Arts & Entertainment, Music

Jam Session: Improvising Together

Herbie Hancock

Lesson time 12:15 min

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

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

Topics include: Open Your Ears • Case Study: Free Group Improvisation


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...

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

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