Music & Entertainment


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.

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.


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

I like the way that Mr. Hancock uses language that anyone can understand.

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

A lot of the classes were over my head, but I enjoyed the course very much. What a humble and talented man! My favorite part: "Don't Play the 'Butter Notes.'" Great metaphor for life! Thank you Herbie Hancock!

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


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

Marcus M.

Liking the journey so far. That melody he came up with and the chords were incredible!

A fellow student

This perspective is like the complete opposite of deadmau5’s perspective on expression . This is what music is all about

Vivian H.

Wonderful, thank you so much. It’s what part of me has been pushing for, experimenting with and just plain feeling since I began this musical journey of mine a few years ago. For so many years I've been afraid. In my own studio I've felt safe following the voice of my heart, free to express, explore and throw paint, but seldom in front of others. I suppose I thought somehow I was wrong, something wrong with me. Always those around me expected me to always be perfect. "There is no such thing as trying, success or nothing”, was always the motto in life around me. I felt small, stupid, unworthy. How could anyone do something right the first and every try? Only behind closed doors or in the middle of the woods did I feel like there might be more. Slowly, little by little by listening to and following the heart of the music, are the chains breaking around me and more, it’s as if tiny feathers are growing and stretching and forming and here and there I am learning to fly. Thank you, what a gift you have given. Thank you for helping to clearify something my soul has been trying to show me.

Kenny M.

It’s funny. The best all around musician I ever played with would repeat a mistake in a solo. After the second or third time it was no longer a mistake but part of the experience.