The Four Essential Techniques for Jazz Improvisation

I spent many years practicing jazz improvisation. However, not everyone is aware of the tips and tricks of this art.    

Did you ever notice that improvisation is already a part of your everyday life? Jazz improvisation is not much different. At least, that’s how it is, according to Herbie’s perspective.  

One of my biggest influences, Herbie Hancock, is one of the country’s most famous jazz musicians. The fact that he started his musical journey from his family’s living room always inspired me to become a successful and professional jazz musician.  

He is a celebrated songwriter, keyboard player, and prolific recording artist. His performances as a professional Jazz pianist helped him earn rave reviews from both critics and jazz music fans. 

In this post, I am going to focus on Herbie’s improvisation techniques so you can create magical jazz melodies, too! 

How to Improvise Jazz

According to Herbie, improvisation is all about how you react in given circumstances. For example, our everyday conversations are also a type of improvisation. That’s because we don’t rehearse or plan what we are going to say to our friends or people around us.  

When it comes to jazz music, improvisation is not only about playing new every time. It’s about getting creative with your music vocabulary. When you follow and mix the different melodies and grooves, you guide your listener through a thoroughly enjoyable experience. We can consider jazz improvisation as a form of ‘directed freedom’ since the best musicians don’t improvise by playing ‘random notes.‘ 

Professional and experienced jazz musicians are clearly aware of what they are playing and how the final performance will turn out to be. 

How to Develop Musical ideas

It’s not surprising to note that a lot in jazz improvisation revolves around arpeggios, sequences, and scalar improvisation, and the neighboring tone technique. When you learn these basic approaches, you can produce elaborate jazz structures.  

I also started learning improvisation by experimenting with these techniques on my own. The solo session made it easier for me to try out numerous musical ideas through chord progressions and chord changes. When you play solo, you have room to make mistakes and play freely. Hence, you can develop your distinct style without being under anyone’s influence or pressure. Practicing improvisation alone helps you become more confident, and this confidence exudes when you play alongside other professional jazz musicians.  

Herbie Hancock also believes that jazz musicians don’t always have to follow a particular temp. You can try with different speeds without having to stick to particular harmonies. Once you develop your distinct sound, you can reach unchartered places through improvisation. You eventually discover that in some cases, improvisations do not start from any concrete structure.  

Essential Techniques for Jazz Improvisation  

Here are the best melodic techniques used during improvising. There are four essential approaches:

  • sequences 
  • arpeggios 
  • scalar improvisation  
  • leading and neighboring tones

A sequence refers to a pattern you play using the same melodic and intervallic structure on different degrees of a scale. 

An arpeggio indicates when you play notes of a chord independently, one by one. 

Scalar improvisation revolves around experimenting with melodies within a scale. 

Neighboring (and leading) tones refers to a technique in which you focus on a note in a scale along with its neighboring tones. You approach the target note either chromatically or diatonically. 

A great way to learn these techniques is to analyze the compositions of iconic jazz artists. However, the best way to learn to improvise is through improvisation itself.

Final Thoughts

When you master the art of jazz improvisation, playing with others musicians becomes so much fun! That’s why I love experimenting with different tunes and harmonies with my band when I play on stage. Don’t forget to check out my collection of music here and buy my album, “Yesterday Once More.”  


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