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How to Use a Practice Mute? 8 Brass Player Tips For Using One to Improve.

Do you want a better sound, better range, better control, stronger embouchure, better dynamics and many other things? This post will help you with those things!

Funny mute euphonium

Following on from my post about mutes (follow this link to view it), I thought I would share some help for those of you that have a practice mute but might not get the full use out of it.

This blog post and those it links too will contain some affiliate links. As always, I like to share products I use and believe in, but my advice is to always shop around to find the best product for you.

All brass instruments have practice mutes. For example here is a cornet one. The black Denis Wick practice mute is my absolute favourite.

Cornet mute

Always remember that what works for one brass player might not work for you. You need to experiment to find things that benefit you personally. We all have different lips, tongues, faces and none of our body parts were designed to play musical instruments. Find ways to practice that allows you to measure your progress so you know you are making improvements. Consult your teacher or professional if you need help or you can always book me for a one-off online lesson.

Tips For Brass Players Using a Practice Mute

1) Start Gradually

When using a practice mute for the first time, start with short practice sessions and gradually increase the duration. Practice mutes can change the resistance and feel of the instrument, so it's important to acclimatise gradually.

2) Focus on Tone Quality

While practice mutes are excellent for silent or low-volume practicing, they can alter the instrument's natural tone. Playing softly isn't actually the best way of using this mute as you will see in tip 4. Pay attention to your tone quality, and work on producing a rich, resonant sound even with the mute in place, just play as if the mute wasn't there.

3) Intonation Decision

The black Denis Wick practice mute (this links to the trombone version) has excellent intonation. You will however, find some notes that are out of tune. There could be two ideas for brass players in relation to tuning while playing with the practice mute. Personally, while using the mute, I ignore the intonation issues and play all notes with the valves (or slide positions) that I would without the mute. You could attempt to alter your pitch to 'suite the mute' but for me, I feel that this negatively impacts my tuning when I do not use the mute. Experiment with this tip.

4) Articulation and Dynamics

Practice mutes can make articulation more challenging. Work on clarity and precision in your articulation, and experiment with different dynamics to maintain control over your playing. If you cannot blast out your low notes, then using the practice mute can help open them out and make them easier to play. Working with the mute at extremely loud dynamics is one of the best uses of the mute. By this, I mean play as loud as you can, make it an intense physical workout. Start training yourself to take the force away from the lips and embouchure, and channel it to your stomach muscles. You will notice positive benefits when you do not use the mute.

5) Long Tones, Scales and Technical Work

I avoid doing any fundamentals or technical work with the mute (other than dynamics). I want my playing to be set and secure, my range, my pitching and all aspects. If I start getting into the nitty gritty, or learning new music with the mute in, it is not giving me what I will feel when I perform without it.

6) Use for Performance Practice Only (Stamina)

I love using the practice mute to just run through a concerto or test piece. It is great for playing through music you need to practice from memory. I visualise the audience and imagine I am on stage. One of my favourite things to do is to play a brass band march euphonium or cornet part. Something like Knight Templar. With the mute in, all the way through. I play two dynamics; anything loud I play as loud as I can and anything softer, I play as soft as I can. It is an amazing workout and if done regularly, try and find a new level of relaxation each time (despite the effort), you will notice improvements in your stamina.

7) Balance with Open Playing

While practice mutes are useful, it's essential to balance your practice with open playing to maintain a connection with the natural feel and sound of your instrument. Alternate between practicing with and without the mute to stay versatile. I never start my practice session with the mute and never end it with the mute. I always play some low notes to warm down, without the mute, after I have finished for the day. I usually do my mute workout as the last chunk of my daily practice. I always spend longer without the mute than with it.

8) Range Building

As part of my daily routine, I always work on my range, high and low at the extremes. Sometimes, I like to do this with my mute. I might play an ascending, slurred C major scale over one octave, with a big crescendo and really singing out the top note as much as possible. I always play a low note in between to reset. I then repeat this with the mute in. Then I remove the mute and do the same with C# major. Then repeat this up to as high as I can go. I often use my Ultra-Breathe in between these sets as well. This blog post might also help with playing higher.

Use this link to view the practice mute that I use.

I hope this post can help brass players with using a mute to great effect. If you like it, please help me share with others and consider signing up to be notified of new blog updates.

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Thank you for reading. ❤

Mark Glover


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