How To Place Your Mouthpiece In Your Horn

Have you ever heard or read something that does not make any sense to you at all and then you set out to prove it wrong only to find that it is actually true? This happened to me this past week and even though it is an embarrassment, I will swallow my pride for the betterment of the brass world.

This past week I read a post on one of the brass bulletin boards which stated that this person claimed that the rotation of the mouthpiece could actually change how the instrument responded when played. Just the thought of someone claiming this conclusion made me want to grab them by the neck and shout, ARE YOU SERIOUS? What a stupid assumption, and to make my point, I proceeded to try to prove this person wrong, only to find that I was wrong and they were correct.

The assumption- “By rotating the position of the mouthpiece in the mouthpiece receiver, you will affect the response of the instrument”.

The author of this information (unfortunately I have not been able to find this post in order to give due credit to it’s original author) stated that some days when we play our brass instrument, it is our friend and other days, even though we feel the same and have been practicing the same material, we can not get the instrument to be consistent in its performance. I have experienced this many times and have not been able to explain why this happens. The assumption made by this person sounded interesting even though I had a strong predigested opinion even before trying to prove the assumption false.

My test to prove it wrong

We all assume that the mouthpiece is consistent in all respects- summitry, dimensions, tapers, material, mass, weight and because of these assumptions, we would seriously doubt that the amount of rotation, no matter how little or how much, could affect the response of the instrument when played. My friends, after completing my tests, I was amazed and I was forced to eat my doubting words.

I marked my mouthpiece on the shank and the mouthpiece receiver with lines indicating the original position. Around the entire mouthpiece receiver I added lines every 1/8 of an inch and began to play a series of exercises and consciously evaluated the sound, ease of response and feel of the instrument. As I continued to play and rotate my mouthpiece, I first noticed that there was indeed a difference in some of the positions of the mouthpiece. My first thought was that I may be inserting the mouthpiece with different tension in the mouthpiece receiver. I inserted the mouthpiece with the same force each time and still I felt and heard a different response at some positions. After completing the 360 degree rotation, I redid the exercise and this time I indicated where the best sound and response was located on my horn. After this test I concluded that at every eighth of a turn, I was pleased with the feel and sound and at the other positions, the horn felt stuffy and unresponsive. It was at this point that I began to mentally apologize to my original poster of the article.


From my exercises, I found that the position of each mouthpiece did in fact have a noticeable affect of the sound and response of all of my horns.

I had been proven wrong and if you ask my wife she would not have been surprised, for she experiences that situation on a daily basis. This finding is very important and again I would like to thank the original author. We have all found during our daily practice that some days it works, and other days it doesn’t. There is only one way for you to decide whether your mouthpiece rotation makes a difference and that is to do the experiment yourself. It only takes about thirty minutes but the possible outcome may change the way you approach your instrument each day. For me, I have marked my horn and mouthpiece so that they will line up the same way every day. After a week of doing this routine, I have not had one of those, “it doesn’t feel right days”. That’s enough proof for a skeptic like me.

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.

11 thoughts on “How To Place Your Mouthpiece In Your Horn

  1. andy

    To be completely scientific and remove any bias on your part (the mind is a suggestive research partner) you should ideally have somebody else decide (randomly) the orientation and force of which the mouthpiece is inserted and you should do your practices and score them blindly.

    While that is a lot to ask for in such a “small” experiment – I believe in lack of objective measurements (which would require some objective measure of which to rate the orientation) randomizing the orientation is the only way to “prove” that it does matter.

    In all honesty, I’m undecided whether or not it make sense (from a scientific standpoint) that it makes a difference – while as a musician I wholly embrace it in the same way that some people need to wear their magic socks or moisten their lips in a religious fashion before nailing that high note (the mythical silver bullet if you will).

    • Bruce Chidester

      Thank you for your suggestions and I have already made arrangements to have others test this concept. The mere fact that I was biased against the exercise indicates that the concept is worth looking into.

      I have invited several of my trumpet playing friends to first try the exercise and after receiving their conclusions; I will be doing an in-depth study and measurement on the exercise.

      If I were to give the reason why I had the results I have had, I would be at a loss as to what actually made the difference. I can not think of any reason for the difference in response. I am contacting others who have experimented with this concept in the past and as the results come in, I will keep you posted on any additional information.

      Thanks again for stopping in and also for you comments.

  2. John Casebourn

    Very interesting! I’ll try it!

  3. Bruce Chidester

    I noticed a change on all of my horns at 1/8 inch intervals. I marked each 1/8 inch and eventually decided which location gave me the biggest sound.

    Thanks for stopping in John and we need to get started again. We missed you Easter. The service went very well, even without you.

  4. Andy Del

    this is not new or original news. my first teacher told me about this in the 1970s.

    • Bruce Chidester

      No one said it was and I have information that it dates back to at least the early sixties.

  5. Jason

    What’s the why, as the trumpet operates by physics, not magic? What’s the physical reason why?

    • Bruce Chidester

      I have no idea but it does make a difference for many of my fellow trumpet players check it every time.

  6. Stuart Mackereth

    I do not have a scientific explanation for this, from personal experience and observation some horns do not have the receiver and leadpipe in perfect axial alignment, giving a variable width of step at the junction, the same for a mouthpiece, the backbore may not be axial with the outside taper giving a variable wall thickness at the exit.

    Rotating the mouthpiece until the errors cancel probably has some effect as noticed.

    • Francesco

      Stuart, I think yours is the only possible explanation, and it’s thoroughly scientific. A broken symmetry by a manufacturing (or usage) induced defect may add to the turbulence in the mouthpiece receiver area, thus affecting the sound quality. Finding the best angle of rotation probably corresponds to eliminating such parasitic turbulence. Sorry for the nerd-speak, it’s incoercible.

      • Bruce Chidester

        What you have mentioned sound plausible and I think you’re correct. I set out to prove it a hokes and ended by practicing it every day on my horns.

        Thanks for your comments and be well and live long. Long live the Nerds!

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