What techniques do three of the best trombone instructors in the nation use when working with students? Matthew Buckmaster, an assistant professor of music and education, examines that question in his first book, Successful Teaching Strategies of American College Trombone Professors, published this summer.
The book evolved from Buckmaster’s dissertation at the University of South Florida in Tampa, where he earned his doctorate in music education. Though focused on trombone instruction, Buckmaster explores themes relevant to teaching students of all instruments, and he shares the advice he compiled from the three educators.
Buckmaster interviewed John Drew of Florida State University, John Marcellus at the Eastman School of Music and Curtis Olson from Michigan State University. Three themes emerged from his research.
1.) The instructors emphasize product over process. They ask their students to think about the overall sound of a musical piece rather than focus all their attention on the mechanical components of playing an instrument.
2.) The instructors use individualized teaching approaches. No one method of teaching is the most effective way to reach every pupil.
3.) The instructors raise student awareness of issues. “They like to talk about the playing a lot and the ideas behind what we do,” Buckmaster said.
The findings in the book apply primarily to the trombone, he said, but he expects to find in future research that the same ideas can be used when teaching other instruments.
“Matt is one of our best teachers and his concern for the welfare of our students in all situations is recognized by faculty and students alike,” said Stephen Futrell, an associate professor and chair of the music department. “In just the short amount of time he has been here, he has proven himself to be an invaluable asset to our students and program.”
The trombone was not the professor’s first experience with an instrument. Buckmaster initially picked up the alto saxophone in middle school. But when he developed a habit of chewing the wooden reeds – literally eating through the school music budget – his teacher suggested the boy try something new. The trombone captured his imagination.
Within a few years Buckmaster was also performing on the tuba and euphonium. Once he got to college, he realized music was, perhaps, an ideal career.
“It sounds so trite, but it was fun to do,” Buckmaster said. “Heck, making money doing something you like? It was a no-brainer.”
What led to teaching, as opposed to professional performance, happened by chance. A college professor, too busy to help a local teenager, suggested the boy contact Buckmaster, who was then studying at Florida Southern College. Under Buckmaster’s direction, though by no means exclusively because of his lessons, the student would eventually make the All-State Band.
“If that hadn’t been such a positive experience, I wonder if I would be been so attracted to teaching,” he said in a recent interview. “Possibly. Probably so.”
Buckmaster is assisting the Elon University Marching Band this fall with its musical arrangement. He considers himself a gardening enthusiast and enjoys spending time outdoors and with his family when not at work.
Buckmaster today coordinates the music education program at Elon.