PRODUCT REVIEW

Herbie Hancock MasterClass Review (2021): Is it Worth it?

Nash Riggins
November 3, 2021

Herbie Hancock MasterClass review synopsis

What you’ll learn: This MasterClass teaches you Herbie Hancock’s approach to jazz improvisation, as well as how to write music and harmonize. It also offers access to nearly a dozen original piano transcriptions for you to practice and master at home.

How long does the Herbie Hancock MasterClass take? 4 hours and 23 minutes

Pairs well with: Alicia Keys Teaches Songwriting and Producing, Nas Teaches Hip-Hop Storytelling, St. Vincent Teaches Creativity and Songwriting, Timbaland Teaches Producing and Beatmaking, Christina Aguilera Teaches Singing, Tom Morello Teaches Guitar Techniques

Do I recommend Herbie Hancock MasterClass? Definitely. If you’ve ever wanted some one-on-one time with one of the greatest jazz musicians of all time, this is probably the closest you’re ever going to get.

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A lot of people associate jazz music with their grandparents or snooty academics — but after decades of fizzling out, jazz streams are skyrocketing again.

It looks like the next generation of listeners and budding musicians are finally ready to discover why jazz has got that “je ne sais quoi”.

But after such a long and painful hiatus from the mainstream, aspiring jazz artists are definitely in need of a foundational education on all the genre’s basics dos and don’ts.

Enter Herbie Hancock: jazz legend.

Even if you’re not into jazz, you’ve likely heard of Herbie Hancock. He’s played with jazz greats like Miles Davis and Donald Byrd. But he also transcends genre—tracking songs with John Mayer, Paul Simon, Annie Lennox, Norah Jones, Tina Turner, Kendrick Lamar, and just about everyone else you can think of.

Herbie Hancock doesn’t just know great jazz. He knows great music. That’s what makes this MasterClass perfect for anyone wanting to learn more about jazz, what makes it tick, and how to create music that makes people want to listen.

In this review, we’ll break down exactly what the Herbie Hancock MasterClass offers, how much it costs, and if it’s worth it to take the class.

An image introducing the Herbie Hancock

Disclosure: In the interest of full transparency, Codeless uses affiliate links in our MasterClass reviews to cover our site’s costs.

Our Verdict

The Herbie Hancock MasterClass is a great introduction to jazz composition. He covers the basics of jazz, helps you practice, and gives you a couple of private concerts on top of it all.

 

Herbie Hancock Masterclass Become a Pro at Jazz music

$15 /month
PROS
  • The course covers piano and jazz fundamentals.analytical skills in chess
  • It helps you develop practical skills through real exercises
  • You get to hear pearls of wisdom from one of the greatest jazz musicians ever to grace the stage.takeaway positions and practice problems
CONS
  • The course is pretty long. If you’re looking for some educational background sound you can tune in and out of, this isn’t the class for you.
  • It can be difficult to follow along on the piano. You’ll probably have to rewind quite a bit on the “Listen and Learn” chapters.
  • There’s a lot of talking. If you’re in this just for piano lessons, you may need to skip a few chapters.

A few frequently-asked questions…

Let’s get started by answering a few frequently asked questions.

Do I need a subscription to access this course?

Yes. If you want to access the Herbie Hancock MasterClass, you’ll need to pay for an annual MasterClass subscription.

How long is the MasterClass?

The Herbie Hancock MasterClass is 4 hours and 23 minutes long, and it spans 25 videos.

Does MasterClass have a cancellation policy?

MasterClass does have a cancelation policy. If you cancel within 30 days of making a purchase, you’ll get issued a full refund.

Is the Herbie Hancock MasterClass worth it?

The short answer is: yes. The Herbie Hancock MasterClass is definitely worth it. If you want one-on-one jazz lessons from a genuine legend, this is probably the closest you’ll ever get.

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About Herbie Hancock

Herbie Hancock has been on the jazz scene since the 1960s.

He was classically trained and considered a child prodigy. But after graduating college, he fell into a lucky job filling in for Donald Byrd’s pianist, and the rest is history. Hancock went on to make a name for himself playing in Miles Davis’ band before going on to launch a meteoric solo career.

The guy’s now got an Oscar and 14 Grammys to his name — including one of only two jazz albums ever to be named Album of the Year.

He’s collaborated with an incredibly broad range of artists, too. We’re talking Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, Joni Mitchell, Flying Lotus, and everybody in between.

But if you’re worried about sitting through a long, scatterbrained MasterClass from a musician who can’t teach, stop worrying right now.

Hancock is currently a professor at the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music and Chairman of the Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz.

What does this MasterClass promise?

The Herbie Hancock Teaches Jazz MasterClass doesn’t promise to transform you into the next Robert Glasper overnight. What it sets out to do is to:

  1. Teach you how to improvise on your own and with a group
  2. Show you how to compose jazz music
  3. Give you the skills you need to develop your own sound

Herbie Hancock genuinely lives up to all these promises in his MasterClass. But before we break down how he teaches each of these skills, let’s talk money.

How much does the Herbie Hancock MasterClass cost?

