Music & 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.
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[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...

Music out of chaos

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.

I am a 53 year old, self taught musician. I have a few things going against me here, I know, but Danny Elfman has given me a place to start. What a delightful class this was!

I loved hearing Danny Elfman's insight. I've followed his work since the Oingo Boingo days. He is an inspiration. Thank you for sharing this with us!

Perfect, except I believe in a chord structure naturally creating it's given mood, although he is correct one can make any chords into anything. : )

The Universe makes the set list, and given that, try and persevere through the Ups and the Downs. Danny is a good Dude.


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.

Anthony L.

I just saw the announcement from Youtube and HAD to enroll. I absolutely love Danny's soundtracks!