·

Ha, now I get it :)

You just don't write after people, so nobody would think that you participate in smalltalk!

It's good to save your own face...... though maybe nobody's threatening it??

September 17, 2009 at 05:16 PM ·

On original thread topics--

Intonation--  mutes, like various earplugs (and earphones) affect different frequencies and overtones quite differently.  When we're listening intently for intonation, often we're hearing higher overtones even more than fundamentals, and these higher overtones are what are cut out more by mutes.  For advanced, fancy practicers, in tuning doublestops we may even be zeroing in on the combination tones and even "undertones" which are real, but which don't really exist in a room or on an oscilloscope, but are partly a physiological phenomenon inside the ear and in auditory processing.  These physiological processes require the overtones to exist above certain volume thresholds and are completely lost with a heavy mute.  So certainly, how we train our ears to hear and our attention to focus on sound when we play with mutes is different than with the un-muted instrument.  Then when we play without mute, we will be disoriented intonationally.  Swimming in a different pool.  It matters.  Careful.

Similar with tone production--  the physics of the instrument and the perceptions are affected-- then things are different without the mute.  Heavy muting can be useful to train for clarity and steadiness of tone production, but only to some degree, and for special purposes.  Mutes in an apartment were great for my practicing and re-learning early in build-up once years ago after some years away from playing, but only for a while (several months, perhaps)....  then I really needed the regular sound and response of instrument and hearing.  Maybe another smart use of heavy mute for training is to prepare for amplified &/or studio recording playing contexts in which dynamic subtleties are lost and we're better off and better heard by making life simple for the sound engineer by giving out a strong, level, steady signal.

About neighbors--  nice is good.  Psychological facts:  if people feel they have some control over a sound (strongest effect), or even if control is lacking, if people feel included, or related, or friendly, or somehow sympathetic or at least understanding of a sound, any or all of this helps the same objective sounds to be subjectively much, much less stressful, and much easier to tolerate.  So for parties, invite everyone in earshot.  Even if they don't come, they're hugely more likely to tolerate the sound and not call cops or complain to mgt.  Leave them a phone number to call you in case the sound is a big deal at some particular time.  The fact that they have the number, something in their power to do, makes it hugely more likely that they won't do anything.  Similar to the results observed in hospital patients with self-administered pain relief:--  they use less drugs, AND feel/report less pain.  For practicing, it really does help, even if you've only talked with a neighbor half a minute in a whole year, if that half minute includes something simple brief about yourself and your music and what it means to you.  People hear the sounds, and think of the human face and life behind it, and are better able to ignore it tolerantly.  Really.  :-)

In general.  But there are always wackos, and usually as neighbors (and relatives), and we do live in a crazy culture with bizarre sound laws and weirder attitudes.  I've had cops called on me for violin (and for even more passive peacable behaviors!), and meanwhile I see violence ignored. Go figure.

Best of luck with everything!

September 17, 2009 at 05:35 PM ·

oops--  somehow I missed many of the earlier responses and their good points, so I apologize for my repeating so much that was already said.

And:  I don't mean to imply that studio recording can't capture subtleties.  I'm thinking of the sometimes cases such as I've experienced more often of being a violin along with several other louder sounds all at once together in room-- like a band that wants or needs to play all together but you have too many people all to have sound-isolated cells in the studio.  For example, listening to John Blake and playing his call & response tracks in the JIME method books, I was really struck by the equal, solid, constant wall-of-sound of his recorded tone.  Goes good with saxophones and drum kits, and that's how he's spent a lot of time.  He's learned to be heard, and to help the sound engineer--  he does most of the compression for his trax already just in his bow and instrument tone production.  Smart.  Always good live with band on stage, and even if you are being recorded alone and subtle in studio, if you're going to be mixed with other loud trax, it's still good to be simple for the producer--  set the level and let it be.  Rock on!  :-)

September 17, 2009 at 11:34 PM ·

Hi Gabriel, I also think, that practicing with a mute results in similar effect to play amplified with a piezzo pickup. I never thought about the parallell, but now that you say, in fact it is much similar.

September 17, 2009 at 11:37 PM ·

One thing though, I don't know if you used such equipment, but a reverb effect for instance somehow adds back the overtones, more like a sound texture.

September 18, 2009 at 03:28 AM ·

"oops--  somehow I missed many of the earlier responses and their good points, so I apologize for my repeating so much that was already said."

________________

Gabriel, don't  worry about it. You re-phrased some concepts it a way which will make them more accessible to a larger number of people, and you added plenty or  new things.

It was a great post.

September 25, 2009 at 05:42 PM ·

David-- aww... thnx  :-)

Krisztian--  absolutely:  a piezo pick-up is a mute, less due to it's mass (small) than due to the damping pressure it exerts (substantial) on an otherwise more free-flapping wing of the bridge.  (I'm thinking of a piezo like the Fishman transducer which does slide in and out of the side cut-out of a bridge, converting acoustic to electric-- if your instrument is built electric, and the piezos are under the bridge feet or sort of built in to the bottom of the bridge, I don't think there's any significant muting....)

