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Arts & Entertainment

Piano Basics

Herbie Hancock

Lesson time 14:21 min

Herbie breaks down the fundamentals of piano playing.

Herbie Hancock
Teaches Jazz
Learn to improvise, compose, and develop your own sound across 25 video lessons.
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Let me tell you a story about when I first started taking piano lessons. My parents actually bought me a piano on my seventh birthday as a birthday present. Now I realize it was a piano for the family. But at least it gave it an occasion. My older brother and my younger sister and I started lessons after having had the piano for maybe a couple of months. I really feel like that was a blessing that I didn't have a teacher from day one that I had the piano. Because it gave my brother, my sister, and I a chance to just kind of mess around with the piano ourselves and form some minimal relationship with this instrument. Because it was just us and the piano, us not knowing really anything about it, and us just finding out for ourselves little things-- [PLAYS NOTES] --about pitch, seeing how the piano looked. I don't remember. I was seven years old, and I'm 76 now. So I don't remember exactly how it was. But I do know that by the time I actually had a teacher, I wasn't intimidated by just looking at the instrument. I'd just walk in, and all of a sudden, there is this big thing with its 88 keys, and I don't know what it is. And I would encourage parents to not be concerned about giving a child a lessons from day one that they have the instrument. Let them fool around with it for a while, and then start their lessons. [JAZZ PIANO MUSIC PLAYING] Practice is very important. You know the phrase, practice makes perfect? Well, because we're human beings, perfection in that sense is sort of a loaded word. So getting as perfect as we can at the moment is something that we can strive for. That's not impossible. You don't want to spend all day practicing because you are a human being. And you have to live. I've heard of people practicing four and five hours a day. I think the most I ever practiced was three hours a day. Practicing every day, in the beginning, that's what I did. I practiced every day. I know in playing jazz, over time, because we're playing in the moment, after years and years go by, you start to get a feeling for what we might call mind over matter. And the reason it's important to get a sense of that concept is because what I found out later is that if I didn't practice-- because I was so used to practicing everyday. If I didn't practice, I felt worried, scared. And the fear is what made it difficult for me to have at least a decent performance. So the problem was I was depending on practicing in order to do the best that I could. So somewhere in there, there's a balance. You want to be able to practice. But you don't want it as a crutch. Sometimes you're in situations where you won't be able to practice. And are you gonna sit there like this, biting your fingernails? No, you don't want to do that. So a certain period of my life, during the time I was playing with Miles Davis, I never saw him practice. Except the few seconds before h...

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.

Great Wisdom shared by a great artists, Herbie Hancock. It would be nice if there was a part 2.

He did not know the person who is Herbie beyond his mastery of jazz piano. More than the techniques he taught, I really enjoyed listening to him talk about how a human being can be happy doing music that makes others happy. It was quite important for me to continue. Thank you Herbie

Having Herbie Hancock mentoring about jazz and piano playing is a dream come true. I learned so much that I cannot express it in words. I hope to be able to put into practice what I learned. Peace!

own way, open mind, collaboration is all, jazz is like life, Nothing wrong



i play grade 5 piano and i only learnt it from an app and that is hard enough but, learning the piano from scratch?! its almost impossible!

A fellow student

As a classical pianist, I'm really enjoying this whole masterclass. It feels great to have advices from such a great artist !! although this specific topic "Piano basics" is not particularly interesting for me obviously :) (for the record : the tune he's playing is a Chopin Waltz, not en etude ;)

Nick B.

Hello everyone. I was just wondering if other people are taking this course right now? It would be nice to see what others think of the lessons.

Kenneth S.

A few things stick with me here, like that Herbie still remembers lessons from when he was a kid, and he still respectfully remembers his teachers, love that! Also, the focus on touch, that's definitely key, it is the main ingredient to building tension, touching a listener... stuff...

Susanna R.

Great lesson !!! Very very important things! The time to devote to the study, the hours of practice, the posture, the touch, the degree of pressure ... I am an operator and teacher of Shiatsu, I study and practice vocal research since 1990, all this things for me are very precious and should be cultivated. Thanks ❤️❤️❤️

Shaked S.

The part that he says to use the arms for playing loud is totally wrong technically and will generate a really ugly tone. After more than 13 years of professional piano playing, I can say that the right way to do so is to use the finger with more power. He says that the fingers are the most important part in playing, but on the other hand suggests to use your arms to play really loud. That's obviously not the 'pianistic' way to do it. I'm surprised to hear such a suggestion from a top jazz pianist.

Michael M.

Does saying that Miles Davis made mistakes contradict the earlier lesson saying there are no wrong notes? Maybe I'm missing something. Anyway, I enjoyed and learned from this lesson. Interesting how many points apply even though I'm a horn player, not a pianist -- practice, touch & dynamics, relaxed fingers, etc. Good lesson!

Warren D.

Fortunately, I have a piano on which I can begin to utilize this information. It was an interesting lesson that showed the basics in ways that gave me more insight as to how I can proceed, even with my limited knowledge. Hearing the sounds as he played them was also instructive.

Ruth W.

I'm coming to the end of a term of ukelele group ( with performances at retirement villages ), choir ( just amazing piano-player and leader AND choir ) and band ( clarinet ). I remembered this course cos i have the guts now after this term to initiate on-the-beat when the section falters ( reading score ) ... coming in and seeing this as the next lesson is great, as cos the choir is doing end-of-term concert and morning tea, Ive realised how my voice needs to change with each song; and that when she said it's very low so there are a lot of you dont force it; i may be singing an octave lower so i will practice on the piano now .. but the important thing is to know-your-starting-note and know-entrances. It's been an invaluable term with huge practice/learning/sharing to come ... this course is too hard for me but it's instructive in a lot of ways ! I am not sure if a certain 3 year old is into piano lol . . . time to revisit

Jeremy M.

Interesting to hear how herbie concentrates most on the fingers. I've always been taught more classical technique, not exactly by choice, but I've been taught how Chopin always placed more importance on the wrist. It's interesting to see how even at the highest levels, there are still conflicting ideas.