If you want to take the Herbie Hancock MasterClass, you’ll need to take out an annual MasterClass subscription.

In the interest of flexibility, MasterClass offers three payment options:

A pricing list for MasterClass Memberships
  • Standard Plan: The Standard Plan is $180 per year ($15 per month, billed annually).

With this subscription, you can take classes using one device at a time. Each class comes with a workbook. There’s also bonus content, including a members-only community forum.

  • Plus Plan: This level costs $240 per year ($20 per month, billed annually).

It includes everything you receive as part of the Standard Plan, but now you can access classes on two devices at the same time. Plus, videos of your classes can be downloaded for offline viewing if you’re using an iOS device.

  • Premium Plan: The Premium subscription costs $276 per year ($23 per month, billed annually.)

This option is great for families or businesses as you get everything from the Plus Plan, plus the ability to watch classes on six devices at the same time.

But that subscription fee doesn’t just give you access to Herbie Hancock’s MasterClass.

By paying the subscription fee, you’ll get access to all 100+ MasterClass courses — including other courses in songwriting like Alicia Keys Teaches Songwriting and Producing, Nas Teaches Hip-Hop Storytelling, Timbaland Teaches Producing and Beatmaking, and more.

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What’s included in the Herbie Hancock MasterClass?

Runtime: 4 hours and 23 minutes long

Course Value: 4.7 out of 5 stars

Lessons: 25 video lessons

Supplementary materials: 1 workbook

Supplementary workbook

When it comes to resources, Herbie Hancock’s MasterClass is thorough. It includes an in-depth, 166-page workbook. It’s free to download for students and includes jazz piano compositions, tips, homework assignments, and plenty of staff paper to compose your own jazz tunes.

The workbook offers broad summaries of each chapter to remind you what you’ve learned — with key quotes from the videos, prompts to help you complete your own assignment and space for you to jot down notes as you’re watching the course.

A snapshot of Herbie Hancock's MasterClass workbook
A snapshot of Herbie Hancock’s MasterClass workbook.

The MasterClass Hub

The MasterClass Hub is a community discussion portal students can use to engage with one another. Each course has got its own “Hub”, and the Herbie Hancock MasterClass hub is filled to the brim with great discussions you can jump right into.

Topics range from analysis on Hancock’s chunks of wisdom, songs that inspire each student, and questions on how to take the next big step towards better understanding and composing jazz.

Although Herbie Hancock himself isn’t logging into the Hub every 12 hours to answer questions personally, it’s monitored by MasterClass reps that are really good at coming back with quick answers to any logistical issues.

A snapshot of Herbie Hancock's MasterClass Hub
A snapshot of Herbie Hancock’s MasterClass Hub.

A complete breakdown of the Herbie Hancock MasterClass curriculum

Herbie Hancock’s jazz MasterClass is split up into 25 lessons. Most of the lessons are between 10 and 15 minutes long — but you can also flip back and forth between lessons to focus on the subjects that matter most to you.

Curriculum:

  1. Introduction
  2. A Human Approach to Music
  3. Improvisation
  4. Learning by Listening
  5. The Two Basic Jazz Forms
  6. Listen and Learn: ‘Oleo’
  7. Piano Basics
  8. Piano Exercises
  9. Improvising Alone
  10. Expanded Improv Techniques
  11. Jam Session: Improvising Together
  12. Composing
  13. Recomposing, Rearranging, Reinventing
  14. Jam Session: Two Approaches to ‘Watermelon Man’
  15. Working As a Composer
  16. Chord Voicings
  17. Case Study: Reharmonising ”Round Midnight’
  18. Ravel’s Creative Harmonies
  19. Expanding Your Harmonic Horizons
  20. Listen and Learn: ‘Maiden Voyage’
  21. Rhythmic Musicianship
  22. Jam Session: Rhythm in ‘Actual Proof’
  23. A Musical Life
  24. Listen and Learn: ‘Watermelon Man’
  25. Closing

Course summary:

Above all else, Herbie Hancock’s MasterClass has a unique flow that enables you to develop loads of critical and foundational songwriting skills — but also gives you time to absorb and reflect on what you’ve learned.

That’s because Hancock has got a lot to say.

The majority of his 25-chapter MasterClass revolves around practical skills development. But the lessons are also split up with a few breaks in which Hancock talks about his experiences.

He covers the golden age of jazz, his philosophies, and everything in between. His commanding voice and wealth of experience genuinely made me hang on to every word — which marries up perfectly with one of his key tenets: “music is a story”.

This MasterClass starts off with some of Hancock’s thoughts on what music is all about. Before you start playing, he encourages you to change the way you’re listening to music and open up your heart as well as your ears.

After that, he gets to playing.

The improvisation chapter demonstrates Hancock’s approach to writing music: “listen, then react”.  A lot of these early chapters are trying to open your ears to read between the musical notes.

Hancock then devotes a couple more chapters to what he describes as the two basic jazz forms (rhythm and blues), piano basics, and exercises.

If you’re familiar with some of Hancock’s trippy synth tunes, it’s easy to forget he’s classically trained — but this MasterClass features an entire chapter on the harmonies of the French composer Maurice Ravel.

