The correct term is actually Whispa mute, but it is generally known as a whisper mute. Why? Because the sound is barely more than a whisper. It is also known as a "practice mute", "Silent Brass", or "hotel mute". The question is: a) when is it used and, b) should I own one?
This type of mute is designed to decrease the volume of the trumpet's sound to the extent that you can "blow your horn" in a hotel room while you're on tour, enough to keep your chops in shape, without getting evicted from the hotel because of complaints from the other hotel guests! The mute fits airtight into the bell, with all of the sound being filtered, diffused, or otherwise softened before it leaves the trumpet.
How soft is it? Well, my wife Nancy doesn't even ask any more, but rather she expects that she will probably drive for the first 1-2 hours that we're on the highway, knowing that I will use that time to do my "tone exercises" with the practice mute. Is it loud? Of course you can hear it. But - it is tolerable!
Is a practice mute a viable alternative?
The question here is, what is the alternative - to miss that practice time altogether? We know that as brass players, one of the most important aspects in preserving good tone production is to practice a regular tone maintenance routine; we simply can't afford to miss a couple of days just because we're "on the road". I think that the answer here is obvious - if it is a matter of getting in an hour or two of "chop" time with a practice mute vs. not playing at all, use the practice mute!
A few years ago I played a series of concerts in Europe which resulted in a most unusual, and definitely not desirable practice routine. A brief summary is this: following my first concert, in Cologne, the next 2 weeks were spent traveling, doing library research, sight-seeing, etc. It was a full 2 weeks before I finally arrived for a rehearsal and my next recital . During this time I maintained my tone production facilities entirely by using a practice mute each day and by buzzing my mouthpiece while I drove on the Autobahn. I feel that my tone production on the concerts at the end of that "holiday" was almost as comfortable as in the first concert.
So, would I suggest to my students that they just go back to their dorm room or apartment and do their daily practicing with a practice mute? Absolutely not. We must hear our tone quality in an appropriate acoustical environment to evaluate and improve the musical end of our efforts.
However, if it is a matter of getting in 1 hour of "blowing time" vs. none, or a matter of 2 hours of "blowing time" vs. 1 hour, I would certainly cast my vote in favor of using the practice mute to squeeze in some extra physical conditioning which we must all do as brass players.
The classical Whispa mute is a Shastock. The Dennis Wick practice mute is slightly shorter and packs into a gig bag easier than a Shastock. Also, there have been occasions when I had to take a Harmon mute anyway and space was really at a premium; I stuffed polyfoam in the cup of the Harmon mute and put a chamois bag over the bell. Yamaha's Silent Brass is also becoming increasingly popular. I like this because when I'm listening to that wonderful cathedral-like reverberation, I don't tend to overblow or spread my aperture.
Using a practice mute is not a substitute for normal practice, but can add some very valuable supplemental "chop" time in many situations.
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