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Arts & Entertainment

Expanded Improv Techniques

Herbie Hancock

Lesson time 16:57 min

Have you ever thought about music as a series of images? Herbie shares techniques that will push the boundaries of your improvising.

Herbie Hancock
Teaches Jazz
Learn to improvise, compose, and develop your own sound across 25 video lessons.
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Well, here's how I was fooling around. I played something. Something came out, and then I used that something as kind of a theme and built a kind of composition based off of that theme. And a part of it was. [PIANO PLAYING] And then that, and then. [PIANO PLAYING] And I did it in different keys. [PIANO PLAYING] But then I did the same thing on the left hand, but I use consistent textures to make sort of a foundation to connect three statements of that idea. You know, I made those connections harmonically to be similar. Like I think I did something like, something. [PIANO PLAYING] Then something like that. [PIANO PLAYING] And then I put in what could be kind of a release from that, which is part of that-- [PIANO PLAYING] --but in a third key, and I just used part of that phrase and repeated it. [PIANO PLAYING] I don't remember how I did it now, because I improvised it. But I kept kind of subdividing this melodic material and harmonic material. And then I found a way to make an ending. A question of, like, how did a lot of material appear? Actually, I just sat down here and touched some notes that just came out of my fingers. That's what it felt like. It could have come from some other part of me, but I wasn't aware of it. My fingers just went there, and then I decided to kind of make something out of it, make some connections, change the placement of some basic melodic material that I started with, and did the same thing with the harmony. But this is not something I could have done in the earlier part of my development. It's taken many years to get to the point where I could do that without thinking too hard about it. And I didn't know what it was going to be until I actually finished it, and I went, oh, that was nice. You know? That's what I did inside, because it sounded OK. [PIANO PLAYING] One of the first groups I worked with in free-- in the area, the genre of free jazz was Eric Dolphy's group. It was a kind of a protest music. I mean there was a fight for civil rights and human rights of all kinds. There was a protest against the Vietnam War, a lot of things that were either happening right then or coming down the pipeline. But in a way, this was inherently, at least what we were doing in Eric's group, was fighting or protesting against being trapped by conventional ways of playing, keeping people confined to conventional ways of not only performing, but conventional ways of listening to music or listening to music only within certain kinds of guidelines. So let's-- that was something we felt was really worth fighting for. I had heard some music that was considered to be free jazz prior to that, and I had no idea what they were doing. And it just sounded like a bunch of notes to me. So I thought, how can I free myself so that-- where's the doorway for me to kind of enter into the free jazz arena, an area that I had never explored before? And an...

Find Your Sound

Herbie Hancock's jazz career started in his family's living room, listening to his favorite records and trying to play along. Now, he's one of the most celebrated musicians in the world. Join Herbie at the piano as he shares his approach to improvisation, composition, and harmony. Gain access to 10+ original piano transcriptions, including 5 exclusive solo performances.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

Awesome class!!!!! Thank you are truly a master:) Love, Rachael

Learned some key things, the butter notes! The instructor was great.

In this MasterClass, I learned to have the confidence in exploring new ways to make music. There are still unique ways of using instruments to be had, and reharmonizing a tune can add so much. It was really great to see Herbie Hancock display his talents by using the language of music to teach and tell his story.

Herbie was great at explaining the philosophical aspects of jazz piano, but I would have liked to have seen a little more piano playing.


Michael S.

On the sheet music that is provided it would be great to put the chords on top. Especially the Solo piano to Sonrisa. Anyway, great stuff! I would like to hear how others are improvising on what Mr. Hancock is teaching.

John G.

This is so helpful and important. I hope i remember to review this on more than one occasion. I wonder if there is a percentage figure to give to improvisation and music performance. Is a good artist at it like 85% of the time?


i enjoy hearing how Mr. Hancock approaches the piano, music and composition. His has been a great influence.

Wenefred B.

I love all of Mr. Hancock's musical wisdom. I watched non-stop, through the first nine videos. I had to stop myself to go to bed. But he's wonderful. Each lesson has bridged a gap for me. Especially the improv. No one taught improv when I was at my peek. I really wanted to learn. I'm glad I'm learning now.

Therese-Marie O.

This lesson really resonated with me as I have been very consciously developing a melodic line, changing it slightly, trying to put together a bass line––the idea of "creating texture" to build a foundation to connect the ideas..repeating, changing, listening... I actually had a laugh out loud when he said then had to find a way to make an ending! But this too is such a profound idea and always a part of making music...(just like knowing when to stop painting if you are working on a piece of art). The other thing that I can appreciate is the time it takes to get to this point and the absolute intimate familiarity you have to develop with your piano. This is an amazing way to get through these challenging times! Thank you so much for your Master Class.

Antonio P.

I just spent 1 hour with 09:52-09:57 at 0.5x speed trying to learn it by ear on electric bass. I may not have it right, but just that exercise opened parts of my brain that were closed before. Great discussion. This is what this course is about for me. Very valuable.

James M.

Is there a way to pause the video so that I can see his hands? Always a discussion dialog box comes over and an Up Next window, which obscure the image. I know there's the sheet music, but sometimes it would be nice to just stop and check what he's doing.

larry M.

I love playing alone, and with a band. When alone I always would play in and out of tempo, The lesson reinforced my belief that it is ok to do this. Watching and listening to Herbie Hancock is an honor!!

Joe M.

Herbie always gives a good lesson. I have to say, this one was a little "Nebulous", but if I play it again, I am sure I will understand more. At least I know I will be better tomorrow, than I am today!!!

Medrano Music A.

"A great journey is always made with a single step. You can't just leap to A to Z. You gotta go through the alphabet, so to speak." "The most imporant thing is that you can be better than where you are right now. You can be better tomorrow than you are today, or you can be better today than you were yesterday." "There's no point where growing stops, unless you choose not to grow. If you choose not to grow, that's like choosing not to live." Herbie Hancock.