Muted in Portland

Edited: April 20, 2020, 3:10 PM · Dear Violin Advice Column,

I've been playing for three years. I practice every day, but I always try to practice when I've got the place to myself. If my spouse goes for a walk, or a bike ride, or goes to visit her daughter, I'll pull out the violin and practice. It's not that I'm awful, but I'm sure listening to someone play the same songs over and over, and practice scales, arpeggios, etudes, and work out new material, must be a bit mind numbing. This has worked to our mutual happiness.

Well, now we're confined to the house, and finding those times when I'm alone are fading memories.

Hence, after weeks and weeks of this, she hit a wall. Now, to be fair, she was polite about it, but she did say, "If I hear that violin one more second today, I'm going to explode." It's made for some uncomfortable moments.

So, my fellow housebound friends, I'm sending out this Dear Abby request - how do I practice and save my marriage? Are you doing ok? Are you driving anyone crazy?

Muted in Portland.

Replies (27)

April 20, 2020, 3:15 PM · Michael,

A practice mute works well. Not expensive. Although, since you do perform, an electric violin with a headset and you can plug it into an amp at a performance venue.

I'm fortunate, my wife and the cats like my playing.

April 20, 2020, 3:17 PM · Gift of noise-cancelling headphones or earplugs?

When you say 'muted', are you actually using a heavy practice mute?

Physical/acoustic distancing - separate room, closing doors and closing air gaps can help significantly, especially when combined with a mute.

Finally, all of that (including the practice mute) and an electric/"silent" violin would be about as quiet as you could go.

Oh, and we're probably more awful than we sound to ourselves (a fact of nature - flaws are easier to see in others than ourselves, and if we don't know the correct pitch, we'd play out of tune without being aware of it), so most of the sympathy belongs with the listener, except that you have to practice to get better.

April 20, 2020, 3:24 PM · These times are very difficult when we're all forced into close quarters with each other and the things that we used to be able to work around the schedules of others aren't possible.. For an instrument like the violin there isn't much alternative. Even the use of a heavy practice mute doesn't quiet it all the way. The suggestion of an electric violin which you can play with headphones. They can be very expensive or not-so-expensive. Be wary of very cheap ones, though, because they are often not set up at all well. But for around $600 or so there are some nice Yamaha electric violins. And if it keeps peace in the family, it's well worth the price.
Edited: April 20, 2020, 6:08 PM · Having the same problem here...I find the QUIETEST practice mute is not rubber, not leather, but heavy metal! I see Fiddlershop sells one like mine; it's brass. I use a SHAR electric violin that I got on sale for $99 a few years ago (and paid almost as much to have it properly set up). I use it with earbuds, as earphones are too heavy. Also--don't practice 100% electric because the bowing is so different; negotiate for some real violin practice time... Best of luck!
April 20, 2020, 3:44 PM · When I was very young, we had a budgie.
Whenever I started practising, he'd start to sing.
We were never sure if he was singing along, or trying to drown me out.
Edited: April 21, 2020, 2:14 AM · I've a collection of practice mutes and for me, this is the best. The violin sounds sweeter than with a heavy brass one, and it has the major advantage of being low profile, meaning you can still see your bow on the strings (which I never could with the brass ones)
April 20, 2020, 4:28 PM · Get out your calculator, a few pencils, and a pad of paper. Design yourself an insulated practice booth that you can install in your basement that can be made out of framing lumber, drywall, and fiberglass insulation. Order the materials from Lowe's. Make sure to think of everything including ventilation/HVAC, overhead lighting (lots of LED options now, and an electrical receptacle). There are booths that you can buy and assemble but they're quite pricey.
Edited: April 20, 2020, 6:10 PM · Well, mutes seem like an inexpensive option. Paul, that's a wonderful idea, but I'm in a townhouse without a basement, so I'll have to pass on building a booth. Plus, I barely got a C in woodshed when I was a kid in middle school. Tony, the link to that mute isn't working, can you try again? Thanks everyone, and please give recommendations for good mutes.
April 20, 2020, 5:21 PM · I just bought the Artino practice mute. It is heavy metal coated with rubber, for safety. Appochryphal story: Someone asked J. Heifetz' next door neighbor what it was like living there. The answer was "well, I like coffee, but I wouldn't want to live next to a coffee factory."
Edited: April 20, 2020, 10:54 PM · Dear Muted in Portland,

