Music & Entertainment

Improvisation

Herbie Hancock

Lesson time 12:18 min

Don't let improvisation intimidate you. Herbie’s approach starts with the simplest of ideas: Listen, then react.

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Herbie Hancock
Teaches Jazz
Learn to improvise, compose, and develop your own sound across 25 video lessons.
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What Is Jazz Improvisation? Jazz improv is one of those things that many people suspect can’t be taught—but they’d be wrong. Improvisation is probably part of your everyday life already, even if you don’t realize it. That’s Herbie’s perspective. If you think about improvisation the way Herbie does—expressing yourself and your given circumstances in the moment, acting and reacting without premeditation—then you start to realize we’re all improvising constantly. Conversations are a kind of improvisation. You don’t plan and rehearse what you’re going to say. Rather, you listen to the people around you and create your responses on the spot. You can also think of jazz improvisation as living and playing in the moment. Learning to play in the moment starts with acknowledging that each musical moment offers you an infinite set of possible directions to take your playing. A silly little melody can turn itself into a gorgeous ballad, and a mistake can become an exciting melodic shift. Playing jazz means being open minded and learning to see any note, any sound, no matter how strange, as an opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of what you’re playing. Don’t limit yourself by thinking in terms of conventional relationships between chords and scales or “right” notes and “wrong” notes. There are no wrong notes. Another cornerstone to Herbie’s approach (which goes hand in hand with open-mindedness) is experimentation. You don’t know what kind of player you are, or what kind of player you could be, until you’ve tried a vast variety of styles and approaches. Keep your ears open to everything and take risks to find the sounds that really move you. The Pros of Playing Solo When you’re learning jazz improvisation, it’s a good idea to start by experimenting on your own. Improvising on your own makes it easier to test various musical ideas through chord changes and chord progressions. Playing solo also allows room to make mistakes, and just let yourself go. It’s a good opportunity to develop your own sound without feeling nervous or judged by others, which will eventually inform your jazz solos and give you the confidence to play alongside other jazz players. When you’re playing alone, Herbie says: “You don’t have to follow any particular tempo. You can speed up; you can slow down. You don’t even have to play any particular harmonies.” The process of developing your own sound should lead you to some strange, uncharted places. You’ll find there are ways to approach improvisation that have nothing to do with chords, melodies, or the traditional language of jazz. You might want to explore improvisations that start with no structure at all—just letting the notes come out of your fingers—and see how you can latch onto themes or ideas that emerge, repeating and transforming them to make compositions on the fly. What Are Some Jazz Improvisation Techniques? Playing with others can be a great joy and inspiration. The best musical partnerships aris...


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.



Reviews

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

Followed this musical genius' lyrics throughout my life, and he stops evolving. It was such an honor to have taken this class from someone who embodies brilliance, humility, and generosity. I took piano lessons for ten years as a kid--only dreamed I had a music teacher like him. Continued success and joy to you, Professor Hancock....

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

Great class. Mr. Hancock is a pleasure to listen to. This was a great introduction to some of the main topics in Jazz. Inspirational.

This class has opened my ears and technique to creative possibilities towards composing and performing, not just jazz but all genres of music!


Comments

Tim K.

Improvisation in music is like talking. Chords, licks, scales, theoretical knowledge and styles are all just vocabulary.

simon B.

The anecdote involving Miles Davies where he played the "wrong" chord and thought that he ruined the evening but to his astonishment Miles accepted it and adapted to it with excellence and made it work somehow. That he didn't judge it as "bad" or "wrong" but simply as a different new thing or idea and went along with it. I found that to be so beautiful, like magic, but it surely involves much knowledge, technique and skill but all skill in the world would have been useless if he would have judged it as wrong or bad in that moment. So for just a second he made up a melody to adapt to the new situation and everybody could move ahead instead of stopping right there over some small "mistake". I love it!

Althea S.

I LOVE THE IMPROVE DON'T GET ME WRONG... - BUT THE "WOULD YOU LIKE TO PARTICIPATE IN THE COMMUNITY..." POPUPS BREAK MY CONCENTRATION. MUSICALLY SPEAKING - HE'S GREAT... - I WOULD'VE NEVER THOUGHT TO PUT THOSE CHORDS THERE... - WHAT A BEAUTIFUL EXPRESSION. PLEASE TELL ME HOW TO GET RIDE OF THOSE POPUPS... - AT LEAST OMIT THEM FROM MY PAGE/LESSON

Althea S.

I CAN'T ENJOY MY LESSON FOR ALL OF THE COMMUNITY POPUPS - !!! - I'M SO UPSET RIGHT NOW... - CAN THEY BE LEFT OUT OF MY SESSION - UNTIL THE END OF EACH LESSON? - I'M TRYING TO LOOK AT MR. HERBIE HANCOCKS FINGERS TO GET IT... - BUT THE POPUPS CONTINUOUSLY GET IN THE WAY - !!! - YES - RIGHT NOW I DO WISH THAT I COULD GET MY MONEY BACK

A fellow student

He says “that may not be a great melody” while harmonizing it to a point that I started to tear up from its power. Wow

Antonio P.

Marvelous lesson. One comment on a portion from the PDF: "Conversations are a kind of improvisation. You don’t plan and rehearse what you’re going to say. Rather, you listen to the people around you and create your responses on the spot. " True. It's also true that to converse well, one should exhibit language & listening skills; etiquette; empathy; and maybe even charm and persuasion. That's not always easy--even in verbal conversation. It might be a little harder in jazz?

Sophia T.

He radiates so much grace & divinity through his humble and wise and joyful Beingness and his sharp mind. Such a great opportunity to watch & listen to. <3

Ruth W.

It's fun cos I just came off another lesson class on improvisation and this started playing lol

hemina M.

Your lessons taught me how these rules apply to acting and life, to everything! Thank u!

A fellow student

I like the idea that acknowledging & keeping our shared humanity in our minds while communicate through music allows for almost infinite variety