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Arts & Entertainment

The Two Basic Jazz Forms

Herbie Hancock

Lesson time 7:44 min

Countless jazz tunes are built around one of two simple harmonic patterns. Practice Herbie’s licks and improv ideas, and discover new opportunities to use them.

Herbie Hancock
Teaches Jazz
Learn to improvise, compose, and develop your own sound across 25 video lessons.
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In jazz, there are only two formal forms. One is called the blues. And at this point, there's 12-bar blues. And we can start in the key of C. And it's-- [PIANO PLAYING] It's like, the C-7. [PIANO PLAYING] Maybe I should count for you-- [PIANO PLAYING] --1, 2, 3, 4-- 1, 2, 3, 4-- 1, 2, 3, 4-- 4, 2, 3, 4-- 5, 2, 3, 4-- 6, 2, 3, 4-- 7, 2, 3, 4-- 8, 2, 3, 4-- 9, 2, 3, 4-- 10, 2, 3, 4-- 11, 2, 3, 4-- 12, 2, 3, 4. It's 12 bars, 12-bar blues. That's one of the forms. The other form was created by George Gershwin. And it's called rhythm, or rhythm changes. So the basic form of that sounds like this. [PIANO PLAYING] That's the second form. And a lot of tunes have been written with that form. If we take the blues-- OK, right now we're in the key of-- [PIANO PLAYING] --of F, which happens to be one of my favorite keys. I don't know why. Now this is very basic. But there are what I call the blues notes. And that's a-- [PIANO PLAYING] --a minor third-- [PIANO PLAYING] --in this case, A flat. [PIANO PLAYING] I did a turn on that. [PIANO PLAYING] And the other blue note is the-- [PIANO PLAYING] --the seventh-- [PIANO PLAYING] --which is E flat. [PIANO PLAYING] And it sounds like I'm playing in minor key. But-- [PIANO PLAYING] --down here, I'm playing a major key. [PIANO PLAYING] You know, that's the color that's in there. [PIANO PLAYING] And the B natural is another thing that's a note for-- [PIANO PLAYING] --part of the blues style, kind of basic blues style. Blues style guitar players use it a lot, use all those things-- this minor third, you know-- [PIANO PLAYING] --and the seventh-- not major seventh, but natural seventh, which is an E flat. [PIANO PLAYING] I mean, a lot of these things I got from listening to records by other people. You know-- [PIANO PLAYING] You can listen to Oscar Peterson. You can listen to-- there are old records of even Nat King Cole. Before we know him as a singer, he was a piano player. There's other people like Les McCann, who was great with the blues. Horace Silver had his own way. One thing to listen to is guitar players, blues guitar players. You know, you got BB King and a whole bunch of people that piano players kind of try to emulate on the piano. Because you can't bend notes on the piano. So instead of bending them, we just go back and forth between them. And so is our attempt to make it sound like it's bending, you know? [PIANO PLAYING] Right? That's kind of a blues technique. [PIANO PLAYING] You see that? [PIANO PLAYING] It's an attempt to make it sound kind of guitar-like. So along the way, you're going to be asked to play some of the two forms of jazz that exist now, the blues and rhythm changes. And there are thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of examples of that. But there are some interesting ways to approach the blues and to approach playing rhythm c...

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.

This course has really helped me become a better musician and my piano skills have been brought to the next level. Thank you for this excellent masterclass!

I learnt many new techniques and attitudes towards Jazz and improvising

In this MasterClass, I learned to have the confidence in exploring new ways to make music. There are still unique ways of using instruments to be had, and reharmonizing a tune can add so much. It was really great to see Herbie Hancock display his talents by using the language of music to teach and tell his story.

Loved the study on voicings. Very cool way of viewing chord structures.


Kyle K.

I grew up playing blues on all types of instruments, and my problem is that I cant break away from the blues scale! How can I go from playing blues to the other style of blues? I feel like my only musical knowledge is in the blues scale... Any advice from someone who was in a similar position?

Luis Miguel A.

Three years later I find more fascinating this class. In fact, all classes I need to review. Definitely I was wrong at 2017. This is a real luxury. Thank so much Mr. Hancock!

tuphr N.

