Chapter 21 of 25 from Herbie Hancock

Rhythmic Musicianship

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

Topics include: Finding the Pocket • Donald Byrd’s Secret to Speed • Tony Williams’ Innovations • Case Study: Complex Rhythms in “Actual Proof”

Herbie Hancock

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.

Watch, listen, and learn as Herbie shows you how to take your music to the next level.

A downloadable workbook accompanies the class with lesson recaps and supplemental materials.

Upload videos to get feedback from the class. Herbie will also critique selected student work.

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Herbie Hancock

Herbie Hancock Teaches Jazz