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Arts & Entertainment

Themes

Hans Zimmer

Lesson time 15:51 min

Hans has created some of the most memorable themes in film. Learn how he creates a theme, and how simplicity is his best tool to maintain a theme.

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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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Nothing means anything until you have a tune. And a tune, that's the job. You sit there in front of the piano. And there are 88 notes on that keyboard, of which only 11 means something before they repeat in the octave. And you know everybody else has played those notes before. And somehow you have to figure out how to write something original with it, but at the same time, not too original, because it has to be appropriate to the story. I'm not doing concert music. I am trying to be telling the parallel story that the filmmakers are taking. So there are restrictions, yet you're supposed to be completely free. So there are contradictions in everything I do. A great example of all of that is actually Beethoven's Fifth, not that I'm comparing myself to Beethoven. But dun, dun, dun, dun, every kid has walked up to the piano and gone, dun, dun, dun, dun. But he knew, somehow, that out of those notes, you could go and build castles in the sky. You could invent something. You could tell a story with those notes. They're so simple. That's what you need to figure out, how to find the simplest thing to set the thing in motion. But you have to, at the same time-- and this is why I sit there, day in, day out, driving myself crazy, you have to know. You have to make a decision that whatever those opening notes are, whatever the first thing is that you have to say, is actually going to hold water, is actually going to somehow take you through this vast arc of a story. And not halfway through the movie, you suddenly go, you know something? I can't make these notes become mournful, happy, exciting, all the different personalities they need to take on. And sometimes you just have to kill your favorite babies. Even though you're trying to write from inspiration, you're trying to be relatively practical. One of the things I don't do is I don't use a lot of exuberant key changes in my music. Or even if I do, I try to always come back to my home key. Part of that is practical. I like writing in d. And everybody thinks it's because I'm lazy, which is true. But it's not the reason I'm write in d. I write in d because, in this modern day and age, the bass can go down to C, which is their open string. But they can't do vibrato on the open string. So D is actually a good note, where they can so do a little bit of vibrato. And it's nice that if you go from-- [PLAYING PIANO] It's satisfying! So if I have to give you an answer, if I have to complete a phrase, and I have to give you an answer, I like when it ends on a note that bass and celli and violas-- violins is a different matter-- can land on in a satisfying way. At least I set myself up to have that possibility. The whole score might never do this. And it might just be up here. [PLAYING PIANO] But I don't know that at the beginning. So if I pick something that gives me ...


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.



Reviews

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

Very insightful and a well polished production.

I've always wanted to get into film scoring, but I never felt that I knew enough or that the time was right. If I learned anything, it was to start immediately and never stop until there aren't any stories for me to tell.

So far I am quite impressed with how insightful Has Zimmer can be. His poetic explanation of music resonates strong with me.

Thank you to Hans Zimmer for his time and generosity in sharing his wisdom. I believe he is the greatest composer of our time.


Comments

VJ B.

At about 9:00 a plane flew over my house and I though it was in the video because it was perfectly in tune with the music on here. It had a nice vibrato and a brass kind of sound to it :P

Vicente

Explaning music (with words) is complicated.I know a musician rather to play music than talk about it, but you did it so well and for moments I could see you were enjoying it. This is a story telling music bussiness anyway. We need to talk to people and they aren´t musicians.

Ali Rıza B.

