Rating mutes by the amount they lower decibel output

December 12, 2018, 2:20 PM · I have some hearing loss in both ears, and my audiologist thinks it is probably related to playing violin and viola for so many years. She has given me some filtered earplugs to use when I play that lower the decibel level of what I am hearing by 10-15 db. However, at least when I am practicing, I have noticed that the effect of the earplugs is similar to a mute. I am curious whether there is some source of information on how much various violin and viola mutes lower the decibel level of the sound the instruments make. If I can find something that gives the appropriate amount of muting, I am thinking I can use it instead of the earplugs at least for practicing. Thanks in advance

Replies (20)

Edited: December 13, 2018, 3:29 PM · I have a polyethylene box, about 5" x 10", with dividers to make small compartments, and it's full with my collection of more than two dozen violin mutes. (If it wasn't such a chore to do it here on violinist.com, I'd post a photo of the box and its contents.) Every one of them has a slightly different character to the sound produced, but none are equivalent to the sound I get with musician's earplugs. All of the mutes tend to cut treble more than bass, so it's a distorted tone that I get from them. This is not to imply that I don't like the sounds that I get from my muted violins, just that it's not an accurate representation of the unmuted instruments. So I don't think you'll find what you're looking for with any mute. Earplugs are good, and I think everyone should be using them.

Having said that, some of my leather mutes do allow the treble through to a greater extent, or so it seems to me, and that's the marketing claim of their makers. Paul Wiessmeyer in Boston makes an interesting mute, and Marcel Saint-Cyr in Montreal (leathermutes.com) is another maker whose designs I like. He makes both performance and practice mutes from leather. (Note that for reasons unknown to me, Mr. Saint-Cyr has currently taken down the prices on his website and left a "coming soon" message.)

December 12, 2018, 3:41 PM · Mark - thanks for your detailed response. However, among all your mutes, which most effectively dampens the sound, and, if you know, by how much. For practicing, I am not that concerned about the precise sound I get.
December 12, 2018, 3:42 PM · A mute will also change the responsiveness of the violin since it is adding mass to the bridge. If hearing is the issue then earplugs are a much better solution. If they are uncomfortable, there are also headphone type hearing protectors that are available at Home Depot , amazon, etc
Edited: December 13, 2018, 3:32 PM · Tom, those nickel plated brass mutes are both the heaviest and most effective mutes, but they take a huge percentage of the joy out of playing too. It's expensive, but Mr. Saint-Cyr's leather practice mute is a favorite of mine.

Update: I have a dB meter app in my mobile phone, and I just tested my Saint-Cyr leather practice mute to determine the attenuation. It's right around 15dB, so, in addition to the fact that I think it's a great sounding mute, it seems to meet your criteria. That's my recommendation, since you asked. Now you need to contact him to find out why he's taken down the ordering options on his website. I hope he's alright. (You also need to start saving up you money. My recollection is that I paid nearly $60.00 US for that one.)

I also tested some of my performance mutes and, curiously, they don't really attenuate the sound pressure much at all. Their effect is more about changing the timbre of the sound than the volume.

December 12, 2018, 4:00 PM · I use cottonballs in my left ear and it's mlre than enough to prevent tinnitus. It's also quite helpful; it filters out some of the noise that distracts you from your own mistakes. I think earplugs are the better option.
Edited: December 12, 2018, 5:06 PM · If you have over-the-ear headphones you can use this website's hearing test ( https://hearingtest.online/ ) to measure and record a frequency/amplitude graph of the hearing of each of your ears - AND - you can do it wearing any earplugs (or behind-the-ear) hearing aids. (Because of potential feedback problems this test might have trouble measuring hearing with in-the-ear hearing aids).

This way you will know what you are hearing and can make more informed judgements about mutes, strings, bows, rosins and instruments.

The results from this test should agree with your audiologist's test - so be sure to get a copy of that too.

10-15 db is also probably the difference in the sound strength at your left and right ears when you are playing - so just wearing one in your left ear might equalize what you hear in each ear and be sufficient lessening of volume while still retaining the informative overtones.

I completely agree with Mark about the leather mutes. Also, because of their flexibility they can be mounted less or more "deeply" on the bridge thus causing less or more muting of overall sound and the overtones.

Edited: December 12, 2018, 6:37 PM · I think two other important criteria are weight and size. My first mute not only added considerable weight to the violin, but also blocked a bit of my eyesight on the fingerboard. I had to replace it soon after.

(my comment is for beginner violinists)

December 13, 2018, 1:07 AM · @matt, Artinos are not my favourite, for those reasons. I prefer just a heavy rubber mute, the heavier the better. It obscures vision less, as you can jam it down further onto the bridge.
Edited: December 13, 2018, 6:17 AM · I do have to wonder if they can make a version of the black rubber mute (Tourte) in some other material that won't leave ugly black stains on my bridge. Perhaps a silica-filled rubber instead of carbon-filled?

With my viola there is enough vibration in the afterlength of my strings that when the mute is sitting in the "off" position it starts buzzing and I have to remove it completely. Thinking of switching back to old-fashioned rosewood mutes, frankly.

