Auenbrugger’s method of percussion was to strike the chest wall directly with the extended fingertips. He found that the note produced was better if the shirt was tightly drawn across the chest (like the covering of a drum) or if the physician’s hand was covered with a leather glove. Today we lay one hand flat on the chest and strike the back of its middle finger with the tip of the middle finger of the other hand. This prodcues a better percussion note and makes it less uncomfortable for the patient compared to striking the chest directly with the fingertips.
After his publication the percussion technique was ignored for many years. Baron van Swieten, Professor of Medicine at Vienna University and Auenbruggers teacher, did not mention it in his 1764 treatise on fluid around the lungs in pulmonary tuberculosis and other contemporaries like Vogel confused it with the Hippocratic practice of succussion whereby the patient was shaken vigerously to detect the presence of fluid and air in the thorax. One favourable review appeared describing the discovery as “a torch that was designed to illumine the darkness in which diseases of the thorax had up to this time lain concealed".
The poor reception of his book and being dismissed from the Spanish Military Hospital did not seem to harm Auenbrugger's his career prospects. Private practice prospered and he was popular at the Court of Vienna where he was enobled by the Emperor Joseph II with the title “Edler von Auenbrugger". He was also an accomplished musician and at the Emperor’s request wrote the libretto for a comic opera, Der Rauchfangskehrer (The Chimney Sweep) for the court composer Salieri.
Percussion remained hidden until 1808 when Jean Nicholas Corvisart, the personal physician to Napoleon, translated Auenbrugger's work from Latin into French and then the technique rapidly came to world-wide attention and use. Today percussion remains a basic clinical skill learnt by all medical students and practised by doctors on a daily basis.