I play so much better with a mute on!
Anyone else think this also? and does anyone know why it might be?
I get that feeling too! For me, any gritty sounds in the bow get muffled, while the left hand remains unaltered.
a mute changes the tone quality and can help cover up some of your sins (it dulls the e string, reduces the volume, and makes things sound less scratchy). it's nice for beginners who are getting discouraged but you should probably not make a habit of practicing with a mute.
One of the main things a mute does is reduce the overtone contribution to sound. This results in a more dominant contribution from the fundamental tone. For some people this makes it easier to hear the intonation. This could be why one might think one is playing better. I remember feeling this way a very long time ago and I felt it made it easier for me to play in tune - or at least hear that I was playing in tune.
With the mute on, your violin is a much reduced musical instrument. On the positive side this means many inaccuracies are effectively muted, like sloppy string crossings, out-of-tune notes, the bow bounces less so seems better controllable, etc. So, you have basically a reduced instrument that is easier to play. However, you will never learn to play properly on the actual instrument that is the unmuted violin. That instrument has a much more powerful range of dynamics, tone colors, responsiveness, which unfortunately also means it is harder to play beautifully and cleanly without any unwanted sounds. At the risk (!) of exaggerating, practicing exclusively with the mute on is a bit like a drug addict with enough money. Life is easy, warm and fuzzy, but in reality that person could have been so much more, although life is much more difficult.
I get the same effect at times by using a foam earplug in my left ear. It helps me hear intonation much better, I think for the reasons that Andrew mentions above. I get really distracted and annoyed by high-frequency overtones, buzzing, screeching, etc., especially on the E-string, to the point that I switched to viola and made that my main instrument because it has less of that and I can just hear intonation better (even without mute or earplug). I find the earplug is a good tool for working on and cleaning up intonation during a practice session. The mute might be the same for you, something that you can use with a particular goal in mind.
Loud sounds can overdrive the ear and cause tones to sound sharper. Thus the left and right ears can send different pitches to your brain. By using a plug (or partial attenuator) in your left ear you can eliminate this problem but still hear the full glory of your violin through your right ear - and play with better intonation.
I play much worse with the mute on-either the practice or performance types. My tone is highly diminished. I prefer to use it only when necessary, for musical or practical reasons.
Is this your own perception or someone elses judgment?
Only practice with a mute if absolutely necessary. You will actually cause a lot of harm to your technique if you practice with a mute on all the time. I've seen it again and again and again.
On the other hand, playing with a mute can help preserve your hearing, marriage, and maybe even your life!
J Ray, it's a very different situation if someone is already an advanced or professional player, as opposed to a beginner, since their base technique is already developed. So the Julia Fischer example may not apply here.
With people who feel that they must always play with a mute, there may be additional factors such as lack of confidence and a supporting environment which limit their success and ability to practice, potentially misleading others to think that the mute is the problem.
I don't use a mute on my old #1 violin which is strung with Chorda gut A, D, G and Warchal Amber E. The reason, for me, is that a mute sitting between the bridge and tailpiece frays the plain gut A and D in that region, so is not a good idea. An alternative of course is to use the old-fashioned wooden mute that you have to place manually on the bridge. Trouble is, knowing me, I'd be forever dropping and losing the thing.
That is worth confirming with a teacher or outside observer. But I have felt much the same for a while— not that I use a practice mute especially often.
Practicing with a mute will make you a worse string player. Mutes exist so we won't bother other people, not to improve tone. It will just cover flaws you need to work on. You might as well turn off the sound all together: then you won't hear yourself playing out of tune either!
J Ray said: "there may be additional factors such as lack of confidence........ potentially misleading others to think that the mute is the problem."
"How much have you had to drink today?"
One of my inventions that I never actually made was a mute that would work just by blocking the f holes.
I found this discussion really interesting, esp. the comments about the "evil e", as one of my new students calls it (yes she started on viola but her autistic son stole it to learn so she's on one of my spare violins). Definitely going to try the left ear plug suggestion as I'm another violinist who leans toward viola.
I always liked playing with the mute combined with the fastest vibrato I could muster because I felt it gave me that "old school" Toscha Seidel movie soundtrack sound.
As Auer said: "There are only two violinists in this world: Jascha Heifitz and Toscha Seidel".
So it's a gushing quote. I don't think its that hard to figure out what he meant.
Surely Leopold Mozart beats Auer in fame, as L. Mozart’s fame is longer enduring.
What famous violin soloists did Leopold Mozart produce, other than his son?
I've always wondered about how good someone like Heifetz would have been if he didn't have much tutelage. I'm assuming he still would have been astounding, which leads me to also wonder how much teachers have to do with the success of extremely talented students.
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