Music & Entertainment

A Human Approach to Music

Herbie Hancock

Lesson time 8:21 min

For Herbie, music is more than the notes you play. Learn how to open your mind—and ears—to the real story.

Herbie Hancock
Teaches Jazz
Learn to improvise, compose, and develop your own sound across 25 video lessons.
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In my view, jazz is the greatest of all human expressions. The reason I say that is, because, in jazz, we're constantly in the moment, creating in the moment, just like conversation is in a moment. As matter of fact, jazz is a communication. It is a conversation between the musicians. But it's not just between the musicians. It's a conversation that we have with the audience. They are part of our creative, process because their feelings come across onto the stage. Their feelings affect the musicians that are playing, so all of that life energy that's there is being dealt with on the spot, in the present moment. The musicians are sharing their feelings with each other. They're trusting each other. They're exploring together, like astronauts. They're challenging each other too. You get a chance to really express your feelings. You get a chance to explore your guts, explore your difficulties-- all the elements of the human experience. I really feel it's important not to put a box around myself that says, I'm a musician. Actually, through the Buddhism I practice, I had an epiphany. That happens a lot when you do this practice. But I had a particular epiphany about how I perceive myself. And it occurred to me, at this particular time, that I've always said-- you know, because I've been playing piano since I was seven years old, I've always thought of myself as being a musician. Most people define themselves by something that they're pretty good at or that they're known for. It occurred to me that I have a daughter. And my daughter-- to my daughter, I'm her father. Not just a musician, right? Then it occurred to me, I'm a husband and I'm also a son. My parents have passed away, but I'm their son. And I'm a neighbor, and I'm a friend. So, all of those different aspects of myself-- the thing that connects them is that I'm a human being. So when that occurred to me at this moment-- you know, maybe it was close to 20 years ago, 20 or more years ago. It was like removing any kind of box. And now, I'm able to listen to music from the standpoint of being a human being and not just from being a musician. So it just opened up a whole extended territory for me to draw upon. And I can take that extended territory and use that to tell my story at any given time through music. When I listen to music as a musician-- you know, as a jazz musician-- or depending on the context of the music, I may be listening for the structure, the chord structure, some technical details. The human being, who is not a musician, doesn't have all those details. For me, it's nice to know-- as a musician, it's nice to have an idea of actually what's going on, technically in order for it to be able to sound the way it sounds. But some things cannot be explained, because it's the story that's coming out of the performer or out of the composition that is ...

Find Your Sound

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.


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

Loved the study on voicings. Very cool way of viewing chord structures.

Mr Hancock was like a brotherly/fatherly figure throughout the lesson, and it warms my heart how enthusiastic he is towards his passion of jazz. This course has showed me many valuable tips on practicing and improvising jazz pieces, but more importantly, it gave me life lessons that I can take with me through my never-ending journey.

I’ve learned a lot. Especially the part where herbie mentioned there are no mistakes. Mistakes are like gold. We should not be afraid of it.

I think that more than musically, I have improved in the way I see life and music connectec with it. Herbie was a great mentor in that aspect, I think that more than teaching theory and all that he taught us some philosophy behind music, and that's amazing. I feel music a little bit more, and that will let me go even forward and for that I must thank.


Robert R.

Darren Chan: Thank you for your reply to my comment. However, I still think there is something amiss in these descriptions of musical experience, both as a listener and a player. You and Herbie speak of certain contexts, or roles, within which you listened to music, and then found those categories too confining. You were then able to free yourself "from listening to music in that framework". I don't think I have ever listened to music in a "context" of theory or technique. I may notice certain things - a II-V-I progression, a key modulation a half step up, a whole-tone scale, a diminished scale, an unusual chord substitution - but I never think of these as "contexts" which somehow constrict my listening. When I do notice such things, I perceive them as features, as musical "devices" which ADD to the experience. Consider: if contexts, or roles, get in the way of a full musical experience, then thinking of yourself as a father, a husband, a neighbor would be counter-productive - these just pile on more categories, rather than liberate you from the confines that such categories supposedly impose. In my opinion, it is misplaced to try to search "within" yourself for some emotion which you seek to express in your music. It is the other way around - everything comes from the music itself: tonal motion generates human emotion.

Robert R.

I don't understand exactly what Herbie learned in his moment of "epiphany". Being a father, a son, a friend, a neighbor, and so forth - these don't strike me as revelations - these are the obvious social roles we are all involved in. No? Being a "human being" - WHAT do you carry away from this awareness? What did you suddenly realize that you didn't realize before? Why does one even need such an epiphany in order to play, appreciate, learn, expand, and improve oneself?

Janet F.

I learned this a long time ago about singing; when I felt emotion, I really connected with the audience. It also made a difference in the quality of my voice. I thing the best singers project emotion, they are not just skilled at singing notes. It's great to know the same applies to playing instruments!

Carl N.

Theres more to music than sound, it is the story that it tells. Great message!

Patricia R.

Listening to Nefertiti and Maiden Voyage I realize what connects each chord change is exploring harmonic expansion The non resolution is what keeps it moving forward

A fellow student

I found this very informative, it took me 11 years to figure this out and since my curiosity for music has grown exponentially.

Medrano Music A.

"But one of the most important things about, if you are a musician, music isn't about music. Music is about life. That's one of the most important things to understand." - Herbie Hancock.

Cameron S.

My teacher, Art Lande, talks about this all the time. He talks about how there are different ways of thinking about what you are playing, but above all that its how it makes yiou fell and how it makes the people around you feel.

Kristian J.

Great lesson. Please check this out if you're interested -

Neal S.

Loved your description of what music is, that it's life itself, not just a gorgeous or even and dissonant sound, but a reflection of the human experience. Bravo Herbie for taking this humanistic approach to music.