The Practice Mute

a.k.a The Practice Aid

While many find this mute as a destination for silent practice, did you know it actually was created as a practice aid? When Denis Wick created these, he found that performance with them aided in opening up your throat, and as a result your sound. Why does it work so well? While the cork complete closes off any chance for air to escape the bell, 2 vents were drilled into the base of the mute to significantly reduce resistance. In addition, like the rest of the mutes offered by Denis Wick, this one is impeccably tuned and will give you a stable feeling that most practice mutes leave you without.

Take out your Denis Wick Practice Mute and try this exercise to open up the "throat spaces" and increase your sound.

"Even the smallest and weakest could sound almost professional in volume within a matter of weeks rather than years."






As every teacher knows, a good tone on any brass instrument needs a properly set-up embouchure; a good teacher will spare no effort to ensure that the student's embouchure is as efficient as possible. These days one may assume that the young player will have a reasonable instrument and a sensible mouthpiece. To this one must add what many teachers would regard as the most important of all - good breath control.


One aspect of the brass-blowing body machine which is hardly ever emphasized enough is the throat.  By opening the throat area - or closing it - the tone-quality can be varied enormously.  Although the differences are not quite as much as in singing, they can easily be heard on any brass instrument.

It remains a problem, however, to put across to the young player the concept of “open your throat". Many ideas like "swallowing a football" - "yawning outwards" or  "cooling a hot potato" work to a greater or lesser degree, as I  found  in my own teaching, but needed to be said so many times!


Then, I made my discovery. It happened when I had designed a practice mute.  This was intended just to make near-silent practice possible, but also to maintain good intonation and a "feel" not too different from normal playing. Absolutely essential for an orchestra on tour! I discovered that by using my practice mute for loud practice, this tight throat problem could be eliminated in minutes. There was an additional bonus in that breathing became much more efficient when the throat was automatically opened by the resistance of the mute. The total result exceeded my wildest dreams! Here was a way of speeding up the teaching process, especially with young players. Even the smallest and weakest could sound almost professional in volume within a matter of weeks rather than years. I well remember a very little girl who suddenly produced an amazingly loud fortissimo. I began to realize that I had stumbled upon a teaching technique that could help young brass students in a very positive way. Worldwide sales of my practice mutes seem to show that other people think so too! They are now made for all brass instruments, including trumpet/cornet (Bb, C, D, Eb, Piccolo), flugelhorn, French horn, trombone (alto, tenor, bass), tenor/alto horn, baritone, euphonium, tuba .


Often, the difficulty that youngsters have with breathing well stems from the fact that they are hardly ever allowed to play a maximum ff - and for good reason - nobody practices loudly! Trying to breathe well through a tight throat is fairly impossible anyway, so what one often hears are poor breath support and a rather choked sound.


Try the following:


  • THE "BEFORE" TEST (Remember exactly how this sounds)
    • Play mp the first 5 notes of the scale of C major starting below the treble clef. (Bb for concert- pitched instruments)
  • Take out the practice mute, take a really deep breath and play the “before" test again, (only mp, remember!)
  • Listen to the difference in sound - it should now be much more open and rich in tone, as the throat is automatically held open, thus creating a larger resonance chamber.



2.     Play a loud low C (Bb) with the practice mute. Take a deep breath, holding shoulders down, play louder. The note becomes less controlled with increasing volume. Try again, much louder. You will notice, as the volume increases, a "buzz" or rattle from the end of the mute.

·       This "buzz" wobbles and fluctuates.  Keep trying to play even louder; make sure that the “wobbles” become more level. Breathe as deeply as possible. Push the air through in a controlled, natural way. Keep increasing the volume. If you begin to feel slightly dizzy - that is quite normal and only temporary.  Now, with the same or more volume, play a semitone lower, gradually progressively descending a semitone at a time, until you are playing the loudest low F sharp (E natural) you have ever heard, continuing to breath as deeply as possible.




Each day try this exercise for 15 minutes. After a few weeks, it should be possible to remember the "open throat" feeling when inhaling, so that it can easily be reproduced for loud playing, especially in the lower register; it can and should also be used for soft playing in middle and upper registers. Soft chorales and espressivo solos can have a whole new dimension. Awareness of closing as well as opening the throat also makes a near-inaudible pianissimo very easy.


Of course, a metal practice mute is needed to make this happen. There are on the market fiber or cardboard mutes which function well in reducing volume. The electronic versions of practice mutes are fantastic (and expensive!) technology, but do not function like my simple metal practice mutes. Only metal practice mutes offer the "buzz" effect which is essential for real control of the throat spaces to be learned.


As a bonus, brass players who also sing will notice an increase in their lower range. Low-voiced trombonists with a well-developed practice-mute technique can often sing down to a low C.

“Like what you read? Subscribe to the BUZZ to receive a new article each week!”

First Name:
Last Name:

Join the conversation