From Herbie Hancock's MasterClass

Learning by Listening

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.

Topics include: My First Jazz Teacher: George Shearing • Deconstructing George Shearing & Learning to Swing • Who to Listen to and Copy • Write It Down


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.

Topics include: My First Jazz Teacher: George Shearing • Deconstructing George Shearing & Learning to Swing • Who to Listen to and Copy • Write It Down

Herbie Hancock

Teaches Jazz

Learn More


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.

Mine ears have been opened. I was not necessarily a big jazz fan before participating in this class, but Herbie Hancock is a GOD and is the best possible choice of a master for the class. I would have gladly listened to him play or talk about anything on his mind for an additional several hours. Really valuable course. Really enjoyed it.

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.

As a composer, this class has helped me to overcome the self-imposed blocks that I experience on a regular basis. Thank you so much, Herbie! To me, you're the definition of a "true musician."

Very inspirational course. This course alone was probably worth the price of the yearly Masterclass pass. The amazing warm kindness and modesty of this great artist is certainly a model to follow. This is not a technical jazz course though - there still is some serious woodshedding to do !


Erik H.

Dear Mr Hancock, in my life there are two beacons of light that transcend all boundaries, two master philosophers that give me, you know, something of the gaze of a pregnant woman! Like everything is light, is there for a reason. In every expression you show us it’s always about so much more - you make whatever you do into an expression of limitlessness. The two men without last names - Herbie and Wayne! No one ever went ”-Herbie who?” I was so happy when you mentioned him. The two of you exude and encompass the entire human experience. You are living proof we all belong, that we’re originally all part of the same consciousness - and when in doubt you show us what to look for in ourselves - loving, caring, forgiveness, non-judgment. To have you as guiding lights during my lifetime is such a bliss. Thank you for letting me express my deepest thanks for all you’ve meant and continue to mean to me :-) Love from Stockholm

William J.

I am not a musician but I am a huge Herbie Hancock fan. I am looking forward to listening to his music again once I have finished this class. I know that I will have a new and deeper appreciation for his musical style. The man is a musical genius and I am real glad he decided to make these classes.

Nadine M.

Paulo Batalha It´s obvious the classical background. Sounds like he studied hard (the boring parts...) theory, scales etc... When you have this strong formation seems like writing down, deconstruct a theme and so on can be so simple!!!! Sounds like luckly Herbie has a lot of inspiration and talent to complement a strong classical background.

Francis P.

I will definitely start trying to notate what I hear now. I can't tell you what note is being played unless I know the first degree of the scale, so I hope doing this helps me get a better ear. Thanks, Herbie! Anyone know of some simple jazz songs I could copy the melodies of? (Common time signatures, preferably a slower melody so I can ease into notation)

A fellow student

Really appreciated specific ideas and not being afraid to copy others and write things down. My favorite thing is the simplicity of the first three and a 1/2 bars of Miiles Davis' solo on Autumn Leaves. I was amazed at the simplicity when I finally wrote it down.

Günter K.

I like it very much how Herbie declares his way to music. It is amazing for me to see from what influences it depends to love music. Yoda from star-wars wasn't seen by me to jazz music till now. It is exciting to recognizeby Herbie, music is pure feeling and freedom.

A fellow student

His points on the writing versus playing styles were quite poignant. It confirms an issue I had with a very good musician ,whom, when I tried to sing the lines written on the sheet, he reminded me that he can read, however, I apologized saying that it was the style of the music that I was trying to impart. it is so important.

A fellow student

Too early in the lesson cycle for me to comment except that its most valuable to listen to Herbie, closely.

Dean S.

I had a bunch of teachers tell me not to write things down. I started with exercises in all 12 keys. I can see them in my "minds eye" and they became easier. Even helped me write some.

Avzal I.

It's all those "boring" little things done over and over again that eventually get you to where you want to get to. Gotta love these insights from Herbie.