Those who have been following Guitar Songs Masters know that I am a pianist as well – so this post is dedicated to the piano playing readers of the blog – and to those who stumbled upon from Google – HEY!
To make this review more personal and helpful, here’s a short intro about me: I have been playing piano for around seven years now, and so far I haven’t gotten into the area of jazz. I stayed mostly in the rock n roll, blues, and folk genres. My piano heroes are Elton John, Billy Joel, Billy Preston (he played with the Beatles) and the like, and I also really like to take popular guitar songs and create piano versions for them.
This changed when the trailer ad for the new masterclass by Herbie Hancock popped up on my YouTube. I did not even know he was – but the idea of “discovering my own sound” (as the trailer promised) from a 77 years old “jazz legend” with a huge smile on his face (and I always looked very highly on jazz musicians) seemed very appealing to me.
I started doing some reading and YouTubing about the guy, and I was very impressed – as you can assume. A few weeks later – I decided to purchase it.
The bottom line? Now, two months later – I am at a totally different place – not just as a pianist, but also as a guitarist as well, and as a musician as a whole. Herbie became something very dear to me – and these were the two most meaningful months of growing that I have had since I started playing. Let me share with you why.
There are some things I didn’t like about the masterclass too – which I will share as well. Note: If you end up purchasing the course, I may earn a small commission. So let’s begin – my Herbie Hancock MasterClass review:
The Herbie Hancock MasterClass: What’s Included and Who Is It For?
The title of the MasterClass is “Herbie Hancock Teaches Jazz” – which is an extremely wide net to throw for a course that contains 25 lessons of 10-15 minutes. Learn JAZZ in 25 relatively short video lessons? Hmmm…
SO what DO you get? You get the best of Herbie for many different topics that are mostly about jazz, but also about music in general. This includes:
- A lot of Herbie’s philosophical approach to music. (which are actually some of the lessons that I took the most out of!)
- Herbie’s approach to improvising. (alone or with a group – including some live trio jam sessions as examples)
- Herbie’s approach to writing and composing.
- Interesting chord voicings and reharmonizations lessons.
- How he learns (and learned) new things and tunes.
- Some (not much) piano exercises and technical stuff.
- Herbie’s approach to navigating your career as a musician.
- His favorite music and inspirations along the career.
The YouTube Ad That Planted the Seed for Me…
Who Is It Really For?
Anyone who likes playing music, playing piano, playing jazz piano, or likes Herbie Hancock himself (in this order – I believe) will surely get a lot out of this masterclass. I don’t know where exactly this class will meet you on your musical journeys – but for me, it had a huge impact – and I believe that anyone else who will take it seriously – will enjoy a “tap” in his potential.
Why? because it’s one of the greatest musicians alive, talking from his heart, and sharing knowledge and lovely anecdotes from an experience of playing with the best musicians in the world for over 60 years. A truly amazing opportunity, and a refreshing change from learning from random teachers on YouTube.
The price you pay for throwing such a wide topic net though – is that for some people (very experienced jazz pianists) there will be some parts which are obvious – like an introduction to “Rhythm Changes”. (But it’ll still probably be cool to hear about it from Herbie’s approach) while to others (like pianists who are just starting to get into jazz), many things will just “fly over the head” – like some of the live demonstrations of the complicated jazz tunes. (but you’ll probably still highly enjoy them)
Why Herbie’s Masterclass Was a Life-Changer for Me
It took me over two months to slowly get through the lessons, while taking stops of usually 2-4 days between each one – to ponder on what I learned and to let it come out on my piano. (try to sit down at least for an hour every day while taking the masterclass – and if you don’t have the time – save the masterclass for when you do)
First of all, I have to say that Herbie quickly became like a very good friend to me. That’s the vibe he gives. Always smiling and charming, and it’s a huge joy to watch him. I absolutely love him. “You only learn from people you love” – I once saw a Ted talk about this saying – and this class really proves that to be true.
This class is also the most beautifully produced online course / lessons that I ever watched, and that’s also part of the reason why I looked forward to the moment I can sit down and watch it before every lesson.
Herbie made me “get it” – with JAZZ in general.
Anyway – OK, so I was always intrigued by the beautiful colors of jazz music, (mostly coming from the interesting chords and harmonies) but never really pulled the trigger on starting to learn it – although I knew it’ll happen one day. You know the saying between musicians – “all roads lead to jazz?” (:
A friend of mine (who’s a jazz guitarist) told me “you don’t get into jazz unless someone attracts you into it” – and that’s what Herbie was for me.
