Date: Wed, 8 Feb 2012 22:38:41 -0500 (EST)
Subject: [TPIN] Sensory Evaluation Testing  (Was Mouthpiece Rotation)

The testing of mouthpiece rotation ("clocking") is a subject which more appropriately resides within the field of Experimental Psychology, not trumpet teaching or playing.

Several issues must be addressed related to this type of testing.  First, rarely do we encounter a "black/white", "yes/no" condition related to variables of trumpet performance.  Mouthpiece rotation is one of those subjects.  A definitive answer (i.e., "yes", mouthpiece rotation makes a difference in performance, or "no") is elusive, and overly simplistic. Researchers skilled in Sensory Evaluation procedures would be aware of dozens of subtleties and nuances between "yes" and "no". Unless trained in the specifics of this sophisticated testing paradigm, few trumpet players possess the requirements to design, execute, and analyze such tests.

In Sensory Evaluation testing, protocol must be carefully established.  The test must be carefully designed with regards to issues such as test environment, temperature, musical test materials, trumpet(s) and mouthpiece(s) to be employed, etc. etc. etc.  Variables must be reduced to only the one of mouthpiece rotation. The tests must then be meticulously executed, preferably under double blind conditions (in which neither the tester nor presenter have awareness of the rotational position of the mouthpiece).  All data must be recorded on pre-designed test sheets.  Finally, results must be analyzed statistically.

The large issue is "why are we interested in such a test?"  Many of the results posted on this subject over the past day suggest that players are interested in engaging in such an experiment to either assist a student or to improve their own playing.  With such a goal, it is unnecessary to spend the considerable time and money for Sensory Evaluation research.  If a student has been helped, or thought they were helped, the goal has been achieved.  If a player has engaged in only a superficial comparison of positions, and formulates an opinion, it is not required that he/she confirm their opinion through scientific data.

Instrument and mouthpiece makers and designers are those who should have an interest in such experimentation.  To my awareness, no maker has ever established a test protocol, completed testing, and published the results of mouthpiece rotation.  Many claim that they have done such investigations, but have not published for a variety of reasons.

Following the strict procedures required for Sensory Evaluation testing, I tested, circa 2000, between 15 and 25 highly professional west coast trumpet players related to the subject of mouthpiece rotation.  Of the test sample, not one player could, under stringent testing conditions, statistically demonstrate an ability to perceive any musical differences between different mouthpiece rotational positions beyond the level of chance.

It is the makers who bear the responsibility of conducting such research, but are woefully neglectful about doing so.  In their defense, the process of operating a manufacturing facility leaves little time to also engage in systematic scientific research.

For individual players and teachers affiliated with a University, a visit with a Professor of Psychology (whose specialty is in the field of sensation and perception) would be illustrative of the way such research could be conducted.  As with the makers, most musicians who have spent a lifetime of learning to play and teach the trumpet do not have time to carry the burden of research.

Finally, it must be observed that such research is usually a thankless endeavor which rarely permeates beyond the "inside world" of research, and even more rarely exerts any effect whatsoever on trumpet performance or pedagogy.  One poster made a comment about doing research on the mouthpiece-leadpipe gap.  Well, it was done nearly 40 years ago and I have not one time seen this excellent PhD Dissertation mentioned on Internet trumpet forums.  In this case, a highly skilled musician/acoustician engaged in the voluminous research required for a PhD Dissertation only to find that, in the year 2012, few know it even exists!!!

Research into trumpet design and performance is one of the most rewarding pursuits in which I have ever engaged.  It is, however, a very lonely obsession.  Scientific research often carries the side effect of peeling away much of the mystique which is such an integral, and fascinating, part of trumpet playing.

R. Dale Olson