Music & Entertainment

Working With Musicians: The Orchestra - Part 1

Hans Zimmer

Lesson time 10:37 min

Hans discusses the important of earning your musicians' respect and how to effectively communicate with them.

Hans Zimmer
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Anybody can learn how to use a computer, and how to make sounds. And anybody can learn how to orchestrate. You can go to music school. You can learn how to play. These are all things that are being taught constantly. But I think one of the great things that's missing is how do you have the conversation. How not to be afraid. It actually takes a bit of getting used to-- like you and me right now having this simple conversation while there's a huge crew floating around, behind us. And we're pretending they're not here. But that's not what we're doing. We're actually doing the opposite. We're doing-- everybody is here to support us, doing something great. And that's the same with composing. So when you stand in front of the orchestra, know that they are there to support you, and make it the best. As opposed to being worried about all that. But it takes a bit of time. And you have to sort of earn their respect as well. I remember the first few times having the orchestra, and it was literally like lion taming. You walk out there, and they're just looking at you going, so what do you know? And the only way you can prove it is just by writing a decent tune, or having a decent idea. There are these two percussionists in London, Frank Ricotti and Gary Kettel. They play pretty much on every movie that ever existed. I think from before Star Wars on. So they played on everything. And secretly, my ambition, every time I record a score there, is to just find one thing that they haven't done before. And usually it's like, well, if you were to hit the temps with brushes. And at first you get, that'll never work. And then if you're lucky, they go out there and they do it. And they go, wow, Hans, that sounds really good. We've never done this before. So every time, just push it forward a bit. And if you push it forward a bit, they love you for it. Because the musicians are your biggest allies. They are the ones ultimately-- this is just me playing around on a computer. Ultimately, the real musicians give it something that no machine can do. When you get to the orchestra session, and this is partly why I do these demos, why I do these suites, why we mocked the whole movie up, why we have showed it to an audience. So that by the time we get to the orchestra section, we are on very, very solid ground. Because when I first got to Hollywood, people were just writing on paper. And the first time the director really would hear the thing would be either somebody had played it to him on piano, which is not quite the same as when you have a 120-piece orchestra blasting away at you. Some people can do it brilliantly. Obviously John Williams could do it brilliantly, because he is an amazing pianist. And the relationship he has with Steven Spielberg allows that, where John can play and go, this is where the French h...

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.

It was actually very interesting and it made me question so many things. I learned a lot, so this was definitely worth it.

Helped with inspiration and inside info on directors and working with directors.

It's made worlds of improvement. I'm pretty young and went into this know how to read music and play very well but no I'm done I feel I'm coming out of it with all sorts of new knowledge. Thank you Master Class!

I have learnt a good deal about how the best software or biggest orchestra isn't needed to create a great score. I have also learnt a good deal about how to keep challenging myself, be a bit more reckless when composing and keep pushing myself to open doors for opportunities. I have also learnt more about relationships with directors / producers and working with other musicians / orchestra.


A fellow student

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?

Stephen P.

What is important to take from this lesson is to be clear about the emotional intention of the music. Also, when you describe to your orchestra, how you want the music to be played, be specific by using emotional words or explain the scene. You don't need to talk to them in technical terms.

Graeme R.

I so love Hans Zimmer's honesty and intimacy. A dear friend is sitting on my desk.

James A.

This is solid advice. I remember during a scoring session I had that the pianist was a real jackass, (brilliant but an ass) He didn't feel the session was apparently worth his time. (I didn't hire him.) The next cue I had written was in 7/8 and I was explaining in simple terms - non advanced theory lingo - plain old L.A. street English what I was after. He acted like he was having trouble with the notation, like it was wrong or some thing...okay I tell myself, I got one of these today. Okay. So I'm up on the podium trying to conduct this thing until finally I said. Look man, do you need me to come and play it for you? The next hour you could have heard a pin drop. I had just won over 85 musicians and keep that ass hole from ruining everyone's day. Oh and they appreciated the "real communication of the theme in non-ultra musical terms. "


I do believe COMMUNICATION is the key success factor to do best in everything too!

