Arts & Entertainment, Music

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.

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

Topics include: Solo Piano Case Study: “Maiden Voyage” • Solo Piano Case Study: “Sonrisa”


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.

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.

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Herbie Hancock

Learn to improvise, compose, and develop your own sound across 25 video lessons.

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