A snapshot of Herbie Hancock's playing the piano in his MasterClass
A snapshot of Herbie Hancock’s playing the piano in his MasterClass.

But the best practical parts of Herbie Hancock’s MasterClass are the case studies and “Listen and Learn” chapters. In these sections, he slowly and carefully walks through each piece to help you learn it so that you can play along.

These chapters segue really nicely into a couple of intimate jam sessions.

Hancock brings in a few fellow musicians to join him for some improv — pausing the world-class music every so often to explain how the trios are using the theories and techniques you’ve learned about in practice.

A snapshot of Herbie Hancock improvising with his band
A snapshot of Herbie Hancock improvising with his band.

After closing with another “Listen and Learn” chapter, Hancock wraps up his MasterClass with a few more parting words of wisdom. Namely, he encourages you to get out there, create something new, and teach him something.

Regardless of your musical prowess or skill level, there’s something pretty inspiring about that call to action — it certainly made me run for the piano, anyway.

My fast-track lesson plan

If you’re strapped for time and only want the bare bones of the course, these six lessons take about 80 minutes to work through and cover the essential ideas Hancock really wants to get across to help you understand jazz.

Our 80-Minute Lesson Plan

3. Improvisation | 11m17s

7. Piano Basics | 14m21s

8. Piano Exercises | 14m01s

10. Expanded Improv Techniques | 16m56s

16. Ravel’s Creative Harmonies | 6m57s

21. Rhythmic Musicianship | 16m01s

Total runtime = 1 hour 20 minutes

Key things I learned after taking this MasterClass

I went into this MasterClass as a casual jazz fan with a few basic piano skills. After 4 hours and 23 minutes, I logged out of this MasterClass feeling really inspired — but I also learned a couple of pretty critical things about jazz and music in general.

5 takeaways from this MasterClass

Here are my top five takeaways from the Herbie Hancock MasterClass:

1. Your music needs to tell a story.

One of the most inspiring parts of this MasterClass is when Hancock points out that jazz isn’t about complex, pretentious notes. Your music needs to communicate your personal story — and that’s the key to developing your own unique sound.

2. Good musicians take risks.

A huge chunk of this MasterClass revolves around improvisation. As a teacher, Hancock encourages you to play some wrong notes. By experimenting, you’ll learn more about yourself as a player, and the styles and sounds you like — you may even end up creating a masterpiece.

3. Don’t be afraid to be a copycat.

According to Herbie Hancock, one of the best ways to learn the basics of songwriting is to pick apart what others have done. Listen to the notes, harmonies, tone phrasing, dynamics, and the story the artist is trying to get across. Not only is this great training for your abilities with an instrument, but also good ear training.

4. To be a jazz great, you’ve got to master rhythm and blues.

Hancock devotes an entire chapter to differentiating between the two types of jazz: rhythm and blues. If you want to establish a solid foundation in your jazz training, you need to reach the point at which you can comfortably shift between rhythm changes and the blues in all 12 keys.

5. It’s up to you to find your own musical voice.

One of Hancock’s key lessons is simple: if you want to develop a unique sound, you’re on your own. In closing, he reminds you that all he can do is teach you the basics and fundamentals. What you do with those new skills is totally up to you.

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Memorable quotes from this MasterClass

“You’re born with ears. You’re born with a heart. Just use them.”

Herbie Hancock/Lesson 3: Improvisation

“Honesty goes a long way when it comes to composing, especially today. People want to hear real things about real people and real experiences in life.”

Herbie Hancock/Lesson 12: Composing

“No matter what the landscape, you can create new avenues of exploration and joy for yourself and creativity, that make the experience exciting for you and exciting for the people that are listening to you.”

 – Herbie Hancock/Lesson 12: Expanded Improv Techniques

Herbie Hancock MasterClass pros and cons

Just like any other course, the Herbie Hancock MasterClass isn’t totally perfect. It’s got both pros and cons you should be aware of, and the way the course is designed may not be to everybody’s taste.

The pros and cons of the Herbie Hanock MasterClass

Pros

It’s pretty difficult to fault this course. There were some great takeaways, and the major pros are:

  • The course covers piano and jazz fundamentals.
  • It helps you develop practical skills through real exercises.
  • You get to hear pearls of wisdom from one of the greatest jazz musicians ever to grace the stage.

Cons

In the interest of fairness, it’s worth pointing out a couple of minor flaws the course had that may not work for everybody. For example:

  • The course is pretty long. If you’re looking for some educational background sound you can tune in and out of, this isn’t the class for you.
  • It can be difficult to follow along on the piano. You’ll probably have to rewind quite a bit on the “Listen and Learn” chapters.
  • There’s a lot of talking. If you’re in this just for piano lessons, you may need to skip a few chapters.

Do I recommend this Masterclass?

Absolutely. The Herbie Hancock MasterClass is a great introduction to jazz composition. He covers the basics of jazz, helps you practice, and gives you a couple of private concerts on top of it all.

Toss in some heartfelt reminiscing about the “good old days “ and Hancock’s personal experiences with some of the twentieth century’s top musical icons, and this MasterClass is definitely worth every penny.

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