Music & Entertainment


Herbie Hancock

Lesson time 13:55 min

Where do songs come from? For Herbie, they start to take shape in life experiences. Here’s how he turns memories, impressions, and emotions into music.

Herbie Hancock
Teaches Jazz
Learn to improvise, compose, and develop your own sound across 25 video lessons.
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When you're by yourself creating a song, you have an open slate. You can start in any way that you want. The first thing to do is to start. But it's important to not let that start also be a stop. You know how many times I felt like, wow, I don't know what I'm doing. I don't even know where to start. I've got a deadline, and I don't have anything to show for it, but because I've experienced this before, I'm not giving up. I know that as I'm talking to you, I have many of those same problems, and so I'm also talking to myself. So all I have to do is start with one or two notes, maybe three notes. And then, that will lead to something. First few notes that I play or the first few notes that I write, I'm going to use it, no matter how horrible it sounds. You know what happens? Yeah, it might sound horrible, but then, I write the next note. And then, something turns over in my perception of what I just heard. I see a doorway, and that leads me to the next note. Or the next corridor. Or next idea. Eventually, there is something I have to work on. It can be clumsy, unfinished, but at least, there's something there. A problem happens when you don't put that first note down. Or you don't play that first note. Or that first chord. To start, that's the secret, start. [PIANO PLAYING] Honesty goes a long way when it comes to composing, especially, today. People want to hear real things about real people and real experiences in life. Even the sufferings of life. So taking it on as something that you want to share with others, that's kind of the philosophical way I look at composing. It's something you want to be able to present to others. To share with them your feeling about whatever it is. Or someone else's feeling about it, if that's what's required. It takes a lot of courage to do that, but it takes a lot of courage to work on having a successful life. Having a successful career is one thing, but having a successful life, that's why we're here. When I say successful life, I don't mean how much money you make. I mean living a life where even fear is not an obstacle for you. Living a life where you feel like you have done something for others. This is the greatest joy in life, is that you've actually made some other person happy. That's what we get from making music. [PIANO PLAYING] If you want to compose something, you could just sit down and if there's something that you feel at the moment, you can write about that without thinking about anything else except that feeling, that's how I wrote Watermelon Man. And I wanted to write something that was true in my life. So being a black man from Chicago, from the hood, I started thinking about what is really ethnic because the idea of funkiness, stemmed from something that was black and ethnic. And so I said, OK-- I was living in Chicago. I wasn't living in Mississippi with cotton fields. ...

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.

Thank you Herbie, this was a great series. What an incredibly positive outlook on life and within music. Cannot wait to listen to some more of your music.

I was impressed and very moved by Herbie Hancock's deep humanity and humbleness. This is very inspiring and something to strive for.

yes ! it was a wonderful journey ! with herbie. with me. with jazz. with the world. thanx so much and ........ i think i go back to lesson one and do it again and again and again and again and again and again and again .........

It's nice to hear the experience of one with such an intimate knowledge and relationship with music. I want to know the evolution from the beginning.


Antonio P.

What Jonathan Stars said. Find his comment. That's it. Great lesson. This is what a master class should be.

Alfred C.

I took away the motivation that was presented more than anything else that was stated.

R. Greg S.

This lesson on composing was so good that I listened with tears in my eyes.

Munro W.

Yes, Watermelon Man, the story of life and human emotion - still, tricky to play on keyboards! Do you run the funky intro with your left hand or right ... or both?

Kenneth S.

"Every human being has infinite potential, we're not often taught that, but that's the truth." and in Montreal they say, 'point final'.

Kenneth S.

Oh this is everything, especially when you combined what Herbie was talking about earlier about playing with Miles Davis and making a 'mistake' and Miles turning it into something... it's creative... like he says here at the beginning, he's working on trying to write and plays whatever comes to his mind and maybe then it sounds awful, but he adds something else, and... "Something just turns over in the perception of what I just heard..." That lesson means a lot to me!

Mark C.

Infinite potential, huh? OK, I can buy that. We all have infinite potential. So how do I harness 1% of that? I guess that answer is different for everyone. I never had problems coming up with ideas. Maybe for me the answer is FOCUS. Loved the story about Watermelon man (one of my favs) Noticed he worked on that song for quite some time before it became what it was. The 1% inspiration came quickly (and wasn't overly complex) but it wasn't until he integrated other pieces, from other people, and other situations, that it blossomed into a big hit. Sitting alone in your music room for days isn't the answer. Like he said in previous lessons, you have to experience life to be a great musician and find ways to integrate other experiences into your work. Thanks for the lessons, Herbie - I have learned so much! You're a gifted teacher.

Avzal I.

Just an anecdote to share .,earlier this year a very dear friend whom I had known for almost thirty years passed on at the age of 86. Teddy aka The Captain was an avid supporter of live music and made it a point to go to as many live gigs as possible, endearing himself to all the musicians around town as well as venue owners. He was also the life and soul and was the first one on the dance floor. There was only one rule with Ted, irrespective of the genre being played, you HAD to play Watermelon Man.. he hadn’t a clue about jazz he just enjoyed good music and Watermelon Man was his theme song. They even played it at his memorial service. The power of a simple yet great song.

Jonathan S.

I'm not a jazz player. My brain is not wired for it. But it is wired for other styles of music, and this lesson on composing goes right to the core for any musician. You can tell Herbie doesn't just wait for inspiration to strike. He sits there and plays whatever and continues to mold it until turns into something. Think about a lump of clay. That's all it is—a lump. Pick it up and squeeze it. Pretty soon it gets warm and it beings to remind you of something you've seen in your life. It's also okay to flatten it out and start over. But it doesn't happen until you pick it up.

Kathy S.

Thanks Herbie for giving us permission to not feel "pressure" when composing and to just be who we are!