I like the electric violin with headset idea. I don't care so much for the heavy metal violin mute because I just find it too heavy and clunky. But even if the clunky metal mute will do the job, I believe you will still be heard, and because it mutes the sound of your beautiful instrument, it will just make it worse because not only will your wife hear the same piece over and over again, but now she will also be subjected to the unnatural sound of a muted violin in Portland.

I don't know what your home configuration is, but perhaps you can practice in the backyard or garage, if you have either one? You can open the garage door while practicing to let the sound out a little (lol). And the backyard? Well, if your backyard is open enough the sound will not be as concentrated unlike if you were in closed quarters. The neighbors? Well, they can always close their windows, sliding doors, or whatever they need to close so as not to hear you play.

Know that you are not alone in this quandary. In my own home, we have musical chaos, where my kids and I either practice their violin or piano, all at the same time. Sometimes we're all in the same room playing different pieces. And it's not because there is a lack of room to practice in, but for some reason, my kids and I enjoy annoying each other with our music. But after a few weeks, we've learned the art of "tuning each other out" when playing different pieces in our own instruments.

Lately though, I've been contemplating about playing in our backyard garden. Although we have a decent separation between our home and the neighbors, I'm hoping that even if my neighbors hear me play, they will grant me mercy and not call the cops for disturbing the peace.

April 20, 2020, 5:21 PM · Use bar soap on your bow, rather than rosin. Your wife will love you again almost as much as on your honeymoon. :-)
Edited: April 20, 2020, 5:55 PM · I can't help myself from believing that Paul's suggestion is made in jest. HVAC? And Tony's link doesn't work for me either, but it's clear that he was trying to link to the Weissmeyer & Son practice mute. You can google it. I have one, and it's effective, though I find it difficult to put on. My favorite practice mute is made of leather, but apparently no longer available, so I admit that's not very helpful. (I have a plan to make some leather mutes myself, but since I haven't done it yet, that's not very helpful either.) An electric like the Yamaha YEV has almost the same volume when it's not plugged in as an acoustic with a common heavy plated brass practice mute, and is worth considering. It's quite playable not plugged in. (It won a long list of international design awards when it was introduced in 2016, and is a pretty elegant design.) I don't think we can do anything else but suggest; you'll have to sort this out in the end.
Edited: April 20, 2020, 6:00 PM · Mark, I find a leather practice mute has by far the best sound. You can buy one from Marcel St. Cyr at
Edited: April 20, 2020, 6:11 PM · Erin, that's my source for my favorite leather practice mute, but he's an elderly gentleman, a sole proprietor and maker, and his website and email have been unresponsive for a couple of years now. I wish I bought more than the one I have when I could.
April 20, 2020, 6:09 PM · oh more St Cyr...
April 20, 2020, 6:19 PM · You know, Ben, I have been thinking about the garage, and that might do the trick. I live in a townhouse complex, so there isn't a back yard, side yard, and only a two foot strip of land for a tiny front yard. I do think Paul was just goofing around (I hope he was) but I thought I'd go along with it in case he wasn't. I put a mute on the violin about an hour ago and my wife is talking to me again, so that's good. However, when she found out I bought the thing two years ago, and had never used it, things got a bit . . . well. . . less than ideal for a few minutes. Thanks for the advice!
April 20, 2020, 6:24 PM · Hi Michael, I hope things work out for you! Just in case you're interested in checking out a leather mute, I found this link below. I haven't tried one though...