After hearing about his passion for jazz in the first lesson (“jazz is the greatest of all human expressions” is a saying I remember) and listening to his tune “Maiden Voyage” with the class instructions of “close your eyes and try to think what’s the picture that the music reveals in your mind. Ignore the technicalities” – something clicked for me for the first time. It’s hard to try and tell about that feeling, but something really changed – I suddenly saw the beauty of it. The beauty of instrumental jazz. (And yeah, I think I almost had a tear in my eye from the excitement) I was filled with gratefulness. Since then I started listening to more and more stuff from Herbie and from similar artists.
So a new world opened up for me, and since then I find myself constantly reading and listening to the jazz legends, learning more jazz theory from a couple of books I got, and hearing it coming out of my own hands – even on my own songs and the rock tunes that I like. You know those “jazzed up” versions of popular songs? That’s me now… And it feels great!
Artists like Jon Batiste, Brad Mehldau, Stan Getz and other great ones would probably not even be on my radar if not for Herbie, at least not at this stage in my life. And that’s incredibly fun. “The more music you’ll discover – the happier you’ll be.”
Did I “Find My Own Sound”? (As the Trailer Suggested)
Practically: I took a lot from Herbie’s way of interpreting songs. That means adding the colorful Jazz chords and interesting voicings to them, (6ths, 9ths, bass inversions, etc.) changing the tempo, or even some whole parts from the song. Breaking the pulse by playing with a “human time” instead of a “metronome time” as well from time to time. Generally – the feeling of playing without limits – only true to my feelings. You can check out my recent performance of the Bob Dylan classic “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright” to see what I’m talking about.
Also, I took a lot from his approach to how you can totally change a song when you’re playing it on a solo piano – and I got rid of the rigid way of “playing it just like the original”. My playing just sounds a lot more interesting and fun now, and as Herbie suggests – I try to take songs and tell a story by using them – not just delivering them technically. This is a huge step forward for me.
So yeah, I am VERY happy with where I am now and with where I’m going with my new knowledge. You can see a recent example of my playing at the bottom of the post – a lot of this style is thanks to Herbie.
So I don’t think that a course can come and “put your own sound in your hands” – but I’m absolutely certain that I made a huge leap forward to having a special sound that feels a lot more genuine and personal to me – and that everybody else can do it too. Not just in interpreting famous songs, but also in my songwriting. However, don’t expect to get that if you don’t work hard on what you learn – and spend meaningful amounts of time on the piano while taking the masterclass.
Besides the masterclass – I also spent a lot of time on YouTube – listening to some of Herbie’s performances, and that helped me a lot in understanding what he talks about and making it my own. Some really cool performances I liked were the original recording of Maiden Voyage. The whole album “River: The Joni Letters” (Grammy Award for the 2007 Album of the Year) Also – “River” (originally by Joni Mitchell) performed with the great singer I discovered thanks to Herbie: Corinne Bailey Rae. Also – Blackbird. (performed in the White House, w/ Corinne again) Also – Watermelon Man in this version.
I’ll cap off this part with the final words of the MasterClass workbook:
“You’ve finished your MasterClass with Herbie Hancock!
In Herbie’s own words, this is all about finding your sound.
Experiment with the ideas in this class and let them lead you to
new ideas. Try things out, keep your ears open, and latch onto
what works for you. Your own unique taste will start to take
shape, and soon enough that taste will transform itself into a
sound that’s all your own. Keep playing. “
Check Out Herbie Playing Joni Mitchell’s “River” with Singer Corinne Bailey Rae. I Found this on the second day of the course. This still gives me chills, and a huge inspiration to interpret songs in my own way.
Concluding – What I Liked About Herbie’s MasterClass
- These two months of going through the masterclass were the two most meaningful months I’ve had since I started playing music. I felt like I was growing almost every day. The masterclass was no less than transformative for me, and for my style of playing my own favorite songs – and I am very grateful for that. You can definitely make a huge leap forward in regards to finding your own sound.
- Not every day you get the opportunity to learn from someone who’s been at the top of the world in his class for the last 60 years. Especially in such an impressive form of art such as jazz piano.
- Herbie is without a doubt the most likable teacher I have had the pleasure of learning from in my whole life. So charming, so real and so down to earth. A joy to learn from. And Herbie looks like he’s having a great time passing his knowledge forward as well.
- The masterclass is also a lot about writing new music and not just about playing and improvising to existing music – and I took a lot of it to my own songwriting as well.
- The production level is outstanding. The cinematography here is a work of art by itself. The class’ website. The prestigious music studio and 300,000$ Fazioli piano. It’s not something that you see every day on YouTube. I totally felt like I’m enjoying an elite music course.
