What is the Leadpipe Project?

By Benny Davis19 MinutesIn Leadpipe projectAugust 5, 2021

Origin of Concept

As a Texas band director for over 30 years, I never felt comfortable with beginning my trumpet students on the mouthpiece.  Even though it was a traditional aspect of trumpet pedagogy and an accepted method of beginner instruction, it simply seemed to have too many “traps” for the beginner student.  Yet, learning to buzz the trumpet mouthpiece continues to be the starting point for beginning trumpet students.

And why not?  This is the way trumpet students have been taught since the dawn of time.  Every year I would see a few students who could produce a beautiful buzz the very first time.  However, many students struggled.  Those who struggled soon started experimenting and trying things to “force” a buzz—most of which were not normal and resulted in a tight, constricted, or forced tone.

Often, it was the really smart kids and the athletes who struggled the most because they instantly picked up on the fact that, “this doesn’t sound right,” and they would do anything and everything to make it happen because they simply didn’t like the feeling of not being able to get it!

The “Master Teacher” Influence

Lee South could possibly be considered one of the “legends” in the Texas band world.  He had fantastic high school bands during the 1960’s and 70’s in Irving, Texas.  I had been teaching only a few years and Lee was presenting a professional development session.  During a break, he was asked about starting beginners on the mouthpiece.  He told us that he started a trumpet class one year with the premise that he was not going to move on until EVERY student in the class was able to produce a beautiful, vibrant buzz on the mouthpiece.  Lee followed up by informing us that the class in questioned turned out to be the weakest trumpet class he had ever started.  This made a lasting impression in my mind.  Lee’s son, James South, who I knew as a fellow high school trumpet player years before, was and still a brilliant trumpet performer and teacher who studied with Vincent Cichowitz at Northwestern University.

The “Eureka” Moment

At some point, I discovered that it was easier for beginners to actually produce their first tone if, instead of first attempting to buzz the mouthpiece alone, they started on the instrument itself.  Virtually every student was immediately more successful and able to achieve a characteristic tone either on the very first try or much quicker than when playing on the mouthpiece alone.  The problem then was the instrument itself.  As a 5th or 6th grader, they had never held anything of that shape and weight up to their face before.  I underestimated what I thought was the simple task of holding the instrument in the correct position, without any movement, and returning it to the exact same place on the student’s face every time, while trying to breath and release the air appropriately, with a properly formed embouchure—all at the same time.

That’s when I began thinking, “I wish I could just remove the leadpipe and have them simply hold the leadpipe without having to worry about the instrument.  Then, after they have become comfortable with forming an appropriate embouchure, breathing and releasing the air into the instrument, and allowing the air stream to cause the lip vibrations to create a steady even sound on the leadpipe, then teach them correct hand position and slowly and incrementally transfer their knowledge over to the full instrument.

Why A Leadpipe?  We’ve Always Started Students On the Mouthpiece.

Trumpet Professor John Harbaugh of Central Washington University, citing data provided by the CWU Department of Physics and a 1973 edition of Scientific American, provides us with a visual demonstration proving that the physical length of the trumpet or cornet mouthpiece is simply too short to develop a standing wave from a steady stream of air.  In order to actually produce a buzz on the mouthpiece alone, the student must do something that makes (or forces) the lips to vibrate.  There’s no other way around acknowledging the fact that this involves some level of tension.

When you place the mouthpiece on the leadpipe, the first issue is that there is now the added element of resistance between the air stream and the wall of the leadpipe, which creates just enough back pressure to help the lips initiate vibrations.  Secondly, the length of the leadpipe allows the airstream to begin the process of developing a standing wave, which, after being reflected back through the instrument by the bell, causes the lips to initiate vibrations. The relaxed energy in the air stream, combined with the lack of physical tension in the embouchure and chest, account for the resonant quality of the tone.

This explains why students with a “fantastic” mouthpiece buzz can ultimately play with a very poor tone quality on the instrument.

The leadpipe learning process is aided by the simple fact that, because the instrument is not yet present, the student is allowed to concentrate the entirety of their focus only on breathing, air delivery, and listening for the type or quality of sound they want.  They do not have the added job of holding a “cumbersome” shaped object to their face.

Why Don’t We Use Tools Like BERPs or The Buzz “Buddy”

Items like the BERP and the Buzz Buddy are useful for specific purposes.  As with the BERP, the main function is to be able to move quickly from the instrument to the buzzing device.  This is the primary purpose of the BERP.  It was not designed with starting beginners in mind.  To add, the BERP does not provide the same sensation of air flow as a trumpet leadpipe.

The main issue will always be the simple fact that alternative tools and devices, although useful in specific situations, are not the same as a trumpet leadpipe.  They are not the same length and there will be differences in sound, feel, air flow, resistance, and the level of ease in playing young player experiences.  Bottom line—nothing can duplicate the exact features of a real trumpet leadpipe.

Historical Perspective of Leadpipe Sales

Until the conception of The Leadpipe Project, the production and sales of individual leadpipes (also referred to as a mouthpipe) have been exclusively for the purpose of customizing trumpets to improve performance.  The majority of the companies that manufacture leadpipes are located in the United States but there are also several in the United Kingdom.  Most of the major instrument manufacturers such as Bach (Conn-Selmer), Schilke, Edwards, Blackburn, Shires, and Yamaha, just to mention a few, also produce and sell stock and custom trumpet leadpipes.  The appropriate combination of the elements of the particular leadpipe, the type of mouthpiece, and performance qualities of the instrument is a critical concept for many professional musicians who thoughtfully pursue the most optimum quality of sound possible.  It can be a delicate balancing act that can potentially involve dozens, if not, hundreds, of scenarios.  However, the exclusive purpose for the production and sales of the leadpipes by these companies is to allow the performer to choose the best combination of equipment that allows for the best possible tone quality, response, pitch, slotting accuracy possible.  The price of these major brand and custom leadpipes begin around $103.00 to $129.00 for “raw” or unfinished/unlacquered, brass leadpipes to several hundred dollars for the custom pipes.

