A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
“One Finger Snap” is a fast, exciting post-bop tune by Herbie Hancock. It’s one of his earlier compositions and appeared on his 1964 album Empyrean Isles.

Although it’s not performed as much as Herbie’s more famous tunes like “Maiden Voyage” and “Cantaloupe Island,” “One Finger Snap” is a lot of fun to play, once you’ve practiced it for a while! Be sure to listen to the recordings I've linked to below to get a good feel for the tune.

Recommended videos/recordings:
(for international readers who may not have access to these YouTube links, I’ve indicated the original album names wherever possible so you can listen to them on music streaming services, etc.)

Herbie Hancock: Empyrean Isles

Herbie Hancock Trio: Live at Montreux (video)

Kenny Garrett: African Exchange Student

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
Musically, “One Finger Snap” is kind of like “bebop with a twist.”

It’s uptempo tune with a swing feel throughout. In the melody, Hancock uses strings of 8th notes that evoke the excitement of bebop. And on the surface, it looks like the chords are “bebop” as well, with a lot of ii-V relationships. But when we look closer, we see that Herbie repeats the Bbm7-Eb7 and the Ebm7-Ab7, making each of these 4-bar phrases, in effect, modal. This is further emphasized by putting an Eb bass note underneath the Bbm7 chord, which makes it sound more like an Eb9sus4. He then speeds up the rate at which these ii-V’s change, giving the tune fresh energy in a more traditional “bebop” way.

The intro is wonderful, too, and ends on a Maj7(#11) chord, which would remain a favorite harmony of Hancock’s. See if you can find places to work this chord into your own playing. It can help give you a fresh way to interpret standards.

Enjoy the journey, and “let the music flow!”

Further links and resources:
Empyrean Isles (album): Wikipedia

The Best Way To Use The Real Book

How To Learn Jazz Piano
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Mastering The Real Book: A 10-week Skype Intensive for Jazz Pianists

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