- I think that the number of lessons is ideal: 25 lessons is focused enough for most people to not be “too much” – and I believe that most people who get the masterclass will finish at least the 70-80% of the lessons – those that they find most relevant to them.
- I really like the class workbook PDF – it’s an excellent accompaniment – and even though it’s not written by Herbie himself, it sums up the lessons in a great way, and it also gives some exercises that some of them were really meaningful and helpful to me. Each lesson has 1-3 pages summarizing it, and you can print out the whole thing as a book. Reading the summary before and after each lesson helped me a lot in ingraining the new knowledge.
- In the workbook, you also get the sheet music for everything that’s played in the lesson – transcribed note for note. (including every little riff that Herbie just demonstrated for a second or two)
- The comment section (they call it the “class hub”) on the lessons sometimes actually contained some great stuff! A bunch of other musicians, all going through the same class and enjoying Herbie’s knowledge while sharing their thoughts, knowledge, and experience as well. Much more elegant than a random comment section on YouTube where people are mostly just trying to be funny.
- I think the price is very fair for what I got here – 90$ for a lifetime access to 25 lessons with such a legend. One of the best purchases I have made.
- I really liked to hear about the artists that Herbie listened to and was inspired by. It was cool to learn about where he’s coming from.
- Did I already say that I absolutely LOVE the guy? (:
What Were My Dislikes About Herbie’s MasterClass
- Since they throw a very wide net here (“Herbie Hancock Teaches Jazz”) – some musicians will find stuff here that they learned years ago, and some (jazz beginners) would probably find some of the lessons “out of reach” – at least for now. However, for such a wide net – I think it’s fairly balanced, and all audiences have a lot of good stuff that they can get out of the MasterClass.
- In some places, there were topics that Herbie could talk a lot more about. Like in the voicings lesson for example – only 10 minutes about the topic that Herbie is so famous for? (the unique voicings that he uses) I honestly think that Herbie should make a bunch of masterclasses about smaller topics – I’ll eventually get to all of them. (: One about improvising. one about writing music. One about interesting chord voicings and reharmonizations, etc.
- In some places – it looks as if Herbie could have been more prepared for the lesson, to what exactly he wants to talk about, and to the examples that he wants to give. Because you can feel the places that he’s “improvising” the lesson, and I couldn’t help but imagine how much more helpful this lesson could have been if only he would have prepared it more clearly.
- I wish that the parts about playing in a group were wider – and that he would give us more of his knowledge and experience about it. He did do a couple of cool live jam sessions in the studio, but it was with musicians he did not know before, and these couple of lessons seemed not really well thought of.
- I wish there was a virtual keyboard that’ll highlight in colors the exact notes that Herbie is playing in the examples, in real-time. (And yes, there is a technical way that makes that achievable on acoustic pianos as well) While the overhead view was cool, (and the attached note-by-note music sheet workbook) it was still pretty hard to follow in real-time.
5 Friendly Tips from Me on How to Get the Most Out of the MasterClass
- First of all, I’ll say it again in case you missed it: if you don’t have time to sit down at the piano for a meaningful amount of time every day (for me it’s at least 30-60 minutes) while taking the masterclass, then save the course for when you do have this time – otherwise I don’t think you would be able to process, enjoy, and grow from what you learn.
- Try to find the balanced spacings between watching the lessons that work the best for you – in terms of having enough time to process what you just learned, but also to stay in the loop of learning. For me, it was usually one lesson every 2-4 days.
- Start a notebook for the masterclass! A physical one, one in the computer, or in your phone – whatever works for you. As you watch the lessons, don’t be shy to stop for a second, write down the meaningful things that Herbie said that resonated with you the most and that you wanna remember, or just some new thoughts and ideas that arise as a result from the lesson. (and these thoughts will surely pop up, so be quick to grab them and remember them!)
- Don’t forget to actually come back to this notebook every once in a while – I’ve had some great moments of inspiration when doing that.
- Print out the class notebook and bind it – it makes everything more comfortable, and I liked that it gave the class a tangible form. I still have it and keep it along with my vinyl collection – it looks great.
I think that you already understood the bottom line for me: I enjoyed every minute of the masterclass. So much so that I already got it as a gift to two dear friends of mine – each one for 90$. I think that no matter where you are in your musical journeys, you will find some very meaningful takeaways to take to your own playing style.
It’s truly a treasure – and it helped me discover the beautiful and rich world of jazz. I hope it will be so meaningful to you – in one way or another.