Arts & Entertainment, Music

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.

Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars

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


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,...

About the Instructor

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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Herbie Hancock

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