Edited: December 13, 2018, 7:00 AM · Paul, Wiessmeyer and Son in Boston make some out of a tinted clear material.

They also have a line of leather mutes.

https://www.viowiess.com/

Or you can get them on Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=bl_dp_s_web_0?ie=UTF8&search-alias=aps&field-keywords=Wiessmeyer+and+Son

December 13, 2018, 8:20 AM · I know other life-long violinists who are deaf as posts. But I know others whose hearing seems quite fine. My own hearing for many speaking voices has become useless without electronic assistance. When listening to music recorded or played by others my hearing is too weak to enjoy the nuances unless its level is deafening to normal people.

I suppose I could blame violin if I did not know that my paternal grandfather had severe hearing disabilities at least from age 60 onward - he never played any instrument, although it was he who gave me my first violin at my f4th birthday. And the fact that the unaided hearing in my left ear remains better than that in my right is pretty clear indication that my violin is innocent in the matter.

December 13, 2018, 9:34 AM · I do not use practice mutes, unless I have to practice after 9:30pm - and then I'll use the old two sets of soft wood clothes pins on the bridge trick - I hate the heavy rubber mutes. For practicing during "normal" hours, I use Vater ear plugs with the red filter (filters out 28-31db) - only in my left ear. I have a very loud-under-the-ear violin and this is an absolute must for me to avoid the annoying post-practice ear ringing and feeling deaf the next day.

I have tried Etymotic ear plugs and they are not as good as the Vater (which are also fantastic for going to rock shows - you can enjoy the music and not damage your hearing at the same time).

Edited: December 14, 2018, 12:25 AM · I had my hearing tested recently due to an unrelated health reason, and after 25 years of playing the violin my hearing is still normal. I asked my audiologist what she thinks regarding hearing and violin playing. She told me that playing by myself most of the time isn't an issue because even though I may produce decibel levels in the dangerous range, I do not do so consistently enough over extended periods of time to cause damage. She did say however, that if I am practicing an especially loud piece for a long time, wearing one attenuation earplug in the left ear isn't a bad idea. For orchestra though, she recommends wearing attenuation earplugs in both ears. Orchestra is a risk, deafness-wise. Just passing that along, in case it's useful to anyone.
Edited: December 14, 2018, 12:18 PM · I love all the leather ones mentioned. Except for the convenience, they are the best options around.

I did not know that Wiessmeyer had started selling composites. Because all the sliding rubber orchestra mutes our there are pretty useless, I have just ordered a few for experimentation.

A long time ago, I heard Joseph Fuchs get a magical sound from his Strad with a mute. Like the three-prong ebony kind but made from hard rubber.

December 14, 2018, 12:57 PM · Some mutes on some violins can cause sound distortion as well as muting. My #1 old violin sounds and plays fine with either all gut or Warchal Ambers. The problem is that if I use the ubiquitous slide-up-the-strings rubber Tourte mute it sure mutes ok but causes distortion on many important notes on all strings except the E, whereas an ebony three-prong mute gives ideal muting with no distortion whatsoever. I know a few other violinists who prefer the wood 3-pronger for much the same reason.

I said “some violins”. Example: my Jay Haide, which isn't really in the same class as my #1 but is very useful nevertheless for most playing, has no sound distortion problems with either type of mute.

December 14, 2018, 2:23 PM · @Paul Deck
There exists a tourte-shaped mute made from ebony.
More information can be found on the website of it's makers:

http://www.jebony.de/

December 15, 2018, 7:12 AM · A basic issue with slide-up-the-strings mutes, no matter how effective they may be as mutes appears to be that in time they don't do the after-length portion of the D and A strings any good, especially if one or both of those strings is plain gut.

The Tourte also rattles audibly if I'm being particularly energetic on the G string, which leads me to wonder if the presence of a sliding mute on the after-length will in general have some effect on the vibration of the after-length and hence the tone.

These are reasons why I am gravitating to the old-fashioned wood 3-prong for both my violins.

December 15, 2018, 6:04 PM · Earplugs are constructed differently from practice mutes because the serve different purposes. Ear plugs (and other protectors) protect the hearing organs and suppress the high frequencies which are most dangerous and leave the lower frequencies alone as much as possible so that you can still easily understand someone talking.

Practice mutes on the other hand have to suppress more or less all frequencies because their primary purpose is to allow the violinist to practice in situations where the full sound would disturb other people. They are not designed to protect the player's hearing.

So to protect the hearing ear protectors are the first choice.

December 17, 2018, 10:49 AM · Just got one of the Wiessmeyer composites in the mail. It is the copy of the leather one, and sounds remarkably like it. A little brighter and less flexible sounding, but very good. If you do not want leather, it is a good option. Otherwise I would stay with leather.

The interesting thing will be to try the Tourte composite. Most orchestra mutes are so flimsy that there is much room for improvement.

December 18, 2018, 5:01 PM · Ah-- the Tourte models came from Wiessmeyer-- one- and two-hole. Both are substantially more effective than a rubber model I had in the case. The two-hole is stiff enough that it will have more of an effect on after-length resonance than some others. But the one-hole will, obviously, affect only one string. And it is HUGELY better than the rubber equivalent. So that may well end up being my orchestra mute for now.

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