If trumpet mutes exist on a spectrum of soft and bright, the straight mute would be middle-bright, the cup mute middle-soft, and lastly, the Harmon mute would be far-bright.

The Harmon mute is a fascinating piece of acoustical engineering, something which takes an instrument as powerful and pronounced as the trumpet and reduces it to an extremely contained sound.

And it doesn’t stop there, the Harmon mute actually grants the trumpet player great control over how the sound of the harmon mute is executed.

Let’s jump into some historical background on how the Harmon mute came to be.

Background on the trumpet Harmon mute

The Harmon mute on the trumpet actually extends as far back as 1865, when an early version of the mute was patented by brass manufacturer and musician John F. Stratton.

original patent of the trumpet harmon mute
Original patent of the Harmon mute in 1865

However, the modern Harmon mute we all use today wasn’t introduced until 1925, with a patent by George Schluesselburg. The name “Harmon” mute (notice it’s the only primary trumpet mute that’s capitalized) comes from the financier of Schluesselburg’s mute, named Patrick T. “Paddy” Harmon.

The stem

One of the characteristic features of the Harmon mute is a stem that can be fully inserted, partially inserted, or entirely removed.

modern trumpet harmon mute with stem

While it is more common to play the Harmon mute without the stem nowadays, it was actually originally intended for use almost exclusively with the stem. The stemless use didn’t become popular until Miles Davis championed it in his recordings. Here is Blue in Green, featuring the stemless Harmon:

Unlike the cup and straight mute, which only partially block sound exiting the bell, the Harmon mute features a solid ring of cork that surrounds the entire mute. This makes it so all sound is trapped in the mute, thus creating the soft buzzy sound the mute is known for.

While the cup mute permits sound between roughly 800 to 1200 hz (so G5 to D6), the Harmon projects sound primarily from 1500 Hz to 2000 Hz (F#6 to B6). This said, it’s a noticeably brighter sound than the cup mute.


Since its invention, the Harmon mute has become a frequently used timbral effect in both classical and jazz trumpet music.

One of the most well-known uses of the mute in trumpet repertoire is this excerpt in Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue:

Another fascinating use of the mute, which demonstrates the timbral effect of the positioning of the stem, is Krheilz Stockhausen’s work Michaels Reise um die Erde from Donnerstag aus Licht:


The Harmon mute on the trumpet is one of the most fascinating brass sounds in common practice, and opens the door for some incredibly unique musical expressions available to trumpet players.

If you’d like to learn more about the rest of the common trumpet mutes, click here.

And if you’re looking to advance your trumpet technique to the next level, sign up for a free 14-day trial to tonebase Trumpet.

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Happy practicing!

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