Music & Entertainment

Sound Palettes

Hans Zimmer

Lesson time 17:32 min

Hans is known for creating unique sound palettes. Learn how and why he does it, and how to do it on your own.

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 really try, on each score, to find-- to create a palette that A, I haven't used before and B, if possible, nobody else has used before. So there's a lot of experimenting going on. There's a lot of what happens if you play the violin behind the bridge and stuff like this? What would that sound like? And that's sort of happening. And every day I get a new idea. And there's, like, a team of engineers running around just trying to keep up with me. And some of it is just, quite frankly, it's just me procrastinating, trying to avoid having to write the next note and going, I can't possibly write this next note unless I have the gong and the water played with-- I don't know-- three snorkels or something like this, some hideous thing I make people go through to do this. When we were working on the Batman movies, I mean, Gotham City doesn't exist. But it was very important that Gotham City had its own sound. So working with Richard King, for instance, the sound designer, and my friend Mel Weston, we really tried to figure out how the music could seep, dissolve, metamorphosize into a more abstract sound, into atmospheres, into room tones, could dissolve into the proper hard real sound effects which could then, at the same time, be reflected in the images that you saw. And very much the light-- I mean, the stylized lighting and the sound had to make sense. I think a very bright ditty across Gotham City wouldn't have worked. And at the same time, I remember, because I did Batman Begins with my friend James Newton Howard, who is a far more elegant composer. So I kept forever making him do the grandeur and the architectural wonderfulness of the shiny glass and steel of that city, while I became a specialist of grubby night scenes. But James used a very different sound to describe those colors. And in a funny way, we never talked about it, but it was fairly obvious that there was a different instrumentation called for to show the hope of the beauty of the city before it got destroyed. As soon as you say a very loose shot, as soon as you say it, I hear a sound. And look, I don't think it's a particular talent I have. I think it's just how I hear the world maybe more than I see the world. Just like I think the DP spends a lot of time figuring out how to light something and how to use certain colors, or the set designer, how to create an environment in which it is possible that the story can unfold, I need to know what the is DP is doing. I need to know how this thing is going to look. And so the colors are really important because music and image, it's all the same thing. It's light. It's frequency. Light goes into-- when you slow it down enough, it becomes sound. So we need to coexist, and we need to complement each other. If you look at Vittorio Storaro's book, , Writing With Light, and he just shows you the paintings he's looked at and the way he uses light. These ar...

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.

Truly inspiring could not stop watching. Amazing information. Im telling everyone to watch this. I will work with you oneday. Thankyou

Hans is awesome, this was everything you might expect and more, so many insights, what an inspiration. Thanks you!

It's hard to specify. I was intrigued by his easy way to formulate 'questions' with a few notes. It would be good to know if he had any theory behind how that worked. In general, I'm not sure I learnt so much about music, but I did learn a lot about Hans, his perspective and interesting approaches. And really that's much more useful than learning any specific theory.

I learned a lot about how to have an impact through your music. To make the audience grasp on the notes subconsciously as they watch the film. But most importantly; perception of life has changed.


A fellow student

Mr. Zimmer, if I’m not mistaken, you say the film maker is who gives you the story for you to create the music, but have you ever switched your role in that you create a score telling a character’s story through your vision, giving your story to the film maker for them to create, ultimately telling your story about someone else? For example, if you played a score telling Robin Williams’ story, and give it to a director to create the film, has that ever happened to you and what film was that and what would you say was the film maker’s and/or audience’s reaction or emotion towards it?

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?

Ethan F.

I really enjoy his vision of "how" he is inviting the spectators into the world they create.

stew D.

This is a great way to approach music, using imagery or colour, it helps to limit and set the scope of the music rather than starting from a blank sheet. (PDF link doesn't work on Chrome on Mac).

Brennan M.

Really fun to work on the Homework for this; I thought it would be fun to Name the track super blandly and send it to a bunch of friends to see what imagery, city & colors THEY all saw with the Music. I wrote based off of the idea of the Walled City of Kowloon in the year 2090, but it's really fun to see how wildly different people interpret the music based on their own life experience. Some are star gazing, strolling through Ancient Temples in a Time Lapse, while others are delving into Dens of Marauders & Thieves. Very ready for more exercises like this!

Janmeet P.

My 14-year-old is going through this class and has found it very helpful. He has been working on several compositions and has gotten to the point where he feels the best way to advance his skills is to have access to, for example, a full orchestra, and perhaps work on a film project as an intern. We're based in northern Virginia, and my son plays violin in the American Youth Concert Orchestra. Would love to hear some thoughts on possible internship opportunities.

Greg S.

"When you slow light down enough, it becomes sound." Ok, how profound is that??

Art D.

I like this topic. I have always started a project with "What is the instrumentation?" It is becoming easier and easier to create your own samples. Many DAWs now have the SW to do it.

A fellow student

You know the chair you sat in in lesson 2 when you were talking about choosing a key strategically? And the very beginning of this lesson? That chair, together with the timbre of your voice, is to me a wonderful sound palette. I like it much better than the other chair you are using for the rest of this lesson - the one with the sort of airy ergonomic back. I like the creaky leathery stressed wood accompaniment. :-)

Nigel A.

I must have missed the part about how he creates sound palettes and how we can create our own...