Today I’m going to tell you (and show you if you watch the video) how to make a violin mute out of a dollar bill. One of the tools you must have as a string player is a mute. Showing up at rehearsal (or worse a performance) is very unprofessional. Orchestra music routinely calls for a mute (or sordino in Italian, dampfer in German), and the entire color of the string section can be compromised if even a few players don’t have one.
Before you Do Anything…
…do not try this unless you are confident you can do it without damaging your instrument. The most common catastrophe with this maneuver is knocking over the bridge which is a big deal. I have decades of experience doing basic repairs on my violin. If you don’t, maybe get your teacher or a professional musician to help you.
How to Make the Mute
First, get a dollar bill. A twenty would work just as well, but it would be a really expensive mute! The reason this works rather than just using any old paper is, paper currency is printed on paper that is very soft and flexible, perfect for what we are trying to do. Next, roll it up so it looks like a tube (or cigarette if that helps). Not too tight, but about the width of a pencil.
Now, you will feed it in between the strings between the bridge and the tailpiece; over the G-string, under the D-string, and so on. This will get tricky once you’ve got it under the D-string so be careful. You’ll need to work it a bit, but eventually it will be across all the strings. It’s ok if some of it is hanging to one side or if it’s not centered. This is only an emergency measure and not for regular use.
Once you’re done, you can slide it toward the bridge until it is almost right on top of it. Now you have a mute. Slide it back when you don’t need the “mute” anymore. See the video below for the sound difference. It really works. It is actually quite similar to the wire and rubber mute (that I hate because they eventually wear down strings faster) pictured to the right. I use the Tourte style mutes which are very inexpensive. They are rubber and the only detrimental thing they do to your instrument is leave a black stain on the bridge.