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.”