I've never heard about 'Rhythm Changes' before, I'd always thought (and been taught) that the Blues was the basis for Jazz chord progressions. This is a real masterclass, and reminds me of the brilliant Drum Teacher I had at college who taught me to play from notation and made me aware of some of the great Jazz drummers to listen out for out there playing live and on records.

John B.

I am a total beginner and I have been moved by Herbie Hancock's music for decades. Now, I have the time to start to learn and I find his Master Class inspiring and humbling simultaneously. I understand that this is not where I will"learn to play' , but it is giving me the inspiration to get going and overcome my excuses.

Lilli L.

Herbie Hancock is hands down one of my all-time favorite pianists and composers and I have nothing but respect for him. But am I the only one who felt like this lesson had very little actual content? I scrolled through the comments section hoping someone else would feel similarly, but nothing. I deplore feeling contrary but felt compelled to share my opinion: I've done about 3 masterclasses before this one and I have the same critique a fourth time - the artists are always wildly talented and deserve all the respect in the world - but instead of in-depth workshops on certain topics, they're more vague summaries without the nuts and bolts, the technical stuff, the nitty gritty ... instead a lot of philosophy/personal history/performance. All that is great but without the building blocks to expand your craft it doesn't serve much purpose (for me, anyway). I expect more from a master class. For example, he gives an example of 12 bar blues but doesn't go into details about how it's based off the 1-4-5. He talks briefly about the blues notes (b3 and b7) but then throws in that b natural can sometimes used, but doesn't elaborate that's specific to F. He shows you a turn, but he does it too fast to follow along. He does bunch of other blues cliches, but doesn't explain them. Then he gets to the Gershwin rhythm changes thing (which another commenter said it a song?). Is he showing the rhythm or a chord progression? Is it just a ii-V-i? I honestly don't know what I'm listening to. It sounds great! When the title comes up "Improvising Over Rhythm" you get excited that he's going to give you at least the basics on how to improvise over rhythms but instead you just get a few sentences about how there are lots of ways to do it and listen to B.B. King and then he plays and then its over. Every Masterclass so far feels like a brief introduction to a concept - and you think you're FINALLY going to get down to the meat of it all - and then its over. Just the fact that a lesson on the two basic forms of jazz is only what... 7 minutes long says a lot right there. I also am not sure who these classes are for. If it were a complete beginner they'd have no idea what he was talking about. But if you're fairly advanced then you might feel like it's not thorough enough. Full disclosure I haven't looked at the lesson PDF yet because it won't download. I love Herbie and love hearing him discuss jazz, but from the video alone I feel no more prepared to learn jazz. Hopefully I'm speaking too soon or I am missing something or my expectations don't align with what the platform is able to give. And hopefully I haven't offended anyone, I adore Herbie and all he has to say and give musically. But it would be interesting to know if other people felt similarly.

Jim J.

I''m a guitarist and have some mastery of jazz already. I want to improve always and am enjoying Herbie's classes. These are so far mostly reminders for me, but sometimes the best way to move forward is go back to fundamentals. Superimposing D major over Bb minor as a passing chord was a new idea for me I'll check out.

Nick B.

What I love about this is that his amazing playing isn't intimidating because his nature isn't as such. He's so easy going that even when he plays a zillion notes you feel like you could do that (eventually!). BUT is anyone else finding that his stretches are reaaally long? I'm having to simplify chords, just to be able to play them. Still, great stuff.

Antonio P.

An exceptional lesson. The discussion on blue notes (3rd and 7th intervals) brought a lot of things together. I am essentially a beginner from a technical standpoint. But I have been playing bass for 29 years. This lesson is a good example of the things I am searching to help me finally understand music. This is a great 7:44 to that end. Do the homework on the PDF!!

Danny I.

Man i completely suck lol I'm trying hard but just cant figure it out. Herbie is a legend I feel overwhelmed it seems like every note he plays is perfectly matched to the scale but me trying to do it sounds like a mess. Granted I'm like a intermediate at best piano, i just can't seem to grasp anything. I'll keep trying though.

Ash T.

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