One thing you mostly can’t do with brass instruments is play them listening through … headphones.

And that’s a big deal when you’re practicing, of course. There just hasn’t been a good way to do it without bothering other people.

Enter Yamaha. (Yes, it’s no big surprise that a country associated with tiny, closely-adjacent apartments and actually making walls out of paper would find advances in practice technology again and again.)

Yamaha’s SILENT Brass system, devised for French Horn, trombone, flugelhorn, and trumpet, isn’t new. But the latest evolution may bring it to a wider audience. The idea is this: stick a mute in the instrument so it can be barely heard, then replace the sound with synthesis so the player can still hear through musicians. Traditionally, there are two variables where this goes wrong. The first is the compactness of the physical apparatus. Make it too big, and the system is inconvenient (or can even throw the horn off-balance). The second issue is sound.

If you know something of the history of synthesis, you know that Yamaha – this is me talking, not their press release – has been a pioneer in the synthesis field. They were the first to bring physical modeling to market in a real product. And they haven’t stood still, either. Ironically, the breadth of products the company offers has sometimes distracted from some of their best research. But when it comes to a hardware company replicating brass sound, they stand on their own.

Get the two ingredients right – make the physical bit unnoticeable and the sound seem like the real thing – and you can have a headphone experience that approaches playing the instrument all-out. And brass players I’ve spoken with who’ve tried this system find it good – uncannily good. (You can hear the demos; they’re fairly impressive, and certainly more than what you’d want for practicing late nights at home.)

And speaking of what I’m sure you associate with Japan, it’s guys with flowing, blonde hair playing “Oh, Danny Boy” (seriously – these 30 seconds are freaking awesome – Eric is an insanely-talented Tokyo-based trumpet player with the locks to match his chops):

Here’s how the SILENT Brass system works:

  • A mute with a built-in pickup both keeps the instrument quiet and registers your playing as accurately as possible – this component has been made both smaller and more lightweight
  • “Brass Resonance Modeling” simulates the sound of the instrument, here greatly improved in quality
  • A compact “Personal Studio” unit has a headphone jack, plus an input in case you want to play along with a recording.

The press release claims the “high quality practice mute that has impeccable intonation and balanced resistance and you get a mobile practice studio perfect for home, backstage, hotel rooms and even airplanes.”

Wait – what?

Okay, I really hope I’m not next to you in coach when you whip out your French Horn. But up to that point, I’m with them.

Impressively, this system isn’t expensive: it ranges from US$229.99 – $259.99 MSRP depending on which instrument you play.

SILENT Brass was shown at the NAMM show last month. If you play a horn and you’re at Musikmesse, get in touch and we’ll send you over there to try it out. Actually, if you’re a horn player and synthesis lover, we’d love to have you review the thing as part of our new, one-part series Create Digital French Horn Solos.

Requisite product demo / talk (bonus style points – matching the color of your tie to the dominant color of the trade show display):

Here’s an artist endorsement with jazz trumpet player Tony Guererro, who demonstrates you can practice on a tour bus without waking other people up:

Product info:

Someone, please help us populate the tag “flugelhorn.”

  • pinta_vodki

    So now theoretically you could hack this thing and turn your brass into a synth!

    • Erlend D. Handeland

      This thing really needs midi out.


    • TheDalaiSputnik

      Trombone + pitch shifter + synth pedal/envelope follower = slide synthesizer!

  • Sylvain Poitras

    I’ve been using the original Silent Brass for trombone for almost twenty years. It’s the first piece of music technology I’ve ever bought and probably the only one that’s lasted this long…

    I can’t emphasize how liberating it is to be able to live anywhere and practice anywhere at any time… even though I no longer live in an apartment, my silent brass still gets plenty of use in hotel rooms and late at night when my daughter doesn’t sleep too soundly.

    This new version seems to address most of my issues with the original: it fits in the bell, it’s lighter and it sounds better. The only thing left on the list is the increased back pressure the mute creates, which is considerably more than other practice mute, but probably can’t be helped.

    There is also an interesting option for saxophone players:

  • Grant

    this is incredible. i’ve never heard of such things and ive had a Bach golden trumpet sitting mint in my closet for over a decade given to me by my father. i dont play it because i live in an apartment and its obviously loud. but this is awesome. definitely will look into this. thanks for the info Peter!

  • kimhill

    I agree – this looks incredible. I’ve had the original Silent Brass (trumpet) for ages, and I echo Sylvain’s concern about increased back pressure, which was one of my main concerns with the older model. Between the back pressure and the muffled sound, the original Silent Brass just wasn’t that much fun. This looks like it could really be fun.

  • Foosnark

    Now I want the Canadian Brass to record an entire album with these on a commercial flight.

    • IRS4

      Give new meaning to Ronald “ROM”.

  • Patrick

    Aside from the obvious practice benefits, there’s a great scene of folks using Silent Brass as an input for guitar pedals/audio interfaces. I’ve been using mine to process my trumpet through SuperCollider for a few years now.
    I’m excited to see if the new model has improved on the old at all. The intonation on my older version can be a bit wonky, and I agree with the previous commenter that the back pressure is definitely an issue and the tone quality leaves quite a bit to be desired.

  • experimentaldog

    Been using silent brass for years. Amazing for practice. Got me through a bachelor degree and prep for many gigs. I’m still not so sure about it’s use in recording or live. Still have to try this new model. Sylvain has made a good point about the back pressure thing though. Also, for good sound, it’s just as easy to get an inexpensive Sennheiser e-604 on a trombone bell with a bit of cork. The resonance of the open bell is important if you want to use the room’s walls to your advantage. On the MIDI/Brass synth front I recommend trying Tim Exile’s Mouth for NI Reaktor or pitch tracking in MaxMSP. Did that here This new model would be great for prepping my patches and sets.

    • Sylvain Poitras

      Great sounds! My stuff might seem a bit chaotic and unstructured in comparison… I’m also tracking pitch in this video, but I’m using the performance data to modify short recordings.

    • experimentaldog

      Looks cool Sylvain.

    • TheDalaiSputnik

      Havin’ some fun there, right around 1:40! I’ve been working with some similar stuff, looping with harmonizers & beat slicers. Primarily using a Beyer clip-on dynamic mic, a TG152d, but one of these days the new Silent Brass may have to be added to the gear stable. Some of the long reverb & echo effects can benefit from the isolation that the practice mute adds to the setup. They are pricey, but I’ll want to find a local dealer to try one out.

    • TheDalaiSputnik

      Beautiful. Stuart Dempster would be proud.

  • TheDalaiSputnik

    It’s a shame the trombone in the first example is horribly overdriving the inputs of the camera when playing the last example; the trumpet demo in the second video is properly recorded. (Hey, they did the best they could at a moment’s notice on a crowded Expo floor!)

  • Denis

    Does this work with tuba ?

  • Tim Tolzmann

    Does Yamaha Silent Brass work (does it fit the bell) of non-Yamaha horns?

    • Sylvain Poitras

      It fits like any other mute. I’ve used it with both Yamaha and non-Yamaha trombones.

    • Tim Tolzmann

      Thank you.

  • Jeremiah N Baruch

    I have a Holten large bore bass trombone that has a very large bell (for a trombone). Typical straight mutes and cup mutes are too small for my horn. Would this fit in it? And can I use digital effects to emulate other instruments, say frenchhorn, tuba, or even something like a woodwind (why I would ever want to do woodwind, I don’t know…)?