Best Practice: brass mutes notation

I’m a little confused about notating several types of brass hand stops and mutes (classical, not jazz):

  1. I have French horns using 2 types of hand stops:
  • + (bouché), and
  • + (cuivré)

Is there best practice for handling the clarifications given in brackets? Inserting text every time seems a little cumbersome, but modifying playing technique text seems wrong. Perhaps there’s other ways…?

  1. Trumpets using straight mute:
  • Old scores indicate con sordini, while Dorico seems to prefer straight mute and makes no mention of sordini in its list of brass techniques. Also, no “muting” symbol like the + for hand stops and not clear how to indicate cancellation…

What’s the common practice today for the classical scores?

Many thanks!

Traditionally con sord. and senza sord. were most common and a straight mute was assumed, but now that composers employ a wide variety of mutes, I think it’s better to be specific. In English, a part will need “to Straight mute” at the first rest, then “Straight mute” at the entrance. (After the first entrance “St. mute” is fine.) The “to” indication doesn’t need to be in the score if you don’t want to include it. I usually use “Open” at the first opportunity. If there’s a long wait between the “Open” and the next entrance you can add “(open)” at the entrance or use “to Open” and “Open” if you want as well.

Gardner Read’s Thesaurus of Orchestral Devices is a good reference for this type of stuff and he lists lots of variations on this in several languages. Here are the pages on brass mutes so feel free to check out how mute changes are handled in any of the scores he mentions.

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Hi there

Here’s what I do, in orchestral scores for various composers/publishers.

For horns
The + sign is sufficient for bouché, so there’s no need, except when following a manuscript, to use the text.

Cuivré describes a sound quality, often but not always hand-stopped. Always use text for this.

For trumpets (and trombones)
if the straight mute is the only mute required, con sord./senza sord. are sufficient indications, since that is the standard type.

If there is more than one type of mute, place the type in parentheses after: con sord. (cup) , or con sord. (straight) , etc. (There’s never a need to specify mute type after senza sord. )

For reminders – to confirm that the mute is still on after a long rest – use parens: (con sord.) if there’s only straight mute in use, but place the mute type in parens if there’s more than one: (straight mute), (cup mute), (harmon mute, stem extended) .

I use the vernacular language for these (which is English for almost all scores I work on). These are only included if the muted entry is far enough away that it’s not on the same system.

When the straight mute is the only one in use, write mute in after the last unmuted note; write mute out after the last muted note if the next entry is far enough away to warrant it.

If there is more than one mute in use, the warnings for the insertion specify the type: cup mute in , or harmon mute in (stem removed).

If the mute type changes from one to another, the warning is change to cup mute.

This covers about 95% of what I do. Hope it helps.


@FredGUnn @JHughes

Thank you both, this is so helpful!

I didn’t know about Read’s book, but it’s available as pdf in amazing quality at Looking forward to reading it.

In the meantime, I realized that Dorico puts con sord. into Common techniques tab (and that’s why I didn’t find it in Brass) and links it to “mute” playback technique, both of which of course make perfect sense.

Just one last thing to confirm - when you’re inputting clarifying text, such as (cuivré) - do you use Shift-X every time? I suppose it’s infrequent enough but was wondering if there’s a speedier way…

Thanks again

cuivré = brassy

You can add anything you want to PT (in Dorico Pro). I even created a Playback Technique called “Nothing” for cases where I didn’t want the PT to do anything; I just wanted to choose a consistent PT from the list.

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I’d like to request a feature to let Dorico create “to mute xy” / “to open” reminders in parts automatically. It could work like reminders for instrument changes or automatic cues. Dorico could look for the last note that was played differently (muted/open) and decide whether / where to put a corresponding reminder thereafter.


Yes, I think these kinds of proof-reading tools would be a useful addition to the software, and it’s something that is on our radar for future versions.

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