Arts & Entertainment
Lesson time 11:17 min
Don't let improvisation intimidate you. Herbie’s approach starts with the simplest of ideas: Listen, then react.
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...
About the Instructor
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.