I share my note that I wrote words for everyone who wants to be a movie producer or composer like me and who knows a language other than English. THEMES Find the Simplest Tune That Carries Your Story Nothing means anything until you have a tune. And a tune, that's the job. You sit there in front of the piano. And there are 88 notes on that keyboard, of which only 11 means something before they repeat in the octave. And you know everybody else has played those notes before. And somehow you have to figure out how to write something original with it, but the same time, not too original, because it has to be appropriate to the story. I'm not doing concert music. I am trying to be telling the parallel story that the filmmakers are taking. So there are restrictions, yet you're supposed to be completely free. So there are contradictions in everything I do. A great example of all of that is actually Beethoven's Fifth, not that I'm comparing myself to Beethoven. But dun, dun, dun, duun, every kid has walked up to the piano and gone, dun, dun, dun, duun. But he knew, somehow, that out of those notes, you could go and build castles in the sky. You could invent something. You could tell a story with those notes. They're so simple. That's what you need to figure out, how to find the simplest thing to set the thing in motion. But you have to, at the same time-- and this is whay I sit there, day in, day out, driving myself crazy, you have to know. You have to make a decision that whatever those opening notes are, whatever the first thing is that you have tı say, is actually going to hold water, is actually going to somehow take you through this vast arc of a story. And not halfway through the movie, you suddenly go, you know something? I can't make these notes become mournful, happpy, exciting, all the different personalities they need to take on. And sometimes you have to kill your favorite babies. Choose a Key Strategically Even though you're trying to write from inspiration, you're trying to be reşat,vely practical. One of the things I don't do is I don't use a lot of exuberant key changes in my music. Or even if I do, I try to always come back to my home key. Part of that is practical. I like writing d. And everybody thinks it's because I'm lazy, which is true. But it's not the reason I'm write in d. I write ind vecause , in this modern day and age, tha bass can go down to C, which is their open string. But they can't do vibrato on the open string. So D is actually a good note, where they can so do a little bit of vibrato. And it's nice that if you go from-- (Playing Piano) It's satisfying! So if I have to give you an answer, if I have to complete a phrase, and I have to give you an answer, I like when it ends on a note that bass and celli and violas-- Okey violins is a diffrent matter-- can land on in a satisfying way. At least I set myself up to have that possibility. The whole score might never do this. And it might just be up here. But I don't know that at the begining. So if I pick something that gives me the most freedom, the most possibilities, I'm at least starting on solid ground. Themes as Questions and Answers I think of everythink-- I mean look, whereever my hand falls-- --is a question, is an answer. It's just how I can make the question longer. I think there's a natural way in music where you're basically having a conversation. Or you want to have a conversation. Sometimes you leave it as a question with another question. And then if you really want to-- (Playing Piano) I'm not writing anything. And I stop speaking, because I feel I'm having a conversation right now, with you. (Playing Piano) Bit of a dodgy question here. I'm being a bit confrontational. (Playing Piano) And I can take the tension out. (Playing Piano) Get happy about it. (Playing Piano) And kill you. So it's language. So I don't know. I just always-- I loved Thin Red Line, because I'm working with Terry Malick. One of the thnigs he kept saying is that the question is more intresting than the answer. And the whole movie just asked questions. We never answer anything. It's sort of a bit boring. Usually yhe answer is a bit mundane. So to maintain the tension see if you can just raise the stake in the questions. If it's a love story, once she says yes, I'll marry you, we're done. And yes, some movie start at that point. But very often the journey, in yhis case, is more intresting. The question is more interesting. So yes I do think these tunes-- I don't think them though. I just naturally gravitate towards things which ask questions. I think, because I think that's more intresting. Creating Theme: Sherlock Holmes All music is made up out of little fragments of ideas that you're trying to make into a cohesive sentence. So I had my first two words. I said well-- (Playing Piano) And I knew it would work down there. And you have to test the DNA very quickly. Is it adaptable? What can it become? And it's this thing. It is actually storytelling. If you look at it as the-- (Playing Piano) --that's the question. And then the-- (Playing Piano) There is a half an answer, which again ends on a question. And so part of what you want to do, of course, in all movies, is you-- it's like when you work on a love story or a romantic movie, the last thing you want to hear is them saying I love you to each other. That's the part you want to postpone until the very, very last frame. Going back to the-- (Playing Piano) I mean you can't get any more banal than-- (Playing Piano) OK so I changed it a bit. I made it more-- (Playing Piano) Just some purpose, because it felt mean. I wanted a bit of meanness. (Playing Piano) The fuck sort of a question is that? And there's a little twinkle in in. And the obstacles we can put in its way are more intresting, and the croockedness we can. So part of what the tunes are trying to do, what the tunes automatically are trying to do, is set up questions, which are half-answered with another question at the end so that they can drive forward. Does that make sense? So kust have a listen. (Playing Piano) Little answer. (Playing Piano) There's a little fleck of a question again. (Playing Piano) That's quite a strong answer. (Playing Piano) This just me seing what happens if you have it down an octave. (Playing Piano) So it's a bit more spooky, or that it sits under dialogue. (Playing Piano) It's not even much of a tune. It's just a very efficient motif, because it's short and succinct and says a lot in four bars. (Playing Piano) Creating a Simple Tune: Interstellar Chris was being very specific about-- he was being very un-specific in his specificity. By saying hey, look, I'm just going to give you this page. But I'm not going to tell you what the movies is about. And it gave me this fable about what it means to be a father. And he clearly steered it in a way that I thought that it automatically made me think about my relationship with my son. So I wrote him this tiny, very personal theme. And then he told me this is a movie about the vastness of everything, the expanse of the universe, space and science fiction, et cetera. And it's epic. And it's all these things. But what he had was-- (Playing Piano) It was just a very simple-- it's warm. And it's small. And it's intimate. And it meant however-- it's easy to go big. It's east to throw the kitchen sink in. It's east to go get a big - and make a hell of a racket. But we knew we could always return to the heart of the story. The heart of the story was-- this tune couldn't be any simpler. And the great thing is if you start with something which is so simple and so small and so just a few notes in the right order. I don't there is-- I think may be one or two tune I've written that you can't actually just play it with one finger. The simplicity of the material lets you then go and expand outward. But if the heart of it, if the kernel of it is intellectually tight, it's emotianlly tight, you got something. I keep going to this. But dun, dun, dun, duun, Beethoven's Fifth, it's all in those two notes. It's al he needed to go and then create a firework of amazing emotions, orchestration, excitement, pathos, or whatever you want. But know what you're talking about in your theme. Know what you want to say. You got to be clear about that. It's very hard to write an instruction manuel in music. Or any introductory course in music. It's not the appropriate language. But it's an appropriate language to express emotion. And I think that's all that's happened over the centuries, that we are compelled to tell stories. We're compelled to make up stories. That's what film is about. We're compelled to tell the fable of our existence, of our human journey or whatever. And I think when we run out of words, and when we run out of beatiful picture, we have to resort to this other language called music. And I'm not trying to be profound. And I'm not trying to do anything significant. But when you spend a little bit of time thinking about it, you can actually express some fairly good things about the human condition in notes that you might not be able to express quite as brilliantly in words.

