17

What's this w-shaped ebony item from my grandma's violin case?

Possible it's not violin-related.

enter image description here

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  • 4
    You are not using the top of the violin as surface for photographing stuff, are you?
    – Lazy
    Jan 31, 2023 at 12:49
  • 5
    @Lazy - can't see what harm it could do.
    – Tim
    Jan 31, 2023 at 13:21
  • 11
    Wait a minute - intensely curious now. IS there a reason why we shouldn't be photographing violins?
    – nuggethead
    Jan 31, 2023 at 14:23
  • 4
    @nuggethead possibly just an abuse of the violin to use it as a table I guess. But I thought it made a nice backdrop, and added some violin context to the post. Jan 31, 2023 at 15:07
  • 2
    Yeah, what is the photography concern @Lazy? Jan 31, 2023 at 17:54

3 Answers 3

44

It's a mute. It clips onto the bridge. Damps the sound.

enter image description here

This is the traditional type. There are others:

https://nolaschoolofmusic.com/blog/a-guide-to-violin-mutes

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  • 6
    Wow, that's brilliant, thanks. My daughter DEFINITELY needs to start using this when practising 😀 Jan 31, 2023 at 13:15
  • 2
    @samerivertwice There are also "practice mutes" that are intended for practicing. There are reasons not to use them all the time, though not necessarily what user90393 outlined Jan 31, 2023 at 16:20
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    @samerivertwice That type of mute changes the sound rather than greatly diminishing it. There are other types, made of soft materials, that muffle the sound for practice.
    – Laurence
    Feb 1, 2023 at 0:36
6

As others have said, it's a mute, designed to be clamped on the bridge with its fingers between the strings. I warn against extended use of it for practice reasons: the violin takes considerable time to recover from longer use and redevelop its full tone.

Also it changes the response of the strings to the bowing and makes tone and intonation problems harder to hear. So (sadly for neighbors and relatives) it is a particularly bad idea for beginners still working out their intonation and tone control.

This goes doubly for the much more thorough "tone wolf", basically a rubber(?)-filled metal barrel with similar clamp-on fingers which is only intended as practice mute.

The mute depicted here is a stronger variant of a mute you'd use in concert for "con sordino" passages. A mute that looks like a rubber disk and sits on the middle strings on the tailpiece side of the bridge when unused tends to be more practical in use (though not as strong in effect) and does not squeeze the bridge to the point where it takes significant time to recover. But since it changes sound more than volume, it just serves as a concert mute, not a practice mute. And when you change the sound of a violin (by adding mutes or using different strings), that does change the body's response as well, so even here you get bounceback effects when using the mute for prolonged times.

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    I can't believe it 'changes the response of the strings to bowing', and 'violin takes considerable time to recover'. You're not supposed to hammer it onto the bridge, are you?
    – Tim
    Jan 31, 2023 at 14:00
  • 21
    "The violin takes considerable time to recover from longer use and redevelop its full tone"—Sorry, I take exception to this claim. As a lifelong professional violinist, this seems like pseudoscience. However, the next paragraph is so important I'd amplify it: it's not a great idea to do most of your practicing using a practice mute, because the instrument "behaves differently" and you get used to the wrong thing. Practice mutes should pretty much just be for the occasional hotel room. Also: a wooden mute does not necessarily mute more strongly than a rubber one; it just has a different tone Jan 31, 2023 at 16:23
  • 1
    It's too bad about the 'recover from use' issue, because your detail about practice versus concert, con sordino mutes is informative. Jan 31, 2023 at 17:52
  • @user90393 Perhaps you have misunderstood something you have read about how quickly different types of mute can be removed.
    – Laurence
    Feb 1, 2023 at 11:57
  • 3
    It is simply not completely clear who recovers - it may be the violin (I can think about some residual bridge deformation between the mute fingers). But it is most probably the violinist who needs to recover from the different handling of the muted instrument.
    – fraxinus
    Feb 2, 2023 at 18:12
3

This is called a "mute". This can be put onto the bridge (the teeth go between the strings) to get a soft, dampened sound.

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  • 3
    Not 'so called', it actually IS a mute! 'Sticked' is misleading. There's no glue involved.
    – Laurence
    Jan 31, 2023 at 12:52
  • @Laurence Fair point, although "stick" does not only mean gluing, but also pressing something into a different thing.
    – Lazy
    Jan 31, 2023 at 13:30
  • @Laurence "So-called" isn't entirely inappropriate because "mute" is more likely to mean silenced rather than quietened down, and adding "so-called" indicates that it doesn't fully mute the sound. Jan 31, 2023 at 13:47
  • @samerivertwice In fairness, no instrument mute fully mutes the sound, what would be the point of that? "Mute" only implies complete silence when talking about electronics, e.g. your TV, or a perhaps a person who cannot talk for whatever reason. In the context of musical instruments, it always just dampens the sound. Feb 2, 2023 at 14:48

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