What is muting when playing an instrument?

by Joost Nusselder | Updated on:  May 3, 2022

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I remember discovering muting as a new technique in my playing (guitar). It opened up this whole new world of expressing myself.

Muting is using something or part of the hand fitted to a musical instrument to alter the sound by affecting timbre, reducing volume, or both. With wind instruments, closing the end of the horn stops the sound, with stringed instruments stopping the string from vibrating by using hand or pedal.

Let’s look at how this works and how to MAKE IT WORK for you.

What is muting an instrument

Mutes: A complete Guide

What are Mutes?

Mutes are like the Instagram filters of the music world! They can be used to alter the sound of an instrument, making it softer, louder, or just plain different. They come in all shapes and sizes, from the classic brass mutes to the more modern practice mutes.

How to Use Mutes

Using mutes is a breeze! Here are some tips to get you started:

  • For brass instruments, use a straight mute and place it on the bell of the instrument.
  • For string instruments, mount the mute on the bridge.
  • For percussion and harp, use the étouffé symbol or a diamond-shaped notehead.
  • For hand muting, use ‘o’ for open (unmuted) and ‘+’ for closed (muted).

Notation for Mutes

When it comes to notation, there are some key phrases to remember:

  • Con sordino (Italian) or avec sourdine (French) means to use a mute.
  • Senza sordino (Italian) or sans sourdine (French) means to remove the mute.
  • Mit Dämpfer (German) or ohne Dämpfer (German) also mean to use or remove the mute.

And there you have it! Now you know all about mutes and how to use them. So go ahead and give it a try – your music will thank you!

Mutes: A Guide to the Different Types of Brass Mutes

What are Mutes?

Mutes are like the accessories of the brass instrument world – they come in all shapes and sizes and can totally change the sound of your instrument! They’re used to alter the timbre of the sound and can be inserted directly into the bell, clipped onto the end, or held in place. Mutes are made from a variety of materials, including fiber, plastic, cardboard, and metal. In general, mutes soften the lower frequencies of the sound and accentuate higher ones.

A Brief History of Mutes

Mutes have been around for centuries, with stoppers for natural trumpets being found in the tomb of King Tutankhamun dating back to 1300 BC. The earliest known mention of trumpet mutes dates to a 1511 account of a carnival in Florence. The Baroque mutes, made of wood with a hole in the center, were used for musical purposes as well as secret military retreats, funerals, and practice.

By 1897, the modern straight mute was in widespread use, being used on tubas in Richard Strauss’s Don Quixote. In the 20th century, new mutes were invented to create unique timbres, largely for the works of jazz composers.

Types of Mutes

Here’s a quick rundown of the different types of mutes available for brass instruments:

  • Straight Mute: This is the most commonly used mute in classical music. It’s roughly a truncated cone closed at the end facing outwards from the instrument, with three cork pads at the neck to allow sound to escape. It acts as a high-pass filter and produces a shrill, piercing sound that can be quite powerful at high volumes. Straight mutes made of materials like plastic or fiberglass are generally darker and less forceful in sound than their metal counterparts.
  • Pixie Mute: This is a thinner straight mute inserted further into the bell, and is most commonly used along with a plunger for special effects. It produces a softer, more mellow sound than the straight mute.
  • Cup Mute: This is a cone-shaped mute with a cup at the end. It produces a softer, more mellow sound than the straight mute, but is still quite powerful.
  • Harmon Mute: This is a cone-shaped mute with a cup at the end and a stem that can be adjusted to alter the sound. It produces a bright, piercing sound that is often used in jazz music.
  • Bucket Mute: This is a cone-shaped mute with a bucket-like shape at the end. It produces a softer, more mellow sound than the straight mute, but is still quite powerful.
  • Plunger Mute: This is a cone-shaped mute with a plunger-like shape at the end. It produces a softer, more mellow sound than the straight mute, but is still quite powerful.

So there you have it – a quick guide to the different types of mutes available for brass instruments! Whether you’re looking for a bright, piercing sound or a softer, mellow sound, there’s a mute out there for you.

Muting Woodwind Instruments: A Guide for the Uninitiated

What is Muting?

Muting is a way of manipulating the sound of a musical instrument to make it softer or more muffled. It’s a technique that’s been around for centuries and is used by musicians to create a unique sound.

Why Don’t Mutes Work on Woodwinds?

Mutes aren’t very effective on woodwind instruments because the proportion of sound emitted from the bell changes depending on the fingering. This means that the degree of muting changes with each note. Blocking the open end of a woodwind also prevents the lowest note from being played.

What Are Some Alternatives?

If you want to mute a woodwind instrument, here are some alternatives:

  • For oboes, bassoons, and clarinets, you can stuff a cloth, handkerchief, or disk of sound-absorbing material into the bell.
  • For saxophones, you can use a cloth or handkerchief, or a velvet-covered ring inserted into the bell.
  • Early oboe mutes were made of cotton wool, paper, sponge, or hardwood and inserted into the bell. This softened the lower notes and gave them a veiled quality.


