There is no fixed formula for Wade Matthews’ workshops, since every group of participants has its own level and needs. There are, however, specific concepts on which everyone interested in improvisation—from beginners to professionals—can benefit from working. These concepts are fundamental because they allow musicians from all levels to draw on the skills they have already attained in other areas of music, using them to develop or deepen their capacity to improvise. Those concepts and skills must, in turn, be accompanied by a positive attitude towards oneself and others in the music-making process, so building confidence, patience and maturity, as well as acquiring the criteria to use them musically, is a fundamental part of the work.

Most workshops consist of 3 to 5 half-day sessions (mornings or afternoons). Some include a final concert, others do not. A typical workshop session includes a series of playing exercises designed to improve perceptual skills and build confidence through improvising and watching others improvise. Such hands-on contact with ideas and techniques involved in free improvisation enables participants to question their own understanding of instrumental technique, phrasing, ensemble playing, self-expression and other aspects of musical creation and practice through a direct approach in which they, themselves, put these ideas and techniques to use. After each exercise or group of exercises, participants are encouraged to comment on what they have experienced, ask questions, express doubts and share ideas. This feedback allows participants to focus on what they have learned. It also helps the teacher to understand their concerns and reflect them in his choice of exercises for the following session.

Participants should have an intermediate level or better with regard to their instruments, but no previous experience with improvisation in necessary. Workshops can function with a maximum of 20 active participants. The number of auditors/observers is limited only by the space available. In the case of large instruments such as piano, harp, or percussion, there should be no more than 2 participants per available instrument and the instrument(s) must be available throughout the workshop. In this context, electronic keyboards are not a valid substitute for a piano.

Workshop concert, Montevideo, Uruguay