I used to struggle to make amplified instrument sound just like the acoustic I was familiar with.  I've given that up for a few reasons--  1) you just can't anyway   2) I've gotten to like the different EQ and sound of electric / pick-up modified sound  3) yes:  I think you're right, high end is lost more, and reverb I think in effect restores that a bit....  but, maybe particulary on viola, which I amplify more often these days, the more solid bottom end sound is actually useful--  you stake out a more unique tenor-baritone sort of sound which fewer other instruments occupy, so without being too much louder you're nonetheless more easily heard.  :-) 

People sometimes wonder / ask me about how we mixed or EQ'd a certain viola sound, and..... !! we didn't:   there's a piezo transducer clamped in my bridge, and that did it !  (I do have an EQ on my hip that I tweak around a bit, but nothing major--  just balancing string response reasonably)

August 31, 2015 at 10:23 AM · Yes, certain mutes (those which clip onto, and sit on the bridge) affect intonation, but the reason for this has nothing to do with overtones. When viewed from directly above, the top of the bridge should form a straight line. All bridges are cut so that the back of the bridge is completely flat, and when viewed profile-on is perpendicular. The front of the bridge slopes, and may be shaped slightly. If the bridge is set up so that the back is 100% perpendicular and the top of the bridge forms a 100% straight line, it may be said that this is ideal. Unfortunately, the moment you begin to tune the instrument, the top of the bridge is pulled forward by each string whose pitch is being raised. This usually affects the line of the top of the bridge - sometimes considerably. The only way to prevent this happening is to first apply a heavy practice mute to the bridge, before tuning. If you gently 'hammer' the mute onto the bridge with your knuckles to ensure that it is a reasonably tight fit, the mute will straighten the line of the bridge for you. Of course, you should ensure that the mute is positioned centrally along the width of the top of the mute first. If you then tune the instrument, you have an excellent chance of the alignment of the top of the bridge remaining as straight as possible, at least for the start of your performance. When practising using a practice mute, the overtones and resonance of the instrument will of course be reduced severely. This reduction will be less with a standard orchestral mute, but nevertheless noticeably. If you decide that your intonation is further from perfection with a mute than without, the chances are that it isn't, but that the mute highlights the fact. There is no excuse, except for 'tone-deafness' for playing out of tune. Your own pride should make you want to constantly adjust and listen to changes of pitch when you play, whether with or without a mute, and whether you are playing on your own instrument or borrowing one from someone else. I began using a practice mute out of necessity while on tour, and continue to do so when I am staying in my apartment. I do not have a problem with intonation, which may be described as being 'mute-related'. I do sometimes find it harder to hear certain frequencies with a mute, but there are ways of dealing with this. I favour the Artino practice mute, which is made of heavy metal, covered by a soft plastic casing. I find that by adjusting the firmness of the mute on the bridge (and sometimes by deliberately placing the mute nearer either the G-string or E-string) I can arrive at a tone quality that pleases me for the current practice session and conditions. I stress that caution is needed, in order to ensure that the mutes does not work its way free owing to vibrations, and fall onto the body of the instrument. The best way to develop optimal intonation, is by practising double stoppings. When two notes are played at the same time and are 'in tune', an effect known as 'beating' should occur. Suffice it to say, you know when two notes 'beat', because the effect causes a tri-tone chord, i.e. a third pitch is detected, albeit of an inferior quality to the two main tones, if the double stopping is in tune. If anything, the use of a practice mute emphasizes this effect. Once achieved, it will be noticed that by removing the mute, and then playing the same double stopped notes (listing for the third tone caused by beating), the fingers will be placed exactly as they were when playing with the mute on. Therefore, I disagree that intonation is affected by the use of a mute. I agree that the whole listening experience is more difficult when using a mute, and that unless the instrument is tuned with the mute in place, then yes - a mute will affect the tuning of the instrument. If, as one author on this page suggests, that it is a shock to play without a mute if one practises always with one, then this has to do with volume, combined with increased overtones, and increased resonance. This should not pose a problem if sufficient time is allowed for the ears to adjust to the change before a performance. Overtones increase the carrying power of the instrument, but they themselves do not make intonation easier, because the higher the pitch of an overtone, the flatter it becomes. Soloists who play works which end on a harmonic note often prepare for this by tuning slightly sharp the string on which the harmonic is produced. This means that they are having to compensate throughout the entire piece, for the remainder of notes played on that string. If you prefer orchestral mutes which rest on the strings and slide into the 'On' position, then care must be taken to not inadvertently push the bridge forward when switching to 'con sordino'.

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