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Arts & Entertainment

Rhythmic Musicianship

Herbie Hancock

Lesson time 16:01 min

Herbie has tips for grooving deeper and feeling more comfortable playing in strange and complex rhythms, from swing to funk.

Herbie Hancock
Teaches Jazz
Learn to improvise, compose, and develop your own sound across 25 video lessons.
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So I've used the phrase "Playing it in the pocket." What does that mean? I think what that means is, in many cases, you know, for-- a good example is a moderate or medium, you know, to slow tempo where, let's take a drummer for example, plays on the beat. But sort of on the back part of the beat, but not so far back that it'll slow the tempo down. But it puts sort of a weight in there, you know, and it just takes a fraction of a second for the weight to really hit bottom. And that's the bottom of that pocket. So that just shows that it has some oomph to it. So that's what we mean by pocket. There are some musicians that I feel really play it in the pocket. I forgot to mention Oscar Peterson, I mean really played in the pocket. Whether he was playing fairly rapid jazz tune, or whether he was playing some slower blues tune, Oscar had a way of just hitting those notes-- even if they were all eighth notes-- hitting those notes right in that place, right on the edge of the beat so that the momentum is there, but the weight is there. The whole thing just perfectly fits. I'm going to tell you something that was very elusive to me in my early years as a jazz piano player. I used to be a pretty good ballad player, playing like moderate tempos. And I could improvise off of them. But when it came to fast tempos, I was a disaster. I didn't even know how to get around it. And I actually got hired by Donald Byrd, the late trumpet player, to play in his group. One of the tunes they played was really fast. I could play the chord changes. But when it came to improvising, I had a really rough time. By the way, it was the song "Cherokee." I asked Donald if he knew-- I explained what my dilemma was. And I asked him if he knew any kind of method for me to learn how to play fast. And he said, "The reason that you have such a hard time playing fast is because you've never heard yourself play fast. Take something that's a form like a blues form, 12-bar blues form, or rhythm changes, which we've talked about before, and actually write out several choruses of an improvised solo. Physically write it out. As you're conceiving of it, think of it as a fast blues, a fast rhythm tune. Think of it in those terms. And then write the notes out. If you can't play it, but you can hear it in your head in your head. Write those notes out." And so, actually that night after the gig, in my hotel room, I wrote out about 12, 13, 14, 15 choruses of the blues, 12-bar blues, as though it was to be played really fast. And the next day I went to the club early and practiced them. But he told me, don't practice to learn just to play that. Practice just to get it-- get it a little bit under your fingers, so you could kind of do it. It's not to learn to play this perfect, because jazz isn't about writing something out beforehand-- like you might with classical music-...

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.

Mr. HH is my kind of people. Deep water, but fun, too. Dig you, Sensei.

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 !

Herbie Hancock is phenomenal! His harmonic concepts, along with how to apply them is priceless.

Thank you Herbie, this was a great series. What an incredibly positive outlook on life and within music. Cannot wait to listen to some more of your music.


Nick B.

When he's talking about being in the pocket, is that slightly BEFORE the beat, as if to almost rush the tune a bit? Or after so it sounds like you're a tiny bit late?

Nick B.

Learning to play fast - that's great advice. I'm going to have to try that. I'm not sure I could write out 13 choruses tonight though!

Tia H.

I have never heard myself play fast either I’m going to try that. Thanks Mr. Hancock (NMHRK)

Jonathan S.

You can use a computer to lay down a drum beat and experiment with the placement of the beats on a grid. Try moving the beat that would mechanically fall on the 2 and 4 so that they're just a little bit late, and play that in a loop. Now move those beats just a little later and keep doing that until it feels wrong. Other things you can do is to play so that the bass drum and hi-hat play just a little bit apart instead of at the same time. It makes the beat sound "fatter." Now see if *you* can play behind the beat like that.

Susanna R.

A great lesson to grow, I enjoyed hearing Herbie when he transmit the advice he has received, grooving deeper, to trick your mind into getting over that hurdle . . . . . rehearsing, rehearsing, rehearsing :)))

Adam B.

Hearing Herbie keep time over the Actual Proof changes was mind blowing, and a testament to how much thought goes into crafting rhythm changes at such a high level. He admits it himself - they practiced over, and over, and over. The take away is that it's a level playing field out there - find your voice, challenge yourself, and do the work. Thanks for the inspiration, Herb.

George M.

Being able to play and and maintain count thru complex rhythms is a skill to be developed for sure Herbie is not just a great musician- he is a great soul and sees deeply into music and life. All the greats seem to possess that quality. I got to meet Miles personally- his presence is undeniable! Learning how to be “present” is also a skill that can be learned. Having presence is also what great actors and musicians possess- its an important thing to learn about way above the technical stuff. Look up the book “ The Second Circle”

Kelly K.

Trying is hard for many of us. We grew up with an image of perfection in all that we do. I have enjoyed his guidance through all of these videos about trying new things out. I really appreciated watching him try. It's one thing to say it, it's so much better to do it. He becomes vulnerable and he shows that it's ok! He shows that it's even fun! To try something new in private is a very good thing. To try something new in front of many others - empowering for both him and us.

Calvin R.

Great Lesson from Herbie. What I have discovered in this lesson; 1) Is the importance of having or adopting the mentality of a Drummer or Percussionist - as the piano is a percussion instrument. 2) The importance of deliberate or focused practice of these rhythmic phrases, so that you can break the rules and try out other rhythmic patterns. 3) When in a band situation, why a Pianist should listen to how a drummer phrases their grooves, then try out some of those ideas on the piano. Just like what Herbie did when jamming with the Late Great Tony Williams. For many reasons as a Pianist/Keyboardist, I've always enjoyed playing with Younger Drummers as they can give you fresh ideas to try out in performances. Although I know many drummers older than myself who are extremely skillful and inspiring to play music with!!

Judy G.

Guidelines: "In the pocket" is clear now. Voila! 5+5+2= OMG, math-challenged moi can comprehend this. And the synco-patated last example is something I'll love practicing also. Many thanks, Herbie!