Practicing with a mute

April 24, 2006 at 05:10 AM · Once, the concertmaster of a fairly prominent symphony orchestra told me that he almost always practices with a mute now, because otherwise he cannot hear himself truly.

Years later, I realized that what he probably meant was that the muted tone forces him to listen harder. As there are fewer (if any) overtones with the mute, the violin doesn't lie.

I'm interested in your thoughts about this and the pros and cons of practicing with a mute. Do you advise this often? Have you ever been instructed to do this?

Replies (29)

April 24, 2006 at 05:10 AM · Someone once told me the opposite, that it compromises the pitch and that one should never practice with a mute!

April 24, 2006 at 06:15 AM · Greetings,

the advantage of practicing with a mute is that they cannot criticize your playing,

Cheers,

Buri

April 24, 2006 at 08:21 AM · I use a practice mute for a good proportion of my practice time - as well as keeping the neighbours sane, it forces you to project properly, otherwise you just lose whatever tone you've got and it sounds pathetic.

And also, it really highlights intonation faults - things that you can normally 'gloss over' and make sound OK without the mute on.

April 24, 2006 at 10:55 AM · I practise with a mute only scales and tecnical stuff but never music.

Cheers!!

April 24, 2006 at 02:12 PM · I try to never practice with a mute if I can help it. I think it makes me not listen as carefully. It's not the "true" sound...you know?

April 24, 2006 at 03:41 PM · When you say mute, you mean a wooden one or a brass one, not the little rubber one, yes?

I find that the wooden ones/brass ones actually mess up the tuning and I have to re-tune after putting hte mute on.

I cannot see how playing with one of these regularly is going to improve anything. It sounds pretty nasty.

April 24, 2006 at 03:22 PM · Y. Menuhin advised to use an heavy mute when long practice to keep attention.

I find it useful to warm up before concert .

April 24, 2006 at 04:50 PM · Well, I'm not sure which mute this man was speaking of but in my experience, I agree - it is impossible to use those tiny rubber mutes for this purpose..I own both metal and wooden mutes and the metal one, while making a horrible sound, tends to mute very well. One thing I also noticed is that a mute tends to be more forgiving for scratchy sounds. It certainly would not be advisable to do this for someone with bad bow technique!

April 25, 2006 at 12:00 AM · I do not like to practice with a mute, but sometimes it is necessary. I do not think it helps with the intonation, just the opposite.

Twice I had a pain in my right hand after practicing with a mute. I realized that I must have been trying to draw too much sound that just was not coming.

So when practicing with a mute, go really easy on the bow.

Lucia

April 25, 2006 at 02:02 AM · PLaying with a mute, in my understanding, would not help with intonation. Intonation is all about harmonics, so if the mute takes out those harmonics, you're not going to know if you're in tune or not. It's about as useful as checking each note with an electric tuner - your note will be in tune, but when you actually get to playing with the piano you'll be out of tune.

When you think about it, every note you play has a relation with one of the open strings that you can check with.

G = Open G, G# = leading note to A, A = Open A, Bb = Minor third of G, or Major 3rd with D, B = Major third of G, 5th of E, C = minor third of A, P4 of G, Major third with 3, C# = Major third of A, leading tone to D, D= Open D, Eb = Leading note to E, E = Open E, F = minor third of D, major third with A, F# = Major third with D, Leading tone of G.

If you memorise those, you can check every note with an open string - so long as you know your intervals. P5 is easy to remember, and P4 is just the inversion, Major 3rd is fairly easy as is the minor third, and the leading tone is simple. That's all that i've used, so you should be able to tune every note to an open string using the harmonics.

In essence, playing with a mute mutes the harmonics which means that you can't hear if you're playing in tune or not.

However, playing with a mute can be a useful thing if you are playing repetitive excercises that aren't focussing on intonation.

April 25, 2006 at 04:45 AM · I used to practice with a mute until my teacher stole it from me. Well, not "steal" since it was before my eyes and I got it back later, but... The only time I use it now is if I'm taking my viola with me while I travel and practice in a hotel room so as to not get kicked out :) After moving to practicing without a mute, alot of little "nasties" started showing up - bad intonation, bowing issues, and so on.

April 25, 2006 at 01:57 PM · A lot of people have said it 'distorts' intonation therefore is a bad practice - but does it distort it in the right direction? Eg I was practising the start of Brahms 4 3rd mvt last week, it sounded really out of tune with a mute but this made me aware that in C major with Fs, Cs and As the tendency is to play them too sharp. It was then very beneficial to bear this in mind when playing up to speed without the mute on.

Intonation is about listening and adjustment anyway, I think it is developing valuable skills to do this as it gives a different facet of the broader picture.

April 25, 2006 at 02:21 PM · Using one of those chunky practice mutes one could commit murder with allows me to escape the bleak reality of how I really sound. It's delicious.

April 27, 2006 at 07:50 AM · "The advantage of practicing with a mute is that they cannot criticize your playing."

Buri, you are just too funny. : )

April 27, 2006 at 08:15 AM · Buri,

Your hypothesis is quite incorrect once LSD becomes involved in the equation.

