(This page was first published in my old website, several years ago, so the photo is rather old. I’m much better looking these days.)
If I suggested that by bending your mouthpiece you would suddenly have an infinite range of new playing positions, would you believe me?
No, of course you wouldn’t. However, it’s true.
Having played on a bent mouthpiece for many years now and having enjoyed the advantages it brings it now seems to me, with the benefit of hindsight, such an obvious thing to want to do that I wonder why it has not been tried before. Tracing back through the path which led me to the idea I can see why bending the mouthpiece seemed logical to me then, but also why, had I gone down a different path, I might not have thought of it.
It all started with the PipStick which worked very well for me right from the start, except for one minor problem: with my back straight and my head balanced in its ideal position and the horn floating weightlessly in mid-air, my left hand was approximately level with my jaw – directly in my sightline to the music stand and blocking it from my view. Raising the music stand so I could see it was one clever solution – and this had the added advantage that it completely blocked my view of the conductor, even really tall ones.
Unfortunately, I soon discovered that absolutely the most important thing in a concert – and even in a rehearsal – is the uniform height of all the music stands. Orchestral managers, quite rightly, insist upon this.
So the bend in the mouthpiece was originally a way of angling the instrument down a bit in front of me without bending my nice newly straightened back.
Playing around with it, I soon discovered that rotating the bent mouthpiece a little one way or the other has the effect of positioning the horn slightly differently in relation to the body. For example, turning the mouthpiece so that it points a little towards my left ear means that to get it comfortably seated on my mouth I have to swing the entire horn around to my left – which gets the bell a little away from the right side of the body and allows the right arm a more comfortable position etc.
The conceptual trick here is to realise that the infinite circle of rotational mouthpiece positions corresponds to an infinite circle of horn positions.
I find it best, when standing to play, to swivel the mouthpiece around to where it points a little downward and to my left. For me, this gives a very comfortable holding position for the horn as I allows me have it slightly lower, allowing for a lower music stand, and goes some way to equalising the position of my arms and thus taking the worst of the twist out of my shoulders. But you can put it where it suits you – I recommend experimenting to get it just where it’s comfortable. I know one player (a UK based player who “went bent” years ago – I won’t tell you the name of this marvellous hornplayer but it anagrams to”Teeth, Lips ‘n’ Grins”) who has his bent mouthpiece pointing upward, which gets the horn high up in the air so he can wave it about easily. It’s a very lightweight Alexander single Bb, so I think he can see the music stand through the pipework, there being not very much of it.
Disadvantages: People who notice the bend (although most don’t) usually ask if it changes the response of the mouthpiece. The answer to this is that undoubtedly it does make a difference – although to me it is undetectably small (and I am normally quite fussy about such things). Given that the horn itself it one great knot of bends I don’t see that one more slight extra bit of curvature is going to cause any harm.
How to make the bend? I put mine in the padded jaws of a vice and hit it lots of times with a rubber mallet. I’ve never had such fun! You can be brave and try this yourself or you might prefer get an expert to do it. Be warned, though; putting a mouthpiece in a vice and hitting it could be an extremely expensive operation!
As a general guide, 8 degrees is plenty but it doesn’t have to be exactly 8. 4 would hardly be worth bothering with whereas 12 might be too much.
Let me know how you get on.