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Arts & Entertainment

A Human Approach to Music

Herbie Hancock

Lesson time 07:21 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.

Really Exellent, Inspiring, Thank You very much !!!!

Excellent perspective...I think about the feelings I get when I listen to a great performance. How alive I feel! Completely human.

What a wonderful experience -- inspiring, helpful, fun. That's as good as it gets.

To have been taught by the master and legend Herbie Hancock was an unreachable dream. Through Masterclass I was able to fufill that dream and more. Herbie Hancock not only taught me about jazz and music in general but about life and humanity. Thank you Masterclass for providing the way to make this possible.


Jinjee G.

Loving this lesson. My Dad told me early "Everything you need to know about life, you can learn from music". He also taught me the reason for making music was to create beauty. I see it as co-creating with God, who gave us time and space and the natural universe including tones. Herbie, I would love for you to hear the music my Dad wrote and performed with lyrics from the Urantia Book, which calls Buddhism the best religion on earth at this time. To me, it's the most beautiful music on earth.. Especially this one:

A fellow student

I love this introduction. I'm a professional composer (classically trained) and I've been wanting to learn jazz for so long. I love that he emphasizes the importance of finding your own sound... of being you. I can't wait to take this class.

Mohamed Adel O.

Herbie hancock _ Cantaloupe island I saw some one write newspaper and very busy and nervous , then see saxfone player play on street and go on the road mmmm (Thinking ) Afterthat ( Nervous )then smile like when i win >>> and enjoy :) that is it my assignment

A fellow student

Since I was a kid my dad always told me to follow your dreams for me that is music. No matter who you are I believe that music is something for sharing expressing your thoughts and emotions true so people can experience the same feelings musicians feel when they bond trough there instruments.

Francois A.

I love the all round humanistic approach that Herbie displays here. I was introduced to jazz with virtuoso guitarist André Angelini who was my guitar teacher. I later hired him to compose music for one of my first animated films. André also had the same intuitive approach, going off the page, forgetting about the notes on the paper and improvising add-lib, phrasing the music as a dialogue between instruments. We had group classes so it was not a one-on-one, which made it so much more interesting. But more recently, I was introduced to deeper aspects of jazz trough the magic of Kiki Misumi, composer, cello and vocal artist. He husband Reg Schwager became my guitar teacher (by far the best guitarist in Toronto) and Kiki Misumi got me a bunch of gigs filming jazz artists performing, such as Diana Panton (jazz vocalist), Don Thompson, Gia Unesco (pianist composer), Darren Sigismund, and much more. I've been following Kiki for 15 years with my cameras, and I have a incredible amount of footage of her rehearsing, playing live at the Rex, or chanting at the Buddhist temple in Toronto, etc. Unfortunately Kiki left us a short while ago. I made this film as a remembrance to the incomparable human person that she was. ( ). I will one day edit a one hour special on Kiki Misumi that will be titled BEING BUDDHIST: the life and time of Kiki Misumi. ,The documentary will show her incredible courage fighting cancer, her faith, her humanity and her incredible artistry.

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