9 Jul 2015

The Sshhmute - A Practice Mute for Brass Instruments

From Our Changing World, 9:46 pm on 9 July 2015

By Ruth Beran

A photo of the sshmute family

The sshmute family Photo: RNZ / Ruth Beran

Many years ago Trevor Bremner wanted to practice his cornet at home in the evenings when his boys slept, and found that he wasn’t happy with the practice mutes available. These mutes either played out of tune, or were hard to project through.

A good practice mute should [allow] you [to] play as near to what you would do without a mute,” he says.

A musical instrument repairer by trade, Trevor wanted to create the ideal mute and it took him 3.5 years to develop one that he felt happy with. From there, the company has grown and currently sell eight different mutes around the world: the standard practice mutes for trumpet, trombone, bass trombone, flugelhorn, tenor horn, French horn, and the piccolo trumpet, as well as a whisper mute for the trumpet.

A mute is designed to fit inside the bell of a brass musical instrument and reduces the sound when played. “There are different shapes and sizes depending on the type of instrument that it is going to be used in,” says Trevor. “We are at the moment working on three larger ones for baritone and euphonium and also there’s another series of whisper mutes, that we’re working on too,” says Trevor.

The mutes are tapered with a seal around the neck of the cone. This seal makes it air tight and holds the mute in place.

A photo of a cross-section showing inside a sshhmute

A cross-section showing inside a sshhmute Photo: RNZ / Ruth Beran

As the instrument is played, the air goes into the cone of the mute, and the only way the air can get out, is through a little tube at the bottom, and that’s what reduces the sound.

Getting the length and diameter of the tube correct is very important, says Trevor, because there’s so many aspects that need to come together.

“You can get notes that don’t work, you can get notes that play out of tune, you can even get what they call split harmonics, where you can actually get two notes, half a semitone apart, so there’s lots of little problems there that you have to iron out,” he says.

The sshhmute reduces the sound from an instrument by roughly 30 decibels.

A photo of Trevor Bremner with a table full of mutes

Trevor Bremner with a table full of mutes Photo: RNZ / Ruth Beran

“Normally if you’re practicing or playing with the mute in, and you’re in a room with a door closed, you can only just hear it outside the room. So it is very effective,” says Trevor.

The sshhmute is made of ABS plastic which accommodates the vibrations from the instrument, is not too heavy, and doesn’t get damaged if dropped. The seal is made from cork.

Trevor admits that the design process is trial and error. For example, he’s working on a whisper mute for the trombone. Whisper mutes are designed to play a little bit louder than a practice mute. “So that’s for very quiet passages onstage,” he says.

Trevor is designing the whisper mute by changing the diameter and length of the tube, because he’s confident that the volume of the cone is right, and the seal is in the right place.

And what’s different about a whisper mute? “They have straight mutes, cup mutes, harmon mutes,” says Trevor, “but they change the colours they do not really, naturally quieten it down. That’s where this mute is really, is quite different to all the other mutes.”