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What Are Saxophone Mutes?

Saxophone mutes may be used to alter musical tones.
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  • Written By: A. Leverkuhn
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 12 October 2014
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Saxophone mutes are specific musical tools, usually made of light materials, that fit into the bell of a saxophone. The saxophone is a horn in the woodwind family, and like many similar instruments, musicians sometimes utilize a mute to alter the sound that comes out of the bell of the horn, which is its open rounded end. Although they are similar to other kinds of mutes, saxophone mutes are also unique to the instrument.

Many experienced musicians and others point out that saxophone mutes are not quite like trumpet mutes that muffle the overall sound of the horn. Rather, according to some experts, the saxophone mute diminishes a “rattling” or vibration in the horn, which can make notes sound more smooth. Many of those who have used saxophone mutes in the past contend that on this instrument, the mute doesn’t really muffle the sound, since much of the sound comes out of various other points in the horn’s infrastructure.

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Although the saxophone mute may not effectively muffle the horn’s sound, or lower its volume by decibels, professional musicians understande the benefits of these musical tools. Some claim that a saxophone mute can make lower or higher sounds in the register sound better, by “darkening” the sound or altering the tone. Others note that using a saxophone mute can help correct some pitch issues with certain notes on the horn. It’s important to note that, if not placed properly, saxophone mutes can actually cause other notes to be off key.

In talking about the saxophone mute and its use, many sax players make disclaimers about how these simple items might help with issues around the sound of the horn. Some players suggest that a mute might benefit a certain range of saxophone better, for example, a tenor saxophone. Others suggest that the mute can help dampen specific lower notes, such as B flat. Also, some saxophone players claim that using available mutes can stifle the sounds of specific notes, making the mute impractical for actual performance play.

Saxophone mutes are most commonly made of foam or some other similar light material. Many musicians who play the saxophone frequently recommend making your own mutes out of cloth or any other light material. Others claim that the use of these tools is not necessary at all, particularly since they may not be effective in reducing sound. It is really a question of personal taste.

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Emilski
Post 4

@Izzy78 - I actually tried to make a cloth mute one time, but it didn't work out too well. I was trying to make it for the purpose of lowering the sound so that I could practice without bothering other people in the house. I took some Styrofoam and carved it about into the shape of the bell. It didn't fit quite right, so I wrapped it in a hand towel until it was snug.

I didn't realize until playing it that the sound level wasn't affected. It did have the effect a mute should have, though. It got rid of the rattling sound and made the low notes smoother.

What I finally found to fix my problem was a special case that the saxophone fits entirely into, but still lets you play like normal. It completely surrounds the horn, so everything is muffled. It's not something you would use for a concert, but it's nice for practicing indoors.

Izzy78
Post 3

I saw the Glenn Miller Orchestra play a concert about 5 years ago. I thought it was really interesting how the saxophonists muted their sound. Instead of putting in a mute, they either took off their hats and held them in front of the horn or else turned to the side or pointed the horn towards the floor. I never understood why they did it until now. I guess putting in a mute wouldn't have lowered the sound, just changed it.

I don't play any instruments, so I'm not sure what variations exist, but are there different types of mutes for a saxophone? The article talks about making your own out of foam or cloth. Can you also buy metal ones? I have seen metal mutes for trumpets. How hard would it be to make your own mute?

JimmyT
Post 2

@matthewc23 - When I was in high school, I played the sax in jazz band, and there was one song when I had to use an alto saxophone mute. To be honest, I really hated the sound. I don't know about the technical aspects of whether or not the mute changed the pitch of any notes, but the horn just didn't have the same saxophone sound that you would expect.

You can still tell the sound is a saxophone, but it doesn't have the same metallic sound or echo. It is hard to describe.

matthewc23
Post 1

I played the alto saxophone in school bands when I was younger, and I didn't even know mutes were made for the saxophone. They definitely aren't common. I was never in any jazz bands, though. I know mutes are usually more common for that, so maybe more jazz saxophonists use them.

I agree with the article that a mute wouldn't really affect the sound level. Even when someone is recording a saxophone, they try to put the microphone farther up on the horn, since the sound coming from the bell isn't always the most pure sound.

I haven't played the saxophone for quite a few years, but if I still had one, I would definitely be interested in trying to make a mute and test it out.

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