How to Play Jazz Piano Like Herbie Hancock

Instructor
Jonny May
Quick Tip
Level 1
Level 2
Level 3
12:56

Learning Focus
  • Accompanying
  • Chords
  • Groove
Music Style
  • Funk
  • Smooth Jazz

Do you want to learn how to play jazz piano like Herbie Hancock? Herbie Hancock is well-known for being a pioneer for many jazz styles, but what makes Herbie’s piano style unique? In this jazz piano lesson, you are going to learn what I call the Signature Herbie Hancock Groove. This is a groove that Herbie Hancock loves to use on many of his jazz compositions, including Watermelon Man, Cantaloupe Island, and Chameleon. In this jazz piano lesson, you will learn:

  • A Beginner Herbie Hancock Signature Groove
  • A Late Beginner Herbie Hancock Signature Groove
  • An Intermediate Herbie Hancock Signature Groove
  • Herbie Hancock common chords
  • How to use Herbie Hancock slides and bass lines

Whether you are a beginner jazz piano student, or you have experience playing jazz piano, you will learn practical chords, rhythms, and grooves so that you can transform any song in the Herbie Hancock style. Let’s dive in!

Herbie Hancock Chords

The first step to playing piano like Herbie Hancock is to learn the 2 chords that Herbie loves to use in his compositions. These chords are F minor 7 and C9sus4. For example, below is a fun way to play these chords:

Herbie Hancock Stock Chords for Jazz Piano; F Minor 7 to C9sus4
Herbie Hancock Stock Chords for Jazz Piano; F Minor 7 to C9sus4

If you don’t know these chords, you can learn your minor 7 chords in our Minor 7 Chord Theory & Application course. Alternately, you can learn chords like C9sus4 in our Piano Chord Extensions course.

The two chords that you just learned are the basis of many Herbie Hancock tunes. However, you’ll especially find them in Watermelon Man and Cantaloupe Island. Now that you understand the two chords, next you will learn the 3 Signature Herbie Hancock Grooves.

Herbie Hancock Piano – Beginner Groove

If you are a beginner jazz pianist, then this is the Herbie Hancock groove for you because it is easy to play and sounds great:

Beginner Herbie Hancock Signature Jazz Piano Groove; works on Watermelon Man, Cantaloupe Island, & Chameleon
Beginner Herbie Hancock Signature Jazz Piano Groove; works on Watermelon Man, Cantaloupe Island, & Chameleon

If you struggle to read notation above, you can learn this Herbie Hancock Signature grooves with our Smart Sheet Music, which shows a digital light-up keyboard along with the sheet music.

The groove you just learned sounds good because it breaks up the harmony of the the two chords you already learned in an interesting rhythmic way. To explain, below is an explanation of how we developed the harmony and rhythm for this groove.

Harmony

If you look at the harmony of this Herbie Hancock piano groove, we are simply breaking up the notes of the chord. For example, the first two notes Eb and C outline the first chord, F Minor 7. The next two chords, D and Bb, outline the C9sus4 chord. If you look at the left hand, you are simply playing the roots of each chord. On the last beat, you add an Eb, which comes from the C9sus4 chord.

Rhythm

If you look at the rhythm of this groove, it is very syncopated because the right hand is accenting beats in-between the primary beats. To clarify, syncopation is where you accent notes on the “and” of a measure where you count “1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &.”

If you struggle putting the hands together, I recommend our Two Hand Coordination Exercises course (Beginner/Intermediate, Intermediate Advanced), which helps you master grooves.

Another excellent resource to help you lock into the groove is our backing track, which can be downloaded on this page after logging into your membership. Next, you will learn the Late Beginner Herbie Hancock jazz piano groove.

Herbie Hancock Piano – Late Beginner Groove

If you are more on the late beginner or early intermediate side, then this is the Herbie Hancock jazz piano groove for you! Checkout the groove below:

Intermediate Herbie Hancock Signature Jazz Piano Groove; works on Watermelon Man, Cantaloupe Island, & Chameleon
Intermediate Herbie Hancock Signature Jazz Piano Groove; works on Watermelon Man, Cantaloupe Island, & Chameleon

Harmony

For the intermediate groove, we will use the same harmony as before, except we will add two new elements: pivot notes and slides

Pivot Notes

We can fill in the Beginner groove by using pivot notes, which are notes just below the chords. For example, you can use the F underneath the chords as a pivot note for both the F Minor 7 and C9sus4 chords.

Slides

The second harmonic element that you can add to the beginner piano groove is slides. For example, it is common when playing funk and blues to slide from the b5 of a chord to the 5th of the chord. Therefore, in this groove, we will slide from the B to the C. Alternately, you can also do a slow or “lazy” slide from the G# to the A on the F Minor 7 chord. For a deep dive on using slides in your improvisation, checkout our 10-Lesson Blues Challenge (Beginner/Intermediate, Intermediate/Advanced)

Rhythm

For this groove, you will start to add more rhythmic movement in the left hand compared to the beginner groove. For example, we will ad a B natural a a lower neighbor note to our target note C. Additionally, at the end of the phrase we will also add an F to anticipate the next measure, which starts on an F Minor 7 Chord.

If you are enjoying this groove, you can learn many similar grooves in our Funk & Smooth Jazz Grooves & Licks courses (Beginner/Intermediate and Intermediate/Advanced).

Next, you will learn the Herbie Hancock Intermediate groove.

Herbie Hancock Piano – Intermediate Groove

If you are an intermediate or advanced pianist and want to play jazz piano like Herbie Hancock, this is an essential Herbie groove for you. Check out the notation below:

Late Beginner Herbie Hancock Signature Jazz Piano Groove; works on Watermelon Man, Cantaloupe Island, & Chameleon
Late Beginner Herbie Hancock Signature Jazz Piano Groove; works on Watermelon Man, Cantaloupe Island, & Chameleon

Below is a quick analysis of how this groove differs from the beginner and late beginner grooves.

Harmony

For this groove, we are using the same chords as previous grooves, but we are making them a lot bigger. For example, we are using 3-note chords on the F Minor 7. Additionally, we are adding double slides to the first chord to make it very bluesy.

Rhythm

Compared to the beginner and late beginner grooves, this groove has a lot more motion in the bass. For example, we are filling in beats 3 and 4 with 8th notes, which creates a lot of excitement. Furthermore, adding 8th notes at the end of the measure helps carry on phrase to the next.

Herbie Hancock – Soloing and Improv

Now that you can play the Herbie Hancock grooves, my final recommendation is to try soloing over this chord progression. To get started with this, I recommend using a scale like the F Dorian scale:

F Dorian Scale for Piano
F Dorian Scale for Piano

If you are not sure how to create interesting funk lines, you can learn in our Funky Blues Soloing courses (Beginner/Intermediate, Intermediate/Advanced). If you want to learn how to create super hip jazz lines with more interesting scales and techniques, I recommend our Breaking Down a Jazz Solo courses (Beginner/Intermediate, Intermediate/Advanced).

Finally, I recommend that you share what you’ve learned by posting a video in our Piano Challenges Facebook group. This is a private piano community full of enthusiastic pianists here to encourage and support you on your piano journey.

That’s all for today’s piano lesson. If you enjoyed this lesson, I recommend subscribing to our weekly piano Quick Tips emails. This way, you’ll never miss a lesson.

See you in the next piano lesson.

Your teacher,

Jonny May

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