Music & 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.

I'm a professional classical pianist transitioning to Jazz after many years... What a joy and an honor to be able to learn from the great Herbie Hancock. Utterly inspiring. Thanks for all who have made this possible and, especially, to Mr. Hancock. G.C. Boston

I am honoured to be here with Herbie as my teacher. I am so lucky to have this. Thank you.

So far so good, I'm learning a lot. Thanks HH!

Mr. HH is my kind of people. Deep water, but fun, too. Dig you, Sensei.


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.

Kenneth S.

I love this one! Especially at the end... about trying to be at the level of someone you listen to... and where it's a process of growth and development - "...choosing not to grow is like choosing not to live." That's key not just while I'm studying or writing/composing, but I think while I'm in the middle of playing.

A fellow student

I appreciate a lot the artistry I would like to see more about how he approaches the harmonic progressions, it is awesome to see him improvise but if I want to do the same I am lost, of course I don’t expect to ever reach his level of mastery but he could be more explicit as to how he constructs his chords and how he progresses the harmony.

Дмитрий Л.

Herbie is a great example how a person manage to be humble and strongly motivational

Bob S.

I have been working on the Oleo and Maiden Voyage. The first time i saw Herbie Hancock was at the vsop concert in nYC which made it to a record.

Carole D.

Merciiiiii... Thank you for findind the right words and to encourage us, to encourage me...

Warren D.

Key lines: "Choosing not to grow, choosing not to live." How important to the creative process no matter what art form you are engaged in. Growing, developing each day is an essential goal for all of us. I am in awe of Herbie's finger movements across the keys. Fantastic.

Susanna R.

All very encouraging !!! I enjoyed this lesson, for me is evolution, development and growth. All this excites me giving me hope. Also I really like how he uses the spoken word, Herbie makes music even when he speaks. Music is my favorite hobby and listening to when he plays and speaks is healthy for me, gives me joy and everything becomes illuminating :)))