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Arts & Entertainment

Learning by Listening

Hans Zimmer

Lesson time 16:47 min

Hans discusses the importance of learning how to listen and dissect music when it works and doesn't work.

Hans Zimmer
Teaches Film Scoring
From collaborating to scoring, Hans Zimmer teaches you how to tell a story with music in 31 exclusive video lessons.
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I never went to music school. I had my miserable two weeks of piano lessons. But the more I do this, the more I think it really is about learning how to listen. I mean, for all musicians. And I think if you observe musicians working together, but you take it for granted that they can play their instrument, but what happens is that they actually really learned how to listen. And just because that's not so visually obvious, it might be more of a secret. I can orchestrate. I can wield pen and paper and actually come up with a fairly decent orchestration without ever having gone to music school. But I learned that, as a kid, listening into the music, finding the [? balances. ?] But I think if you extend this outwards now, and you sit there with your director and the game I play is hey, tell me the story. I listen to his words, and I listen to the story. But I try to listen beyond it as well. No director ever tells you-- no good director ever attempts to tell you what music to write. So what you're doing as you're trying to figure out, you're trying to listen to the subtext. You're forever listening into the heart of the thing. I think if there's anything I learned is I've learned how to listen better. And, including myself, you're playing something on the keyboard, and you're playing what ostensibly is the wrong note, but it's not, it's gold. It's the opportunity, it's the unlocking of a door to something your fingers weren't going to take you to, and if you don't listen you're going to miss it. Because if you're not listening to the other players you're never going to go and get that impetuous, and you're never going to have a conversation. And at the end of the day I do think it's about communication. And even though I have a big mouth and I find it difficult to keep it shut, when we develop these ideas, when we develop what this thing is, I'm trying to listen beyond the words. You know, I'm trying to not hear the words, I'm trying to hear the tune. Duke Ellington said it best, "There are only two types of music, good music and bad music." But I think if I have to teach somebody something, the only thing I can teach them is whatever that piece is you love, go look at it from many different directions. With me it was odd things like Mahler's second. I was fascinated by that. I mean, I would take that apart for a year. I would just listen to it, and get obsessed with it, and, you know, discover more and more about the process. And I suppose, if you want to, Mahler was one of my teachers, because I learned a lot from it. Later on it was things like Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique. He's taking you through this tragic love story that goes wild and it goes crazy, and I very quickly realized as well that there was a part in it where he goes to the Dies Irae which is a piece of church music written in 1256. I happened to know this, to other people, a useless fact. If you...

Tell a story with music

Hans Zimmer didn’t see a film until he was 12 years old. Since then, he’s scored over 150 films, including Inception, The Lion King, and The Dark Knight. In his MasterClass, the self-taught Academy Award-winner teaches how he creates sounds from nothing, composes compelling character themes, and scores a movie before ever seeing it. By the end, you’ll have everything you need to start film scoring.


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

I really enjoyed it! I would like if we could see the film score.

After watching Hans Zimmer work and learning from his "Music Diaries", I now have a better process for composing.

Very complete. Full of detailed examples. In a strange way, wise too.

I'm a director, so I only wanted to watch it to know more about his relationship with them. I really loved it, not even because what he talks about, but because he seems a really genuine lovely person.


Dr. Monnie Chan

I believe in following our inner voice and just do it. Sometimes it is right, but sometimes we may be confused and should pay for it. Being a composer, to follow one's instinct is very common. But how can we discriminate if it is correct or, such as, "Hand on, it works not now but may be 10 years later. But still I have to do it, just write it down .." I think you all know what I mean. Looking forward to your intelligent and impact ideas.

Dr. Monnie Chan

Our maestro teacher Hans Zimmer live concert in Hong Kong is coming on 26th September 2019. Just 12 days to go. I am going and wonder if there are any classmates I can meet?

Lawrence W.

The tool of Belioz's "Idee Fixe" is a big influencer on how I listen to music in movies. I ask what is the thematic tune and is it tied to a character. How do the theme's dance or not together between characters. Does it fit the overall movie, scene, character, etc. It is fun to see the visual story and to listen to the audio story. Challenging but fun.

