Music & Entertainment

Jam Session: Improvising Together

Herbie Hancock

Lesson time 13:51 min

Herbie brings some guests to help demonstrate how musicians communicate while playing.

Herbie Hancock
Teaches Jazz
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In the field of jazz, we have some really incredible characteristics that are part of the whole concept of jazz improvisation. These are elements that have been handed down from generation to generation. And one of the most important things is that in playing in a band, that everybody learns to listen to each other and to trust each other, trust yourself, keep open-- and I use the word open a lot because it applies to so many things. So stay open to the idea of whatever happens on that bandstand, on that stage. It is possible to be able to turn any of that into something that can be usable. You might not be able to do it in the moment, but the more you exhibit that attitude, you get better and better at being able to turn almost anything into something that can be used. That takes practice. It takes playing with others to do that. It's really important to be able to have the opportunity to work with other people. [PIANO PLAYING] With the aid of Alex on alto saxophone and Simon on vibes, we're going to show you an example of musicians working together, where there isn't any particular form or set up before him-- what happens when you just create from nothing. Ready for this? I have to tell you that. But I'm laughing now, right? So does that mean that I'm pleased? It means that I actually feel pretty good. And that was fun for me. Yeah. Was it fun? We didn't know what was going to happen. But there were a lot of different elements. But I don't know if you could tell that they weren't just completely random, there were some random things. I made some choices that were more or less random, because I don't know exactly how all of these buttons I push are going to sound. But I have a lot of different sounds over here, and you mix different sounds within the confines, in a sense, compared to something like this of the instrument that you have. But you just-- Alex, you did something, some things with breathing that I heard. And I have a feeling it was kind of a contrast to some other things that you heard going on. Mhm. What was that? I mean, do you remember doing that? Yeah, I mean the biggest thing I was thinking about was what were you doing and what can I add in order to make something contrasting? Right. That's the key. Yeah. Exactly. Do nothing if it's gonna-- if it's not going to add anything, doing nothing is what you're at, right? I mean it's-- if nothing is needed, then don't do anything. That happened to me once when I was playing with Miles, I said, Miles, sometimes I don't know what to play. Miles said, then don't play nothing. Simple, truthful answer. In other words, you don't need to be playing something all the time. But only if you hear something that could work in the context of whatever is going on. And Simon, I know we both have instruments where the notes decay, right? Vibes are really good for that ki...

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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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This course is not only inspiring for musicians but also for everyone else because it teaches you to be open for other things in life in order to progress as an artist and a human being. The Masterclass program is for me a great way to learn different views from various artists which triggers new inpulses and ideas. Thank you for creating this precious platform.


Having Herbie Hancock mentoring about jazz and piano playing is a dream come true. I learned so much that I cannot express it in words. I hope to be able to put into practice what I learned. Peace!

Absolutely fascinating. This was one of the most insightful conversations I have experienced on this site. As a writer, I feel nurtured. This is it.


Kenneth S.

That's fun! It's even more fun to see Herbie crack up and laugh about the fun of the creativity! Sometimes that's the magic of the jam!

Rich C.

Great job, guys. The fun! You know, underpinning physics is a kind of consciousness that exists fundamentally in all things (not unlike "Buddha consciousness"). Michio Kaku said the mind of God exists as "cosmic music" resonating in 11 dimensional hyperspace. String theory.

Susanna R.

A wonderful exchange of music in dialogue with the notes. Listen and express yourself naturally as in a fun conversation. I like all this

Janice H.

I'm taking from this lesson that It takes practice to create something from nothing. While playing in a group setting if nothing is needed don’t do anything. Only play something that is needed if it works in the context of what is going on. Having said that I've gotten so use to playing sheet music. This will take work. I know it is time to let go in order to move to the next level.

Kevin G.

Just checked out Lesson 11. It's all about interaction and how to respond to one another in the moment. I'm glad he did this demo with an ensemble that wasn't a standard rhythm section. By using three contrasting, potentially melodic instruments, you get a stronger sense of linear interaction because all three participants have the potential to occupy the same range. Whereas, Piano and Bass, more often than not, get out of each other's way by having the bass remain in the lower register while the piano occupies the rest of the space.


'Doing nothing' is good advice. With practice, I could actually become quite good at 'doing nothing!' Lol!

Marian E.

Start understanding playing music without the music sheets is something I try in the past but did not get it. This explanation will be the start for me to think and listen to the music as is. Thanks for all this.

Russ K.

I especially like the advice that if you don't know what to play, maybe nothing is the best answer. I find myself playing too much sometimes, usually when I'm reading a chart instead of listening to the band. Sometimes it is a challenge to set the ego aside and just serve the music, but that seems to be where the smiles come from.

Carlos S.

A great exchange of dialogue between musicians. It´s like a great conversation, where you don´t have to be talking all the time, but listening and reacting.


This was beautiful ..and fun to watch everyone's reaction. Thanks for sharing this improv session and the golden advice of "adding nothing". Spontaneous creation doesn't have to be complex to be unique.