2 May 2015


Here's an interesting correspondence that occurred recently between bandleader Mr. A, trumpet-player Mr. B and trumpet-player Mr. C.


Hello B and C,

How are you? I hope you are getting lots of gigs.

As you know, we have Mr. D .. in our band playing trumpet and he says he is going deaf (although I don't think he is as deaf as I am). Anyway, he says he can't hear himself when we play outside.

I have noticed that you sometimes play into a metal dish that presumably reflects the sound back to you. Am I right? If so what is it and where can he buy one and how much does it cost, please?

Best wishes,

Hi A, 

Hope all is well with you.

No one realises what we trumpet players go through. When you play, the sound from the trumpet goes away from you and as you are directly behind it you don’t really hear yourself until it strikes a surface and returns to your ear (trumpet is even worse than cornet because of its length). That is why Dizzy Gillespie bent the bell of his horn up into the air.

Sometimes when the drummer, amplified keyboard, amplified guitar, amplified bass and ringing banjo are blithely roaring away and on one side the trombone and on the other the reedman are blowing in towards you, it’s near impossible to hear yourself without blasting away at ffff.

Playing outside is even more difficult. People then comment on how loud the trumpet is and think he doesn’t need a mike and wonder why can’t he play with more sensitivity and more pppp.

When you play with mikes, a monitor or fold-back system will cure this problem and the whole band can hear each other and play in a more balanced and sensitive way.

When playing without amplification, any device or method that reflects the sound back to you can perform a similar function.

Sometimes you’ll see a trumpet player suddenly hold his hand over the bell, not necessarily for a special sound effect but to simply hear himself.

Metal hats, plastic-covered music scores, wa-wa mutes, brick walls or just the hand are all methods to this end.

As you know, when playing a wind instrument you need to hear yourself clearly enough in order to strike the balance you want in volume and tone etc.

Well, that’s my rant over and I feel better for it - hope I didn’t bore you.

To answer your question re availability of such devices: I have tried for ages to find a metal derby hat but have been unsuccessful. If they are in production anywhere it’s a well-kept secret. I have a felt-lined derby which I bought on Ebay for £20 which isn’t too bad but my own device is simply an Ikea stainless steel salad bowl (£3.00) screwed to a microphone stand.

The best thing is a metal derby (Ken Colyer used one for years and other trumpet players likewise). This, when no microphones are available, pings the sound back to you and the band with a nice, clear ringing tone and saves a lot of wear and tear on the lips. 

Hope this answers your question and tell D.... best of luck. 

Hi Folks,

I'm pleased to join in this correspondence since B's comments so accurately reflect my own experiences.

I was playing cornet recently in a seven-piece band in a church hall. There was amplification of some of the instruments. I could not hear myself at all. I felt I was struggling even to play an audible melody for the clarinet and trombone to 'decorate'. But my wife (who for once had come to a gig) told me in the interval that I was playing FAR TOO LOUD and I really must try to curb my sound. That taught me something. I would never have believed it if she had not pointed it out.

On the other hand, if I'm playing in a not-too-noisy band (e.g. an unamplified quartet) with a good BRICK wall facing me (e.g. outdoors in a shopping centre) I can hear myself perfectly.

I believe the above confirms all that B said. And I hope it will be of some comfort to D.

Regarding the danger of deafness, I have on rare occasions tried using home-made cotton-wool earplugs in exceptionally noisy environments. They reduce the impact on the ear-drums but they have the disadvantage of leaving me unable to assess the tone and balance of the music I am involved in.

As for mutes, I have become addicted to them in recent months and have built up a collection. My favourite is the Humes and Berg 102 stonelined cup mute. But this is for special effects and not to enable me to hear myself better.

I also wanted a 'derby' mute and have just acquired one - the Humes and Berg 120 stonelined derby mute. I got it from Myatt's of Hitchin for £30.

It's good; but not quite what I wanted because it is indeed felt-lined, producing just a little too much 'fuzziness' and I shall have to practise hard with it if I am to play the highest and lowest notes in tune.

Seems I'm in the market for one of those salad bowls!

I hope this all helps.

Happy blowing to everyone,