Kori C.

I also love listening to the big gaming scores, like from SkyRim - Jeremy Soule's music, of course, LOTR, Star Wars - Anything John Williams. One of the most interesting film scores I didn't like at first, but after several listens I have come to love it. It is Ladyhawke soundtrack written by Andrew Powell and produced by Alan Parsons. I love that you shared your favorites. Time to go listen to them!

A fellow student

No mentions of Lord of the Rings----best sounds ever!!! In my opinion best movie soundtrack created.

Marcus M.

How much we learn just be being silent. Hearing Hans' influences is a great peak into how he thinks about music.

Judith M.

I'd love to know what attracted you to Mahlers 2nd, was it simply the complex interplay of the music or the story behind it as well. Since personal story influences everything that we do whether musically or written. Somehow I find it difficult to imagine you as the kid who never liked school much, or was it just the school that you went to never fitted quite right. It made you into the person that you are now, and that early love of classical music still sings from your soul in the music that you compose. Anyway thank you for the listening lesson that took me through Mahler and his Jewish connection, the Gregorian dies irae, Bosch (which also made me think of the detective of the same name), to the fun you must have had on the Lone Ranger, through the spectacle of the Magic Flute (which I enjoy), to the Bs. Of course also the connections that the music that you mentioned makes, particularly in film, who can not think of Bach and not smile at the memory of Radar in MASH.

Ewen S.

I also love Mahler and it was great to see the visual aspect to his first and 10th symphonies. You really do get a magical experience!


Guau, I think the same about " Expreso de Medianoche" of Georgio Modorer . Year 1978. It is a Master piece. And how I wrote, Ennio was the guilty of , that many time later, I become in composer, and in a Film's composer.. Thans master for your sincerity and for your naturally telling us how really is the compositor's live. Your Fonts and your predilections.

Mia S.

"His tunes are fantastic, his craftsmanship is fantastic, the discipline he puts into this is fantastic, and then the complete disregard of any rules is fantastic. At the end of it, you know somewhere in the center of it, holding it all together, is his incredible passion and love and understanding for Bach. In a funny way, I don't think any of us would be doing it without Bach. He's a cornerstone. Growing up without a television had its benefits. What better way to learn than, all day long, to be surrounded by Beethoven and Bach? I was extraordinarily bad at anything that involved discipline or school, or rules... a disdain and allergy to authority. The only thing left for me - and I think that's quite sometimes not a bad thing - is, I had no options but to become a musician. I don't listen to a lot of film scores. That's like a bus-man's holiday, that's what I do all day long, so why would I want to do that when I go home? Right now what I'm listening to is a lot of classical music, because what I'm working on is the opposite to classical music. I always have to listen to things which have sort of nothing to do with what I'm working on, not related to the style I'm working on. I have binges of weird punk phases, electronica, or EDM. Suddenly I'm hunting down every great blues guitarist. I go on these lengthy - being in love with a certain genre, and then go somewhere else. If you really need to get a rounded education in music and you don't know where to start, just start with the B's. Barrios, Bartok, Beatles, banjo music. The point is you'll find something which touches you personally and which means something to you personally - and then build on that. The opening scene was the inhuman sequence of just going. It was such a brilliant idea by the director to realize that the scariest thing is a machine where you don't realize the humanity in it. It's the machine-like quality that doesn't give you pointers, what's going to happen next, which makes it so scary. 'Once Upon a Time in America' is extraordinary because the whole score is basically a downer. There isn't a fast piece in it. It's a gangster movie, and he writes slow, heartfelt music, and he just manages to put a nostalgia and a grace and a soul into this movie that is absolutely incredible. Hanna, The Chemical Brothers, it's one of my favorite scores - it's great music, it's great film music, it's incredibly cinematic, it's quirky and it's epic all at the same time. It's got a point of view. And I think those are qualities which are necessary to pull off a decent film score."