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Arts & Entertainment

Learning by Listening

Herbie Hancock

Lesson time 13:03 min

Herbie taught himself to play jazz by playing along with his favorite records. Learn how to use his methods to accompany the music you love.

Herbie Hancock
Teaches Jazz
Learn to improvise, compose, and develop your own sound across 25 video lessons.
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I think it's a good idea to-- during the process of learning how to do something you haven't done before-- is just to see how other people have done it, copy them. That's fine. There's a point where you'll have your own voice. That's the point you want to get to where you'll have your own voice, your own style, where people can say, oh, that sounds like Bill or Mary or whatever your name might be. But I know I started off copying a lot of people and listening to a lot of people and trying to learn what they-- what I hear them doing, just going to the piano and listening to something I liked and try to find it on the piano, try to find a way of playing it. By the time I was 14 years old, that's the first time my ears really opened up for jazz. There was a concert that the senior class used to give every semester called "Senior Varieties." And this particular year, there was a jazz trio of students-- piano, bass, and drums. And the piano player was in my class, so he was about my age. And he was improvising. And I thought you had to be older, at least like 19, to be able to do that. To me, when I was 13 or 14, 19 was older. So anyway, I told him I wanted to learn to improvise, because it seemed like they were having fun. And the kids seemed to enjoy it. They could feel the joy that they had, especially the girls. The girls liked it, so I said, I want to play that. So after that performance, I asked him. I said, I want to learn to do this. How should I go about it? So he says, if you like what I do, he said, maybe you like some George Shearing records. And that's who he kind of emulated. So I ran home and said to my mother, who, well, she was the piano player in the family-- I said, Momma, we've got to get George Shearing records. And she said, you have George Shearing records. And I thought she didn't understand me. I said, what are you talking about? We don't have George Shearing records. She said, yes, we do. She said, remember two Christmases ago when I bought you an album of records and you got mad at me because they weren't the records you wanted? I said, oh, yeah, I remember that. She said, they were George Shearing records, and you have them in a record cabinet. So the first influence on me really was George Shearing because of those records. And Don, my classmate, said, if you hear some things on there, try to figure out what he played, some things that you like that are on there. Try to figure out what it is that he played, and I did just that. So I found different parts in a record that I wanted to learn. A lot of them were kind of bluesy licks like [PLAYING PIANO] that kind of thing or [PLAYING PIANO].. And so I started writing them out, and I would play what I wrote and then listen to him playing the same things. They sounded different. And I was wondering, why does it sound different when he plays it than when I play it? Well,...

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.

I can never play anything but the most basic jazz: a few 7/9 chords. But seeing the struggles even a great player like him has gone through along with his humility is inspiring. There's no reason I can't work hard, find my own voice, and reach my own level.

He will get you thinking differently about music. It doesn't necessarily have the music theory edge, but discusses why theory isn't everything.

I am not a Jazz musician but I am an aficionado and student of the genre. I am also a Herbie Hancock lover and truly appreciated the content. Some parts were over my head but most were not. I can apply many of the lessons he taught in many aspects of my life. Great class!

I was really inspired by reharmonization, influence of Ravel in harmony, particularly since I studied impressionism, discussion about technical training, and loved the transcriptions of his famous compositions, which I can study and incorporate into my own practice. Thankyou Mr Hancock


Jinjee G.

Loving this lesson! <3 When Herbie Hancock mentioned George Shearing as an early influence, I searched on you tube and randomly listened to his version of Misty and at the end George Shearing dedicates it to the late Erroll Garner. You see, we are flowing in the river of love called music.

Stephanie B.

Started these lessons about 3 years ago and got majorly sidetracked. So glad I'm able to pick up where I left off! Will definitely check out the musicians the Mr. Hancock suggested to listen to.


One of the intros you just played, reminded me of the into to Maude! Lady Godiva was a freedom rider! LOL!

Alicia A.

I'm a writer and it is such a joy to learn new knowledge from the different fields!

A fellow student

Learning by listening has really opened my brain to observe in detail. I've tried the approach of listening to recordings over and over again to know the song by heart, and then learning pieces in bites of my fingers. I should practice more of this what he's suggesting about listening for the patterns like soft and louder effects. The list of amazing musicians who he also played with is so cool in that he's appreciating each of their uniqueness and strengths. I'm sure those practices with the musician friends were intense and professional, but I imagine that Herbie was still Herbie, the way he is in this masterclass -relaxed and magical. It really feels that he is being Jazz, his personality playing and responding from his friends and the music into a wonderful weave of human stories and sound flying around! On learning by listening, I've been learning the ukuele in the past few years alongside keeping up with my piano practice. Because I started playing without reading tab, and instead, making strange shapes with my left fingers to make sounds that I felt were nice. I love how my uke practice feels so natural coming from what I know in my body - and that is enriching. The uke is the instrument when I made my first original song (even though I had been playing classical piano since childhood). Learning the uke by listening and feeling makes me think of children or anyone learning an instrument for the first time on Christmas evening for noodles and fun. I know I've just loved the process of learning the uke... and it's been freeing to experience this whole-body way into sound for my piano practice. Herbie Hancock's teachings in this video make me believe that what I'm feeling with my uke - is actually real and special, that I'm on the jazzy, more open path to possibilities unrestricted from overthinking technicalities but rather embracing sounds. So much joy, many thanks.

A fellow student

I'm writing a story, and this lesson reminds me that inspiration can happen anytime, even with simple things like the first three notes he played. You can take from that, or in my case a simple story line, and make it go ways you didn't originally think of. Maybe it won't be good, but it will be original. I hope the good will come over time.

Andrew R.

This is the breakthrough I've needed. The opening lessons of getting out of the box, who you are as a person, all that gives me hope.

Gretchen T.

I'm a singer and I am going to music therapy school. This helps with singing jazz, playing piano, composing, and he offers some great life skills too!

Aaron H.

I'm a comedian and while I started this masterclass because I'm interested in piano/jazz, everything Mr. Hancock says about music can also be applied to comedy, and I'd add any performance, expression of art or even how we interact with our fellow human beings. His wisdom extends way past the piano. Perhaps we should all view our lives as improvised jazz, go with the flow and see what magic we create. I'm learning so much and am grateful for Mr. Hancock's class.

Carl N.

This lesson gave me reassurance. It’s not about what you say but how you make the audience feel.