A fellow student

Wondering here if Hans ever showed the movie to get the orchestra get in the mood? (on top of explaining things)

Judith M.

Thank you for explaining that, I'll admit to never having thought about it, but to share the emotional intention of the music in simple story forms makes a lot of sense. More than that allowing the musicians to get into the attitude or thoughts of the characters, and suddenly what may have been a relatively flat piece of music, if only sight read, now becomes an emotive piece in their minds. Story inspiring music, a little more tension on the bowing or emphasis on a chord and there is all the difference in the world. You also answered a problem I was having, I was thinking basic conversations or psychology, but you raised that to the sound of their emotions and drives. Hopefully that will make life a tad easier now. Al dente, pasta cooked just right, seems a good way of describing musical turning points to me.

A fellow student

Is there software that transcribes music produced in software (ie ableton, protools) into sheet music for live performers?

Mia S.

"If you treat them as colleagues, if you treat them as brothers ans sisters-in-arms, they are going to give you their best. If you don't do that, they'll eat you alive. If you're not clear about the emotional intention of the music, it'll sound like shit. On Pirates, it was very important for us that the orchestra would sound a certain way. I wanted drunk and pirates. So since the musicians are my actors, they have to learn the attitude. So we just worked on an attitude for a little bit, on performance attitude. As soon as I start playing, I stop talking. Not because I can't do both at the same time, but just because I automatically feel, by playing I can be more articulate.I have to give my players a chance, because I know they can play anything, that they can sight-read - they could sight-read the whole score, we could do it all in one take. But to learn what's behind the notes - that's the important thing. I'm a little vague with my Italian; orchestras usually get spoken to with 'Can we do a ritardando here?' I try to speak to them from a story point of view, I try to tell them what the scene is about. Very often, if I can, I'll have the director go out, rather than say, 'Play pianissimo,' say, 'Play more internal.' I'll find emotional words that suggest what you're asking them to convey. If you can say to them what this piece is about - not in technical terms, that's written down. That just tells you that you are supposed to play that C loud, but it doesn't tell you why you're supposed to play that C loud. Sometimes orchestration is really dense; remember, the orchestra - like the violas have only their part in front of them, violins only have their part in front of them. All just, 'This is the arm, this is the leg.' They don't know how the body fits together. Sometimes it's really good to literally - whoever has the tune, just write on top of their part, 'the tune' - better play out a little bit, everybody else just shush, right? Stop being technical, stop being scientific. Communicate to them in the simplest possible way."

Mia S.

"When you get to the orchestra session - and this is partly why I do these demos, suites, why we mocked the whole movie up, why we have showed it to an audience - so that by the time we get to the orchestra session, we are on very solid ground. When I first got to Hollywood, people were just writing on paper. The first time the director really would hear the thing would be either somebody had played it to him on piano, which is not quite the same as when you have 120-piece orchestra blasting away at you. Some people can do it brilliantly. The orchestra session - this is where things get super expensive. There are a couple of things which are very important, that you can make a decision. All and every ''ah, ah, ah, let me think about this' not only costs a fortune, but it stops the momentum. The orchestra session is about one thing and one thing only and that is to get a performance out of the guys. Because I can make all those notes sound pretty convincing in the computer. But what the computer lacks is the soft, cohesive musicality, the feel and energy, and the danger that real musicians bring to it - virtuoso playing, the interpretation of each note. Once I get to the orchestra, I actually work very efficiently, because we aren't going to do any changes. We've all signed off on these notes. It's not like in the old days, where after the director heard it for the first time with the big orchestra, go, 'I don't really like it,' or 'I don't really like this bit, can we change this bit?' And something that took maybe weeks to go and write and orchestrate and be very refined was now going to be changed in 10 minutes' life on the stand. It had to become a compromise, and I'm just not willing to make that compromise."