The Leadpipe Project will be the exclusive distributor for the Eastman ETR420 leadpipe.  Unlike the performance-improving goals of the major brand and custom pipes, the single goal of The Leadpipe Project is to sell the Eastman ETR420 leadpipe to two target audiences:

The performer who is interested in pursuing the most effective practices, methods, and tools designed to improve tone, intonation, or other performance aspects.
The dedicated instructor who seeks new and innovative pedagogical concepts, tools, and procedures that will promote improvement in their students.
The student, at any level of ability or age, who is serious about developing his or her playing ability, including tone quality, flexibility, and range

The Leadpipe project promotes the use of this particular leadpipe for instructional use with all students, especially beginning trumpet students, and as a tool that will aid the serious musician/student with personal improvement.

Another fundamental aspect of The Leadpipe Project is to make it possible for those who are interested in the performance-improving and pedagogical concepts to purchase a new leadpipe of quality craftsmanship and construction, fresh from the production line, at a price that is not only significantly below the major brand’s prices, but also reasonable enough in price to be able to market to teachers and instructors in bundles for use in the classroom.

Opposing Points of View to Consider

There are two options that some teachers see as alternatives to purchasing actual leadpipes for teaching trumpet students/classes:

  1. Alternative #1:
    Using a length of PVC pipe or plastic tubing cut to the same length as the leadpipe.Response: Although either of these two items cut to the same length as an actual leadpipe will produce the same pitch, there are several major differences that pose significant and noticeable.
    Problems: Because the PVC and rubber tubing options utilize products that are produced with a consistent diameter and possess no inner taper similar to the leadpipe, the pitch and feel of these items may seem similar (especially to an adult), however, these items do not physically respond to the air stream in the same manner a leadpipe.The air stream passing through a leadpipe’s inner taper will encounter physical conditions that are greatly different those conditions encountered when passing through a cylindrical tube.
    One should understand that the leadpipe’s inner taper will have an effect on a player’s level of ease or difficulty in producing the four available partials. With this being true, one can also understand that there will also be general differences in tone production and the ability to play the upper partials, when playing an actual leadpipe as opposed to either of the two non-tapered tubes.
  2. Alternative #2:
    Why Not Simply Remove the Main Tuning Slide from the InstrumentResponse: This is a viable procedure for most experienced players and students.  Even with only a year of instruction, a young student player has had enough time to become comfortable enough holding the trumpet that removing the slide and playing on the leadpipe and mouthpiece should not be much of a problem.  However, the beginner trumpet student is the exception.During the period of early instruction, when introducing fundamentals require day to day and minute to minute assessment, checking, and reinforcing, it is crucial for success that the beginning player attempt to learn only one skill at a time.  Using a true leadpipe provides them with this opportunity and allows them the only tool that will be identical to the instrument itself, only much easier for the young student to hold and manage.

The Leadpipe Taper

Trumpet leadpipes tend to utilize one of two common bore types.  One type of taper is a continuous taper that opens at a consistent rate from the small end of the pipe to the large end.  The second type of leadpipe taper has most of the taper “flare” in the first half of the leadpipe tube.

A slight taper continues through the second half of the pipe; however, the second half of the leadpipe is virtually straight as the flare ends about half way through the pipe.  A very slight flare will continue; however, it is virtually straight and as the bore remains consist from the middle to the end of the leadpipe.

Benefits of Purchasing an Eastman Leadpipe from The Leadpipe Project

  • You are purchasing a quality item, beautifully crafted, for less than you will find anywhere.
  • The physical qualities of the leadpipe are commensurate with those of major and custom brand instruments.
  • Similarities included, but are not limited to taper style, venturi, bore size, production process and materials, and the accuracy of pitch production.
  • As an educator, you will be placing a real leadpipe in a student’s hands, not plastic PVC or vinyl or medical tubing.
  • You will own an item that comes with a factory guarantee and is also built with the highest standards to allow for durability.
  • The Eastman leadpipe is perfect for the person who likes to warm up on the way to the gig or rehearsal.

Never again watch a beginner struggle as they attempt to buzz the mouthpiece alone.  Using the leadpipe with the mouthpiece allows the beginner student to focus on one aspect of playing at a time—not holding the horn, correct hand position, appropriate breathing, embouchure formation—but rather on breathing in and exhaling a relaxed breath without creating tension in the face, neck, or other parts of the body.

The TrumpetWorx statement of quality reflects the following:

  • A commitment to provide the best instruction possible to all students
  • Dedication to helping and/or mentoring young teachers
  • Promoting the newest pedagogical concepts and materials available
  • Placing a greater level of importance on service, support, and providing quality products rather than on profit
  • Providing quality leadpipes directly from the manufacturer, fully completed, packaged, and ready to ship, for price that cannot possibly be matched by anyone in the industry
  • Dedication to company growth as soon as finances are available so that customer service capabilities including customer assistance, managing orders, research, and all other aspects necessary in the success of a company

The Eastman Warranty

All Eastman instruments (and most components) are backed by a 5-year warranty.