Chapter 12 of 25 from Herbie Hancock

Composing

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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.

Topics include: Just Start • Compose With Feeling • Turning Life Experience Into Music • There Are Infinite Approaches to Every Song • Don’t Limit Yourself

Herbie Hancock

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.

Watch, listen, and learn as Herbie shows you how to take your music to the next level.

A downloadable workbook accompanies the class with lesson recaps and supplemental materials.

Upload videos to get feedback from the class. Herbie will also critique selected student work.

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Herbie Hancock

Herbie Hancock Teaches Jazz