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Arts & Entertainment


Danny Elfman

Lesson time 15:16 min

Danny wasn’t a classically trained musician before becoming a film composer—and he doesn’t think you need to be, either. He shares his unexpected journey to film composition.

Danny Elfman
Teaches Music for Film
Oscar-nominated composer Danny Elfman teaches you his eclectic creative process and his approach to elevating a story with sound.


[MUSIC PLAYING] - I was born in Los Angeles, California. And I lived in an area called Baldwin Hills. And it's a kind of an odd little area of the city. But it's an area I really love, because it was around the block from a movie theater called the Baldwin Hills Movie Theater. And that was my church. That's where I grew up. I was there every weekend of my childhood as I could remember. And the beautiful thing of being in the '60s is that there were never any parents. It was very much like "The Village of the Damned" if anybody remembers that movie of these kind of children that were all born at the same time because they were implanted from aliens. And there was some kind of evil force. And this was our world. This was our playground. This was our celebration. This is what we did every week. We wanted aliens. We wanted monsters. We wanted mutations. We wanted vampires. This is what we yearned for, or giant robots or things of this nature. So I grew up on movies in Baldwin Hills in Los Angeles, California. You have to understand me getting into music is a freak accident. I didn't have music in my life as a child. But I became kind of a film nerd early on. And then I think by the time I hit 16, 15, 16, I was really into science in my middle school years. I was a movie fan but science is what I was clearly going to be in my life. I wanted to be a radiation biologist. And I used to do experiments in my room. And I took also radiation biology in summer classes in Los Angeles at the science museum actually. I ended up going to a new school in a new neighborhood. And the friends I met were arty. And they were into music. They were into jazz. One of my friends was actually a trumpet player who was writing contemporary compositions even at 16. He turned me on to "The Rite of Spring" by Stravinsky and then more Stravinsky. And it changed my life. I dumped my record collection. And now I'm obsessed with Russian composers because Stravinsky led to Prokofiev. When I heard Prokofiev, it was an even deeper hit than Stravinsky. Prokofiev got right into my soul. That was like this feels like I've heard it all somewhere. I've never heard it but it feels like it's in my blood, which is half Russian. I felt like it was my music. Now I'm 18. Still have never played an instrument. And I'm planning a trip around the world. I wanted to take an instrument with me. I was going to spend a year going through Africa and then over to Asia through India, Nepal, and work my way back to Los Angeles. And my friend Leon Schneiderman, who was later the saxophonist in Oingo Boingo who was already playing saxophone as a kid, but he and I were making this trip together. We plotted it out. But I wanted to bring an instrument and secretly learn something. So I picked the violin. And the reason I picked violin was due to a jazz violinist named Stephane Grappelli. And I said that's something I would love to try to do. So Leon made this incredible perfec...

About the Instructor

From The Simpsons theme to the soundtracks of Tim Burton’s Pee-wee’s Big Adventure and The Nightmare Before Christmas, Danny Elfman’s compositions are original, memorable, and exuberantly weird. Now the Oingo Boingo founder and four-time Oscar nominee shares his unconventional (and uncensored) creative process. Step into Danny’s studio and learn his techniques for evoking emotion and elevating a story through music.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

D. Elfmann lives stories, his enthousiams, his openess, to do what he loves, courage, intense commitment, to make dreams come true, that's what i what 's on my way, namasteeeee!

Danny Elfman really gave us his great insight and approach in a very understandable and honest way. A brilliant presentation!

Yes I would love to make music scores to my genre of movie and the story im working on more true to life romantic, inspirational story

This class was fantastic! I do not compose for film but feel that the information gleaned from this class can be applied to regular songwriting too.


Suzanne W.

I love that Danny opened his ears to listening to new and different styles of music and instruments. I believe this is the kind of attitude that creates a great musician and composer. Listening feeds the well!

Jeffro D.

Hello to the Danny Elfman class. I'm new to fill scoring. I'm a musician getting into songwriting for sync and I'm using this class as a general guide (Taking long form movie scoring and applying it to short form video media). Anyways, I'm just getting through the intro. So far, still interested!


It's much more interesting hearing him talk about his life with music than reading about it on wikipedia, ha. I used to hear music when I would go to bed. Flute and cello--I loved flute and cello. I never wrote anything down I could never articulate notes with sounds (poor ear training womp womp). I am beyond excited with what more this course will unveil.

Joseph S.

This was a great introduction. I thoroughly enjoyed Danny discussing his humble beginnings as a self educated musician and his journey to becoming a film score composer. His music background is very eerily similar to my own. Thank You Danny for taking the time to teach me.

Ryan W.

S++ (for those who understand that)! I find his journey with music exactly that. I see it as a journey. I have had a journey of my own with music, and it has been all about discovery such as with music of different regions of the world and instrumentation. I was in music K-5 and in concert band from 6th grade to 12th grade. However, I had no composition training and have utilized an approach of discovery just like I had done with listening to and learning about different genres/ styles of music. I also have melodies and different musical components jump into my head like him. I have created certain symphonies in my mind. Unfortunately, one of my problems, like many who compose or deal with music tracks, is that I often lose things. I have lost more than I have put on the page because I can't record or write it down and have hundreds of other thoughts that flood my brain. I am working on a huge concert band composition right now actually that will end up most likely being over 20 minutes long by the time I finish, but it is a huge project, and I have never finished one before. A local high school that does well even at state competitions in Texas wants to perform it, but I have to finish the dagnab thing first. I have made great progress and am still working on it, but I also know I can't force things. I need to find more ways to quiet my mind. Oddly enough, my style and approach is kind of cinematic. A lot of people have told me that I should go the extra mile and have a short film in the background to accompany my concert band piece. Ultimately, I am interested in turning my composition into a multi-faceted endeavor. I am excited to see what else he has to say! I wanted to start this when he first released it, but I couldn't buy a class or get the pass yet!

simon B.

This was lovely! I very much enjoy watching this. Read about him and of course! He made the score for batman which is a huge part of my earliest childhood with the cartoon and movies etc. The music is exactly what Batman is.

Brianna T.

As someone who has been playing any instrument I could get my hands on my entire life, and playing them by ear because I couldn't read or write a lick of music (even after being tutored 3 different times)-- this is eye-opening. Not only to possible potential, but that being classically trained isn't always necessary (which is especially helpful for the innumerable, talented people who can't afford it). That if you have that drive to learn and experiment and take risks, you already have 90% of what you need.

Marcus M.

What a great journey! I like how he was able to take all of his work to apply it to composing...


One of the best “How it all started..” stories I have ever heard! Completely captivating and inspiring. I’m really looking forward to this course!


Found this a fascinating story. I' thought I would take this masterclass as a challenge as I don't know anything about this area but this has hooked me and now I want to learn loads more.