The best practice mute ever!

I’m a clarinetist. I also play a mean tune on the saxophone but really, it’s the clarinet I’m most comfortable with. I tried to learn piano while at uni but it was too late, there was no way I was going to be able to put in the practise time to be any good. I also dabbled with guitar but it was the same issue; I satisfied my curiosity but was never going to be able to practise enough.

Yet for a few years, I was a trombone player, and not too shabby a trombone player at that. I’d finished 3rd year performance clarinet for the BMus part of my university studies and I was completing my BSc (CompSci Hons) and had wanted to play trombone since high school. This was my chance. I did a 3 month hire from KBB to make sure I knew what I was getting myself into and eventually, after some recommendations, test plays and because the NZ to US exchange rate was amazing at the time, Dad brought back to NZ a fantastic Martin-LeBlanc TR4501 (I paid for it of course, he was just the courier).

There was no way I was ever going to be able skank it out on stage with a 7 piece ska band (although…) but what I could do was play in my local concert band and play pieces such as the 2nd trombone part of James H. Burden’s arrangement of the Star Wars Medley. I relished the opportunity to be a beginner striving to better their playing and subsequently improved a lot in a short space of time (unfortunately the same couldn’t be said for the rest of the band at that time).

Unfortunately my diligent practise and concert band brass playing all stopped when I left home and bought a house with wafer thin walls and a neighbouring house about 10 metres away. Hardboard sandwiched polystyrene walls and 4mm toughened glass within aluminium window frames is just not a good enough barrier between the neighbourhood and the sheer number of bung notes I play on a trombone. At least playing on the 2nd floor of my folk’s house on a 1/4 acre section offered a minor respite to the neighbours. No more though.

My stopping also coincided with other activities that I wanted to pursue so anything related to trombone was dropped and my poor ol’ Martin-LeBlanc Model TR4501 languished in a cupboard along with my guitar, Casio keyboard and A clarinet.

That was until now. In the last couple of months I’ve downloaded Thomas Newman’s Spectre, James Newton Howard’s The Hunger GamesL Mockingjay pt. 2 and Maleficent, Michael Giacchino’s Jupiter Ascending and of course, John Williams’ The Force Awakens (Apple made a lot of money off me with those purchases). With so much orchestral music and all those fantastic brass sounds (despite the horns always getting the best brass parts) I decided to dust off the trombone.

There was just one problem though, those walls hadn’t gotten any thicker.

Practice mutes

I saw an article somewhere on the net about the release of the new version of Silent Brass and inquired with a trombone colleague if it was any good. “Nah, just buy a practise mute,” he said. He lent me his sssssshhhhhh mute by Bremner and it too languished for a few months on a chest of drawers. With it now being Christmas holidays I finally gave it a shot but, errr, it was for a bass trombone so didn’t fit! I then just practised some beginner music with a bucket mute. It was bit heavy and still wasn’t that quite.

I’m not sure why I didn’t try it the first before but I went back to the ill-fitting sssssshhhhhh mute and just held it to the trombone bell and played some notes.

Wow!

Bremner's sshhmute for tenor trombone

Bremner’s sshhmute for tenor trombone

It was quiet but quiet in a somewhat stifled, ‘I’m just wearing really strong earplugs’ kind of way. It was perfect for my wafer thin walls. I immediately stopped shopping around for practise mutes online and hunted down the sssssshhhhhh mute. It turns out that Bremner is a New Zealand company in Vogeltown, New Plymouth. Goodness knows why it cost $17 to post it up the road to Auckland because it certainly didn’t arrive the same day. They also seem so have subsequently dropped some of the letters and it’s just a sshh mute now.

I tried it out and it’s great. There are no weird tuning issues, you still get that raspy sound that occurs when blasting out notes and there seems to be no excessive resistance to playing notes. If I were to describe what it sounds like, it’s a little like a muffled harmon mute with no stem (oh, look, here’s a youtube video). Did I say it’s quiet?

It turns out the blurb on the label does a better job of explaining how awesome the mute is anyway, even though it’s just marketing.

The unique design creates minimal back-pressure, which helps the throat muscles to achieve better control, provides better air supply and flow, while being in tune and accurate throughout the range.

With this mute, the neighbours will never know what musical cacophony is happening next door.

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