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Arts & Entertainment

Working As a Composer

Herbie Hancock

Lesson time 11:19 min

Herbie shares advice from his years of composing and collaborating with the icons of jazz.

Herbie Hancock
Teaches Jazz
Learn to improvise, compose, and develop your own sound across 25 video lessons.
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I've done about 23, 24, 25 commercials, you know, jingles in my life. I haven't done one in a long time. But it's interesting to get into that line of work because there's a product to sell. And the idea is to listen to what the real bosses are in that case. And it's usually the advertising company. The focus really is on that product. So if you think the focus is going to be on your music, the music is a pathway to people buying that product. So don't lose hope when it appears that, in the process, the focus is not on your music. Is just a reality of the situation. You know, you'll get paid for doing your work, whether you're writing music for a television commercial or a radio spot or a movie or animation, whatever it may be. I mean, all of these are really inspiration, and they make your toolbox grow, inspiration for your own creativity. Maiden Voyage was for men's cologne commercial. And the rhythmic foundation of that tune came from me trying to figure out a way to make a beat that wasn't a typical backbeat, which normally sounds on the second beat and the fourth beat, like one, two, three, four, one. With an accent like that. That's what I was looking for. I didn't wind up with the thing that is an example of what I was looking for, but it did lead me to [CLAPPING RHYTHMICALLY].. Now that's not any kind of funky beat. But the fact that I was looking for something other than what I had been hearing was just enough to lead me in a different direction. And I found something that I could use, and a lot of people like that record. Scoring a film is very different than making music for a record. And it's the director's dream. It's his baby. It's like his record. I learned that the hard way because the first film score I did, by the way, was a film called Blow-Up. Michelangelo Antonioni was the director, who was like a mentor of Bertolucci and many other filmmakers. You know, he was one of those guys from Italy, like Fellini and many others. And after I finished the music for Blow-Up-- I'll just tell you briefly-- and I went to the theater to see the premiere of the film, my music was so soft I could barely hear it. And I was so mad that I put so much work into making this music that I was angry and disappointed. And I spoke to Michelangelo Antonioni, and he said-- and Antonioni was a big jazz fan. And he said that he used the music the way he thought would fit his film. And I thought about that for a couple of days. And I started to realize, here I am a novice in writing film scores. Antonioni is a genius. And I'm feeling hurt. And I started to examine why I was feeling hurt. And I was feeling hurt because I didn't go to see the premiere of the film. I went to the theater to hear my music. Wrong idea. So I went back, four days after seeing it for the first time, I went back to the same theater to see the film. And I was fine with t...

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.

I enjoyed the concepts he showed and learned a ton about his general approach to music

Inspiration, not afraid to be me, and practice...practice

I found this class with Herbie Hancock to be more inspirational than educational, but that is great ! I am a beginner finding his way and I loved the personal connection to someone that I admire. I can't wait to move on from here.

Learned a lot from Herbie Hancock. The class taught me to explore different chord extensions/voicings, listen to different genres, try new rhythms, and blend things that I've learned together. Great class!


Cesar M.

loved it! Herbie is a generous guru and disciple at the same time...insightful, kind, artistic human. been listening to you since 1976...thank you Herbie!

Kenneth S.

This is DEFINITELY DEFINITELY an important lesson, if not for the latter part and the lessons-learned about having your own publishing company, being your own producer, and what the music business/record labels will try to do to lure you out of your profits, including the bit about advances. This is wise sage-advice that's irreplaceable, and also a little hard to learn on your own if you don't have a mentor. Herbie, thank you thank you thank you for that!!!! I really appreciate it very much!

Andreas M.

Very important suggestion: teach future professionals how to do business. The music industry is changing rapidly. How to own your rights and earn your money in times of Spotify?

Jonathan S.

Now we're getting into the nitty-gritty. This is verrrrry good advice. Don't be intimidated by the scoundrels. Hire a lawyer. If you're in THE meeting to sign your stuff away, tell them you want to check with your lawyer. If they tell you that you have to decide today, run away from those people, they're crooks. And for goodness sake (and yours) don't use a lawyer they suggest. If your stuff is that good, the music company can wait. Willie Nelson sold his song "Crazy" for $75. The publisher who bought it has made a million. Do you want that to be part of your story?

Susanna R.

Always lots of useful information. Music is my favorite hobby, but in the future maybe it could become even more .....

Rafa S.

I just jumped back in...very informative! I am enjoying the training specifically his personal stories! Experience seems to be the best teacher!


I'm just an amateur who plays for the enjoyment of playing. I started this Masterclass to learn more about jazz from one of the masters. I'm not really sure how relevant the music business and publishing will be to me. But I guess one never knows, so nice to know that there are options.

Russ K.

I'd love to know a bit more about"owning a publishing company". Why aren't there some pointers in the class notes as to where to start looking into this? The publishing and distribution of music seems like such a mystery, why keep it that way? Spill the beans or tell us who will.

Marian E.

I start getting loos of reading and practise for hours the same difficult music sheets. It's very boring to do. So great stuff also the business information. Improving my piano playing so I can play wherever I see a piano. Thanks

David B.

Former knowledge and growing wisdom finally come together for me. Nice. dcb