How and When To Use A Plunger…..”and which one”?

imagesObviously most people know the “When” and “How” use of the common sewer plunger but many trumpet players are not familiar with its use as a trumpet mute.

Commercial plungers are available in most well equipped music stores and the offerings on line are numerous. Examples and instruction of the plungers use is available on YouTube as well. The design and cost of such plungers can be confusing and to help you decide on which one to buy or upgrade to is the purpose of this post.

The common sewer plunger (small size) is the most widely used. The cost is low and every plumbing/hardware store has one on their shelves. Most players pull it out when needed and seldom try to improve its capabilities. I have found that a better sound and ease in playing can be achieved by making a couple simple improvements which will help your performance.

How to improve the simple sewer plunger-

1. Turn it inside out.

I find that the contour of the inside out plunger fits the inside of the bell better and you don’t have to explain why you are using a sewer plunger.

2. Drill/cut a hole through the middle of the plunger. The size of the hole should be approximately the diameter of the handle you through away.

By cutting a hole in the middle of the plunger, you will relieve any possibility of total closer of the air through your mute. If the mute is totally sealed to the bell, your notes will break and you will have less control of intonation.

When to Use a Plunger-

The use of a plunger in trumpet playing can range from Jazz to Classical, from Polkas to Taps. This little accessory can drastically change the affect you are striving for with very little expense or effort.

Which plunger is best?

As you can see from the following photos, the assortment of commercial plungers is impressive.
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Humes &Burg Stoneline Rubber Plunger- $27.99
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Mutec MHT Ruber Plunger- $23.00
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Humes &Burg Tuxedo Plunger- $25.30
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Denis Wick Aluminum Plunger- $32.99
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Jo-Ral Aluminum Plunger- $29.99

But…. here is my choice for a dependable, effective and CHEAP plunger.

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PlumbCraft Mini Bellos Plunger– $2.24

Once you have purchased your very own plunger, the next step is to modify it so that you will not have pitch and control problems when using it.

Step 1.

Cut the handle off.
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Step 2.

Place the rubber ring of the plunger at the left edge of your bell.
Mute Position

Step 3.

Close the plunger tight against you bell.

Step 4.

Play a note and at the same time open one side of your bell while keeping the other side tight against the edge of your bell.

Your sound should be a beautiful “wah” starting one-half step flat and ending in tune. Be sure to keep the opening at the end of your mute clear.

Keeping the left edge of your mute in constant contact with the edge of your bell will establish the position and limit any inconsistencies in your tone.

How Many Ways Can You Use Your Plunger?

1. Positioning your plunger ½ inch straight out from the bell will give you a louder cup mute sound.

2. Placing the mute tight against the bell and blowing hard will give you a louder straight mute sound. Remember that a tight mute will raise your pitch a little. It will also make it extremely easy to bend notes for more of a jazzier sound.

3. With a little practice you can imitate a “Wah, Wah” mute by covering and uncovering the hole in your new mute.

4. Inverting the plunger so that the handle end is in your bell will lower your pitch ½ step but I can’t think of any benefit from this exercise.

To illustrate the possibilities of a plunger, I have included a video of one of, if not the best plunger player in history…Clarke Terry who can almost talk to you with his mute. At the end of his vocal, notice his technique of “ mumbling” which he continued to entertain his audiences with for many years.

Check out his plunger work at 19:42

Bruce was a member of the faculty at the University of Northern Iowa, School of Music in Cedar Falls from 1969 until his retirement in 1999. He has performed with many well-known entertainers such as Bob Hope, Jim Nabors, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, Anita Bryant, Carman Cavalara, Victor Borgie, the Four Freshman, Blackstone the Magician, Bobby Vinton and John Davidson.

One thought on “How and When To Use A Plunger…..”and which one”?

  1. Roy Breiling

    Thank You!!!! What fabulous playing.

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