Rating mutes by the amount they lower decibel output
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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).
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.
@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.
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?
Paul, Wiessmeyer and Son in Boston make some out of a tinted clear material.
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 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 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.
I love all the leather ones mentioned. Except for the convenience, they are the best options around.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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