Using a Practice Mute to Improve Your Tone
Most practice mutes, when you use them, (and I use it a lot in hotel rooms, and wherever I am when I’m on the road) sound stuffy or they respond very poorly to most instruments—especially in the lower register. One of the nice things about the Denis Wick practice mute is that it doesn’t do this; it’s very even throughout the instrument. As you play, it feels pretty normal, as normal as you can feel when you’re playing with a mute in your instrument. There’s a hidden benefit to this instrument and a couple of years ago, Denis was here in the states visiting us, and I was fortunate enough to sit down with him. He was able to show me one of the really cool things about this mute that can help open up a person’s sound. It’s a very interesting idea and involves basically playing your instrument with and without the mute and working on opening up that throat; which is something that is difficult not only with youngsters, but also with pros.
I have Kurt here who is going to help me demonstrate this little exercise that Denis ran me through. The first thing we’re going to do is Kurt’s going to play me just a low Bb on his instrument, just mezzo forte. *Kurt plays note* Excellent, now just play me a scale—a five note scale, ascending, and let’s just hear how your sound is now. *Kurt plays scale* Excellent. Now, we’re going to put in the Denis Wick Practice Mute, which is now available for trombones as well—very similar design. And just play a low C, mezzo-forte, play the low C and let it resonate a little bit. *Kurt plays note* O.K., now play it again and play significantly louder. *Kurt plays note* Now you can hear the mute start to rattle and gets a little unstable—play even louder, make it even less stable, just really blow. *Kurt plays note* Good. And I was real concerned when we did this because it sounds kind of capitating and doing strange things but now, do the same thing, and go down chromatically through the seventh position of the instrument. Really make it rattle so that when you ultimately get to the Low E, it’s as loud as you can play it. “Kurt plays notes*
Now take the mute out and play that same ascending scale. If you can play it mezzo-forte, it’s going to be a bit weird because it will be significantly more open from where you were before. *Kurt plays scale* Now you’ll notice, by the sound on the recording, even with this little, tiny microphone, that the sound is significantly more resonant. At first it’s weird because it’s a little bit hard to control because it’s like “oh, this thing is really open now,” but this works very well. I highly recommend you try this not only yourself, but with a lot of your students. I think you’ll have a lot of success.