Put a Sock In It!

Lets do a how-to session this month. I am advocating for a universal nomenclature for mute indications and all their subtitles and instructions. When I get a part that’s been played many times by other folks I have to spend time erasing a lot
of indications about mute changes etc. I mean things like: “mute on knee, mute in lap, take mute,” and a few others. I would like to suggest a standardized language for mute indications and readiness that everyone could be familiar with and use. Of course the term mute means that the following passage is to be played con sordino. Many composers put this indication just before the passage to be muted, thereby not giving the player enough time to physically put the mute in. That forces the player to edit the part ahead of time to indicate where there is enough time to insert the mute and get ready to play the passage. Many times there is not enough time between entrances to comfortably take the mute and place it in the instrument. Therefore more written indications are necessary to prepare for different times between entrances to make mute changes smooth and comfortable. Here is a list of instructions I use to clarify the use and timing of mute changes. I always keep a mute on the left side of my chair because I can keep my right hand on the slide and take the mute with my left hand. This is a faster method of getting the mute in and if I need to hold it I’m already in that position.

Mute-meaniing the next passage is to be played con sordino with enough time to pick up mute and place in instrument without losing place in music.

Mute ready-meaning the mute is placed between the legs to be quickly inserted in the instrument in a future passage.

Mute (hold)-meaning the next passage is muted but the mute needs to be quickly removed for an un-muted passage. The mute is held lightly with the left hand like a harmon mute, so it can be quickly removed.

Open-remove mute for the next passage.

There are a few places in the literature where we only have an 8th rest or a 1/4 rest to remove the mute. In that case it is possible to rest the rim of the bell on the wrist and pull the mute out just 2 or 3 inches, enough to play the next passage open.

There is an interesting mute change in the Carl Nielsen 6th symphony. The 1st player is playing a continuous melodic passage, when the 2nd player is instructed to place the mute in the 1st players bell mid passage, something which is readily apparent to the audience.

I have found that a player needs at least 2 or 3 different types of straight mutes. One basic metal-type for most playing; a softer less metallic material for very soft passages, and a very metallic, clear metal sound for louder-type muted passages.