IEM Improv: “What We Do”

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Continuing the connection with fellow improvisers in Spain! Daniel Roca (who speaks excellent English) sent me a wonderfully informative email about IEM; I asked his permission to reprint a slightly edited version of it so that I could share all this information with readers – he was glad to oblige – thank you, Daniel!

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We at IEM love to combine our approach with any other usable methodology. Soundpainting looks like something we could integrate in our activities, especially for discovering contemporary languages. You can download a resume of our activities in the summary in http://iem2.es/sistema-pedagogico/?lang=en. I wrote this for a PowerPoint presentation of the IEM for European teachers visiting my Conservatory.
It is not easy to summarize what we do, since it has been developed for the last twenty years, combining the experiences of many teachers of diiferent kinds. In the beginning, there was Emilio Molina’s accompaniment class in the Madrid Conservatory, where I met him as a student. He began setting rather high standards of impro for (mainly piano) students, combining very classical activities as basic continuo, trasnposing and orchestral reductions with playing jazz or pop standards and guided improvisation in classical styles (baroque, classical, romantic, etc). Analysis was the most important tool. The idea was to analyze (understand) a given piece and than to use this analysis to play something similar (or not).
A group of students formed graduallly around this class. He taught a pedagogical seminar where the concept emerged that improvisation of this kind could be the foundation not only of more capable piano performers, but also of any musician at any levels and in almost every subject. It became clear that the most critical problem of this approach was that the student came into contact with it when he already had spent a lot of years making music without understanding it and never playing anything by himself, only playing from scores.
So the Methodology consists essentially in trying to find an adequate balance between technique, analysis and creativity in every level. We should learn all those things gradually in a adequate progression.
The analogy you used [in Improvisation Games for Classical Musicians] with basketball we use with foreign language learning. Traditional music education is as if, in order to learn Greek, we learned to pronunciate and reproduce written texts in Greek with great perfection but weren’t able to call a cab and get to our hotel when travelling to Athens.
So learning to produce very simple and basic musical structures (as I think you do with your games) is crucial for this.
There are teachers using this approach in amateur education, with little children, in conservatories (instrumental classes, musical language (aka solfeggio class), harmony, analysis, etc.).
We give many courses for the students as well as for teachers. Since the last year we have our own site (the Aula de Música IEM) in Madrid where we offer our Teacher Certification courses.
Unfortunately, we do a very poor job in documenting ourselves. We don’t have almost published almost none of our classes, although we have many impro recordings of the concerts we do after our courses (especially the Summer course). For example our Vimeo channel.
Many of the videos there are from the teacher’s concerts (in every course there is a teachers’ and a students’ concert and a jam session in a local pub).
So you see the teachers in action, alone or in combination, playing more “serious” or more “witful” improvisations. Normally there is an explanation of what is going on, and usually a request to the public for ideas to start with.
Some of them are performances from Emilio Molina.
Other are in-class activities as Body percussion (a complementary activity for us) or conferences or workshops about IEM. In nº 5 and 6 you can see a real class (shown on a video screen, not the video itself) of a complementary piano class.
My task as IEM is not so much as a performer (I play percussion and piano, but I am not an accomplished performer) as in analysis and harmony/composition. The book Armonia 1 y 2 is something we developed some years ago as an application of this ideas for the so-called “Harmony” class that Spanish music student get, typically with 14-16. It is not just another Harmony textbook. Here we take a piece, analyze it, and from this discussion we explain the theory (as little as possible), and create exercises (in writing, playing, analyzing and ear development) and take the student through a step-to-step compositional process so that he/she is able to write a similar (or more freely inspired) piece.
As a electronic performer I have founded a group called #(928) with three electronic musicians and one video artist, all improvising from our computers (this has nothing to do with IEM, though, but it is of course impro).
 You can see some examples at
(This has been our latest work, based on the music of the spheres. it’s in 5 parts).
This is a shorter version
This was our premiere: LapTopArt
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