Boston Fiddle Leather Mutes

April 20, 2020, 6:27 PM · Yes Ben David, but the Weissmeyer leather mutes are performance mutes, not practice mutes.
April 20, 2020, 7:17 PM · Does anyone make a practice mute for singers ?
Edited: April 21, 2020, 1:08 AM · Weissmeyer leather mutes are more for performance than practice, but still nearly as effective as the St Cyr. Also, the full range of composites they sell, not just the caterpillar, do a nice job in reducing volume.

Otherwise, as inconvenient as they are, the Artino mutes do a very good job.

Best try some from each bucket to see which is best, as they tend to block different frequencies. That may end up mattering at least as much as total volume.

April 20, 2020, 10:19 PM · This link works. Weissmeyer makes some cool mutes and their CatrPilr is a fantastic practice mute. Low volume but still retains a decent sound.

April 21, 2020, 10:11 AM · This is tough! It is terrible to play with a mute, all the time, and you can be heard, anyway.

Isn't there a favorite piece of your wife's that you can practise for her?

You are looking for the solution by means of making yourself unhearable, somehow. Is there no chance to get her on your side, somehow?

Doesn't she have any suggestions for a compromise?

I would look for some sort of deal. Your part of giving in might have to be that you don't practise, spontanbeously, whenever you have the urge to, but within certain time frames that both of you agree on.

April 21, 2020, 10:28 AM · Thanks for the suggestions, Emily. Here's what we've come up with as a compromise. If she's home, and I want to practice, I'll use a mute on the violin. When she goes for a walk, or to the grocery store, I'll unmute the violin and play. This morning she was a bit confused about her reaction to the violin yesterday, but I pointed out that over the past three years, I've worked to be sensitive to her patience. I always played when she was at a yoga class, or riding a bike, with her daughter, or some other activity out of the house. Hence, she didn't hear me play as much as she does now.

Also, I pointed out that when she and her daughter were bellydancers, and they'd rehearse, I'd hear that bellydance music all the time. It drove me up the wall, but I endured. Unfortunately, I grew very tired of belly dancing. One day, my stepdaughter was bellydancing with a friend of hers in the back yard. They were in full costume. We had a plumber over to the house working on the kitchen sink while the danced. He looked out the window and his jaw nearly hit the floor. "Wow!" He said. "Is it like this all the time around here?" I grumbled, "Unfortunately, yes!" Then I realized, most people don't have bellydancers wandering around their homes all day long, So, I just accepted it for what it was.

So for now, until all this social distancing and stay at home stuff goes away, I'll mute while she's home, and look to the future. This too will pass.

Edited: April 21, 2020, 11:42 AM · Recommendations for ACTUAL playing time:

noise machine in the room works wonders - either yours or yours or both. You can have youtube do it for you:
white noise is also in spotify
viowiess caterpillar practice mute is amazing
use door stopper (fill long songs with rice or roll up towel and jam against bottom of the door

NON PLAYING practice is often the cat's meow for practice
- listen (with headphones) and watch your favorite players, make a list of things you want to copy. Shadow without fiddle
- listen to your own recordings of practice, make a list of spots etc
- mark phrasing or issues with highlighter
-score study
-watch youtube tutorials or
-practice journaling
- sing rep, play on piano, sing bowings, sing with metronome etc.

Happy alternative practicing :) I once had to rest for 3 months due to tendonitis, it was one of the best learning experiences of my life....

April 21, 2020, 11:46 AM · Susanna: "fill long songs with rice" ??? (That sounds like it would be very quiet)
April 21, 2020, 11:54 AM · Erin: oops! typing too fast. I meant long socks :)
April 21, 2020, 12:15 PM · Wow, you folks are great, but it sounds like you're getting about as loopy as I am with all of this. I'd type more, but I'm going to go watch "Groundhog Day". I'm feeling a lot of empathy with Bill Murray's character.

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