Lieve V.

I don't understand this sentence: “There are 88 notes on the keyboard of which only 11 mean something before they repeat in the octave.“ Are they not 12 notes instead of 11 notes? 1) c 2) cis/des 3) d 4) dis/es 5) e 6) f 7) fis/ges 8) g 9) gis /as 10) a 11) ais /hes 12) h

Robert B.

This was a brilliant opening. So honest, and humble, and vulnerable to hear him reveal his thoughts about life generally, and his own thinking process and career. I especially enjoyed the editor's inclusion of the Davinci Code music at the end, an appropriately heroic touch.

Laura T.

Heh- looking at the DAW, he's got like 30 lines going. Looking at mine when I'm writing I've got about 6.....I may need to practice more....

Jeshua S.

Its incredible to hear how he describes the music. Or in some cased doesn't!

A fellow student

Great lesson. There is a great deal of follow up research you can do for this. Like emotion of keys and the question and answer. So glad I decided to get this course.

A fellow student

Great joy to listen to Hans Zimmer. He is teaching and entertaining. The only thing I really don´t like (as a filmmaker) is the repeating focus pulling of the camera operator. Please choose the next time a less wide lens diaphragm and people would get less distracted.

Angel L.

He reminded me that music theory, equipment, and everything else is just a minuscular part of music. Music is a language, music is emotion. Anybody has a question to ask.