Muting woodwind instruments can be tricky, but with the right techniques, you can create a unique sound. Whether you choose to use a cloth, handkerchief, or velvet-covered ring, you can be sure to get the sound you’re looking for. So don’t be afraid to experiment and find the perfect mute for your instrument!

The Many Mutes of the String Family

The Violin Family

Ah, the violin family. Those sweet, sweet strings. But what if you want to play them without waking up the neighbors? Enter the mute! Mutes come in all shapes and sizes, and they can do a lot to reduce the volume of your playing. Here are some of the most popular mutes for the violin family:

  • Rubber two-hole Tourte mutes: These mutes attach to the bridge of the instrument and add mass to reduce the volume. They also make the sound darker and less brilliant.
  • Heifetz mutes: These mutes attach to the top of the bridge and can be adjusted to vary the degree of muting.
  • Quick-on/off mutes: These mutes can be quickly engaged or removed, which is great for modern orchestral works.
  • Wire mutes: These mutes press the strings on the tailpiece side of the bridge, leading to a lessened muting effect.
  • Practice mutes: These mutes are heavier than performance mutes and are great for reducing the volume when practicing in close quarters.

The Wolf Eliminator

The wolf tone is a pesky resonance that can occur in string instruments, particularly the cello. But fear not! You can use a wolf tone eliminator to adjust the strength and pitch of the problem resonance. You can attach it between the bridge and tailpiece of the instrument, or you can place a rubber mute similarly to suppress the wolf tone.

Palm Muting

Palm muting is a popular technique in rock, metal, funk, and disco music. It involves placing the side of the hand on the strings to reduce the strings’ resonance and make a “dry, chunky sound”. You can also use built-in or makeshift dampening devices on guitars and bass guitars to simulate the effect of palm muting.

So if you’re looking to reduce the volume of your string instrument playing, you have plenty of options! Whether you’re looking for a quick-on/off mute, a practice mute, or a wolf eliminator, you’re sure to find something that works for you.

Muting Musical Instruments


When it comes to percussion instruments, there are plenty of ways to make them sound a little less loud. Here are some of the most popular methods:

  • Triangle: Open and close your hand for a Latin-style rhythm that’s not too loud.
  • Snare drum: Place a piece of cloth on top or between the snares and the lower membrane to muffle the sound.
  • Xylophone: Place a variety of objects on the drumhead, like wallets, gel, and plastic, to reduce any unwanted ringing overtones.
  • Maracas: Hold the chamber instead of the handle to produce short tones without resonance.
  • Cowbells: Place a cloth inside them to muffle the sound.


If you’re looking to make your piano a bit quieter, here are some tips:

  • Soft pedal: Shift the hammers so they miss one of the multiple strings used for each note.
  • Practice pedal: Move the hammers closer to the strings, making a softer impact.
  • Sostenuto pedal: Lower a piece of felt between the hammers and strings to muffle the sound.

The Piano: An Introduction

The piano is a beautiful instrument that has been around for centuries. It’s a great way to express yourself musically, and it’s also a great way to relax and unwind. But if you’re just starting out, you may be wondering what all the fuss is about. Let’s take a look at the basics of the piano and how it works.

The Soft Pedal

The soft pedal is a great way to reduce the volume of the piano without sacrificing sound quality. When the soft pedal is used, the hammers only hit two of the three strings for each note. This creates a softer, more muted sound. To indicate that the soft pedal should be used, you’ll see the instruction “una corda” or “due corde” written below the staff.

The Mute

In the past, some pianos were fitted with a piece of felt or similar material between the hammers and the strings. This created a very muffled and much quieter sound, which was great for practicing without disturbing the neighbors. Unfortunately, this feature is rarely found on modern pianos.

The Sustain Pedal

The sustain pedal is a great way to add a bit of depth and richness to your playing. It’s usually indicated by the instruction “senza sordino” or simply “Ped.” or “P.” written below the staff. When used correctly, the sustain pedal can really bring your music to life!


Muting Vs Blocking

Muting is a great way to keep trolls and abusers at bay without having to confront them. It’s a subtle way of saying ‘I don’t want to hear from you’ without having to block them outright. When you mute someone, they won’t know they’ve been muted and their abusive tweets won’t reach you. Blocking, on the other hand, is a much more direct approach. The person you block will be notified and this could lead to further abuse. So if you’re looking for a way to keep the peace, muting is the way to go.


Muting’s a great way to add unique flavor to your music, whether you’re playing brass or a stringed instrument.

Now that you know the different ways to achieve this you can start implementing it and spice up YOUR playing.

I'm Joost Nusselder, the founder of Neaera and a content marketer, dad, and love trying out new equipment with guitar at the heart of my passion, and together with my team, I've been creating in-depth blog articles since 2020 to help loyal readers with recording and guitar tips.

Check me out on Youtube where I try out all of this gear:

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