From Herbie Hancock's MasterClass

Case Study: Reharmonizing “’Round Midnight”

Playing a new set of chords under a classic melody is one of Herbie’s favorite ways to study harmony. Explore the new possibilities he finds in Thelonious Monk’s classic tune.

Topics include: Rethinking a Classic • The Two Versions • Breaking Down the Process Chord by Chord


Playing a new set of chords under a classic melody is one of Herbie’s favorite ways to study harmony. Explore the new possibilities he finds in Thelonious Monk’s classic tune.

Topics include: Rethinking a Classic • The Two Versions • Breaking Down the Process Chord by Chord

Herbie Hancock

Teaches Jazz

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What is that? All right. This is Thelonious Monk's "'Round Midnight." And when I did the score for the film 'Round Midnight, I wanted to reharmonize it in order to give a new kind of challenge to the musicians who were going to play this from. But I wanted to be careful enough that I could use harmonies that were available during that time, but perhaps weren't used as much. Sometimes you didn't hear them in jazz, but you could hear them in the classical music or contemporary classical music at that time. In the mid-50s. I mean a chord like this. Maybe you didn't hear that a lot in jazz in the mid-50s, but that kind of harmony was available, but in classical music, in Ravel's music, for example. The original harmony it was more like a-- And I did this. I changed things a little bit. Sorry. Haven't played it in a long time, so there may be some mistakes, and I'll correct them. It was standard after this. But then I changed the harmony again. This part is pretty standard. It took me a while. I worked on this really, really hard because I wanted to get it right. I wanted to feel like Thelonious Monk would be comfortable with what I did. I wanted to start off with the chord that was expected, which in this case, is an E-flat minor chord. That was standard. And then I kind of looked in my toolbox to find what other approach could I use for the next part, which is-- And I started thinking about chord structures that don't have the root note in the bottom. I mentioned that before to you, right? OK. So I actually. That's not the root. The root for that chord is, that's a B7, B9. But I played it in another inversion. I played it in second inversion. That's what that's called. With a 5 on the bottom rather than the tonic on the bottom. And then I had this movement. For the, that would go against the melody. You hear that? Right. And actually I've got two things going here. I've got. And I have. So that kind of counter melody, upward scale or melody with harmony against the melody of the song, which is. And so what you're hearing is. Nice little melody, right? Now this device that came up next for example. I've actually heard that done in recordings of "'Round Midnight" from the mid-50s with two horn players playing just these thirds. So that is true for that time, and I knew that. So what I tried to do is kind of mix things that were maybe idiomatic from that time and other harmonies that were available, but not often used. And having chords used in positions other than the root position was something that wasn't used that much during that time. Now the next part. OK, that was, what I just played was closer to what Thelonious Monk originally wrote. Right. OK, I don't know how I stumbled on this, but I did. So that's a complete reharmonization of what Thelonious Mon...

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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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Susanna R.

Round Midnight is one of the first songs about 20 years ago, that my singing teacher made me learn to sing slowly to interpret it deeply, for me it was a real fun workout, to use very low and high notes. I should study again .... This was another interesting lesson. Now I have the desire to learn it well at the piano :))) Thanks again

Calvin R.

Great lesson from Herbie!! I have always shown great interests in reharmonising Standards, whether they be Jazz, Pop or RnB. This lessons inspires me to search for alternative harmonies away from the Chord progression like 3-6-2-5-1. I have learnt over the years to keep listening to other musical genres away from Jazz Pop & Soul to learn new harmony progressions. Thanks Again Herbie.

Xan Dripbox link to my harmonization!


This was the best part so far .... so much research went into it and he was truly faithful to it and yet ... not!

Elliot H.

Very useful to hear Herbie walk us through his thinking on the reharm. I think it takes a lot of patience to sit at the piano and try different pathways to the final result. And then to keep the other possibilities in mind for another way to reharmonize in the future.

David K.

Fun lesson. This particular piece has always been a bear for me as I learned it in C. So this is a great impetus to construct a reharm (the Hippie critical Oath - first, do no reharm...) It'll take a bit, but it's about time.


One monster difference between him and many others who deviate from an original arrangement is the idea that he learns the first one absolutely, and then carefully deviates in a way that perhaps the original composer might have enjoyed or appreciated. Thank you Sir for that respect. Too many jazz phenoms alter before they know, and know not what they missed.

Paolo P.

I love this piece so much. After many years I found my own reharmonization last year. My starting point was: everybody starts with a descending line on the bass, well I try to go up! And my own version arrived! :-)

John P.

I'm encouraged to try different harmonies without looking at the fake book chords and coming up with something that I create myself. Inspiring session!

Maury A.

It is wonderful to hear how Herbie arrived at this arrangement, including knowledge of the chord structures of the time and tapping into Ravel's influences. Though it is a standard tune, I am always amazed how Herbie's arrangements have such a modern flare to them, almost making them sound timeless. This entire master class is amazing, hearing this master break down his approach and uncovering some of what was a mystery to me....