To submit requests for assistance, or provide feedback regarding accessibility, please contact

Arts & Entertainment

Improvising Alone

Herbie Hancock

Lesson time 8:50 min

Playing alone means you’re free to play any way you want. Learn how Herbie breaks the rules of melody, rhythm, and harmony to infuse his solo performances with creativity.

Herbie Hancock
Teaches Jazz
Learn to improvise, compose, and develop your own sound across 25 video lessons.
Get Started


I made a kind of discovery of my own about solo piano playing and solo instrument playing, because there are times when you don't have a bass player and a drummer playing with you, or a guitar player. And you want to deliver a melody when you're not restricted to even keeping a particular tempo. And what I used to do in the past was still keep the form of the original song because I never thought about the idea of, if I'm playing alone, I can do it anywhere I want. And so you don't have to follow the form of the original song. 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 harmonies. I mean-- [PLAYING PIANO] Anyway, that's a bunch of things where I've used breaking up the pulse of the piece, playing something slower, it can be playing it faster. I mean, you're actually free to go in any direction that you want to go in. [PLAYING PIANO] Let's take Maiden Voyage. So I'm going to do a few things here. [PLAYING PIANO] Now I did a lot of things there. I took segments of that melody and repeated them in different keys. Sometimes a relationship was the same, sometimes it was slightly different. But I think you could clearly hear that this was played in different keys. And I moved around in ways, frankly, that I didn't used to do before. So I just gave you a kind of a little smattering of how you can approach playing solo piano or solo instrument just by using thematic material from the original song, and not being stuck to having to use the form of the original song. And you come up with something entirely new and hopefully fresh. [PLAYING PIANO] This is called Sonrisa. [PLAYING PIANO] That's the song. OK. Now there are a lot of ways I could play that. Actually, it's normally played with a tempo. Four, one, two, three, four, one, two, three, four, one, two, three, four. [PLAYING PIANO] OK. Now if I wanted to play that solo piano, I could play it as-- [PLAYING PIANO] I mean, that's not a whole song, but it's what I just came up with in those few minutes. But there's a lot of freedoms you can take in approaching some song from the standpoint of playing a solo. I just barely scratched the surface.

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.

Such a great time learning with the masters! Thank you!

It’s a miracle to meet and learn from a jazz legend who determine the direction of music. I’d like to hear him play the Petrof piano with M. Vitous.

Herbie Hancock has a very relaxed, personal, relatable style. While some of his concepts are complex, his delivery expands your mind and energizes your excitement to play jazz piano. This course reignited my love for jazz piano.

Fantastic......want to do it all over that I can absorb more.....


Juli D.

Thank you so much, Mr. Hancock! You have such incredible, deep wisdom and you are so humble. My daughter's name is Sonrisa and this piece even sounds like her as she matures. Thank you so much for this golden opportunity to learn from you! I feel so blessed by it.

Joe M.

Herbie is always great! I understand what he means by being free in solo playing. However, this lesson is just way too vague. I need more concise and clear direction. This was one of his weaker lessons I must admit. However, in general, this whole course is wonderful, and to be told one on one by a master!!

Maximiliano J.

Thanks a lot Herbie, you´ve helped me a lot in my piano playing. I have had a new discovery of the instrument. Greetings from Argentina

Harriet A.

I'm loving it but don't know why the video's not loading... still love listening to Herbie Hancock, playing for me and sharing his experience and wisdom so eloquently and soulfully in my home. BUT WHERE'S THE VIDEO???

Rhesa S.

Thank you so much. I tend to stick with the main theme when playing alone. I need to learn how to improvise like this more.

A fellow student

That was beautiful. I'm feeling like a voyeur being able to watch over Herbie's shoulder like this. So generous! I will be watching this one many times over and copping some of those moves and harmonies.

Kenneth S.

There's a lot to think about here... but key for me is illustrating playing alone, that improv-moment.

Avzal I.

What a masterful touch..For me as an experienced jazz pianist playing internationally, there is nothing new about the lessons to date BUT It is the way in which Herbie puts it all together so beautifully. It validates so much and of course just some different perspectives and ways of looking at things and ultimately it is such a treat to watch him in such a setting..a virtual one on one and that is priceless.

Louis E.

No matter what he plays the thing that kills me is his touch and general gesture. His sound seems big while effortless. It must be an experience to be close to the piano when he plays. I had the same feeling listening to Herbie and Oscar duets (Billie Bounce). Oscar was Oscar but why do Herbie right hand sound so thick? It's even more obvious in "HERBIE HANCOCK: The Music of Gershwin" with Wayne Shorter, Joshua White & Kris Bowers. The three of them play on the same piano and Herbie sounds way bigger. Some told me it's because of his harmonies but it doesn't make sense when he plays right hand lines. I am sure he knows a lot of things about mechanism, dynamic, use of body weight on which he didn't elaborate in this masterclass more than the usual "relax". Well yes, but how? I forgot to say this all Masterclass is just a treasure. I am happy he just kept things at his level of vision instead of bringing it down to a more scholar perspective. Thank you so much.

Marshall M.

I'm a bit dismayed by the approach to teaching "solo" piano. Was hoping to have Herbie "describe" what he is doing. It's good to hear the tempo counted out (1, 2, 3, 4), however, it is "what" he is doing on the song that is important. It's really not articulated in this video very well.