What are mutes for musical instruments and what types exist

Sometimes, this alteration can be as extreme as almost silencing them, or simply giving the instrument notes a different nuance, to achieve varied effects.

So what are mutes?

The Mutes are devices that manage to alter the sound resulting from the instruments to touch them. They are not only to attenuate or silence their sound but in many cases also to transform their nuances.

More than silence, transform

The Mutes are accessories that are placed on the instrument intended to soften or alter their tone. This can be an object placed inside the bell, in the case of metal wind instruments, or an object attached to the rubbed string instrument bridge.

In addition to reducing the volume of musical instruments, the mutes alter their timbre, by suppressing some of the harmonies associated with the characteristic sound of some instruments. These devices became extremely popular since the nineteenth century, from the search for new timbres by the composers of romantic music to include in their orchestras.

Mutes are used a lot to rehearse and not disturb

The rich sound produced by musical instruments is undoubtedly exquisite. However, sometimes it is necessary to alter the sound spectrum produced by some instruments to achieve interesting effects or simply not disturb other people while we practice or rehearse our skills with the instruments.

However, not all musical instruments benefit from the use of mutes. Next, we will talk a little about those that do.

Types of mutes according to different types of instruments

Metal wind instruments

The mutes for these instruments are very varied. Many different styles have been used, but all are added either to the bell or directly within it. The most common mute is a cone-shaped device that is inserted into the bell of the instrument and mitigates the fundamental tone and lower harmonies, resulting in a more metallic, almost nasal sound in the instrument.

There are many types of mutes for metal wind instruments: each type is designed to achieve a different effect on its sound.

String instruments

The stringed instruments such as violin, cello or double bass will all benefit from the use of mutes. In these instruments, the mute is usually a small rubber or felt with three “fingers”, each being inserted between each pair of strings on the bridge.

This limits the vibrations of the strings and thus, the mute manages to attenuate the highest harmonies, resulting in a darker melody, characteristic of romantic compositions. These may vary in size, materials, and shape, however, its most distinctive feature is the weight: the heavier the mute, the greater it’s sound attenuation.

The mute of the pianos

The pianos have the pedal of a string, which fulfills a function similar to the mute, altering the timbre of the notes.

The mutein other instruments

The instruments of percussion and woodwinds very rarely use mechanisms to alter the sound, being the saxophone a clear exception in the latter group. The use of mutes for instruments can have different motivations, achieving a different sound is usually one of them.

As you can see, the mutes are not only used to silence, they can also enrich the instrument.

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