April 27, 2006 at 11:59 AM · Oh sorry. I thought it already was.

April 27, 2006 at 06:31 PM · My new neighbor (I've been living in same apartment for 4 years) who just moved in few months ago - few nights ago, he just complained of "noise" problem, saying he couldn't sleep because something is being carried over to his room... Well, I better be using those mutes now!

I dropped a metal practice mute once, on my foot, few years ago. Not only it hurt, but I imagined, what if you dropped it accidentally on the violin... Ouch. Some grave consequences. Now I only use black rubber 'ULTRA USA' (what a name) mutes, but they seem to make the volume bigger...? Anyways, I'm still searching for the "perfect and safe" practice mutes... Very useful for hotel practicing.

Anyone know of a good practice mute?

April 27, 2006 at 07:53 PM · Yura...I know, once I tried a friend's metal mute, and I was doing chords or something and it almost fell off...onto my violin! Yikes!

I use the same mute you do (when I use a practice mute), and I think it makes the illusion of a bigger sound when playing forte because it makes it resonate differently. Although, that could just be my experience. I also have one of those cute little mutes from Shar (not the mouse one) but the one with F on it. I can't rememeber what it's called though.

April 28, 2006 at 12:03 AM · There was a discussion about complaining neighbors a while ago. I think the best way is to be curteous to your neighbors, and say "I am a violin student, and will often be practicing my violin. Now the violin isn't all that loud, but I do try to finish up my practice by 9:30pm. If you've got any complaints about noise levels, please talk to me, and I'll see what I can arrange"

9:30pm isn't too late, and should still allow you to get a goodly amount of practice done. Then, after 9:30, you can either practice with your heavy mute on, or put the violin away and do silent practice - looking at the score, visualising the music, memorising the music, analysing the harmony etc etc. This can often be a very helpful activity

April 28, 2006 at 12:44 AM · I couldn't practice if I knew I was disturbing my neighbours. I practice at school.

April 28, 2006 at 02:35 AM · Talking of mutes, this isn't a practice mute, but a performance mute - I recently tried those magnetic "ten-dollar-mutes" from a company called Bech, I think? I can't remember, but in any case. I have the old Menuhin Shield mute, which is my favorite in terms of sound, but this mute changes the intonation - A and D becomes slightly higher - which can be tricky sometimes. I hate the Tourte mutes, because they rattle and move all over the place. Those teeth-braces-like mutes, and the mute with F on it (Finnissima, I think? Stern used to endorse that) don't have great mute-sound... So, this Bech mute, it was wonderful, because it sounded just-rightly-muted, and stayed in place thanks to the magnet.

May 18, 2006 at 09:58 PM · I personally like practicing with a mute. It helps a lot with tone projection and tone quality in the long run. Because you have to dig into the string more with a mute, getting used to playing with the mute will result in a very rich and pleasant sound. As far as intonation goes, I have not experienced any problems at all with it.

May 18, 2006 at 10:33 PM · I don't like practicing with a mute because it changes the way the violin vibrates.

The bow strokes I use for a mute are completely different from the ones I use without. Generally I rely on the violin's natural resonance to keep the string vibrating without a mute. When there's a mute on, I'll work harder simply to compensate for the decreased string vibration.

Songs with mutes I always practice with mutes (e.g. Tchaikovsky Cto 2nd movement), songs without mutes I always practice without mutes.

May 19, 2006 at 04:23 PM · I had a few lessons from Manny Hurwitz a few years ago, he said that in a certain type of dead acoustic he would always warm up with a practice mute first - so he didn't go straight from a bathroom into a dead acoustic.

May 21, 2006 at 10:41 PM · I used a mute for a while some years ago. Her parents got SO mad at me. Maybe we were using each other. Does that make it any better?

By the way, have you ever been to a concert of program music where someone was signing for the hearing impaired in the audience? I think it's a law now...

May 21, 2006 at 11:40 PM · Geez, I thought it was the conducter....

May 22, 2006 at 12:19 AM · Somehow this discussion reminds me of something Sir Thomas Beecham said in his autobiography. He was a young man living in a small English town, and he was trying to learn and practice all the instruments of the orchestra. At last he came to the trombone. They wouldn't let him practice his trombone in his rooming house because of the noise. They wouldn't let him practice in the practice rooms at the local music school because he drowned out all the violinists and pianists. He found a place in a graveyard next to a church, but he was creating a disturbance amongst the parishoners. Finally, he was reduced to renting a boat and rowing out onto the lake and practicing there.

And you think you've got troubles practicing a violin.

Sandy

May 22, 2006 at 12:49 AM · Greetings,

Sander, I was walking around a lake a few years back and kept catching little burst of a trumpet playing the Radetsky march. near the end of my circuit I eventually came upon a car uin which a little old man was blowing a sloud as he could with all the windows shut.

Cheers,

Buri

May 22, 2006 at 07:14 AM · I've just been corresponding with a lady whose husband is an amateur euphonium player (and whose brother a pro fr. horn player). Upon my prompting if that didn't cause marital strife, she confirmed that the "silver toilet" was consigned to the loft for most of the time.

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