Review of Hans Zimmer's Master Class - what I learned




For me, Hans Zimmer is the father of epic soundtracks in movies - my favourite soundtrack of his being the Lion King, where he really brings out that Savannah-vibe with the worldly African chants by Lebo M. Not to mention his other soundtracks which I adore, from the heroic Gladiator to the religious Da Vinci Code to the impulsive Dark Knight. To see his 'Live on Tour' concert at Wembley last year really brought those soundtracks to life as I was able to experience the full throttle of the performers and instruments, from rock genres to classical. So when I saw an advert for his master class, I was definitely geared up for it.

His Master Class, comprising of 31 lessons roughly at about 15 minutes long costed £70 for lifetime access. I didn't think this was too much given that the access was lifetime so I went ahead with it. An assignment is given after each lesson - I haven't rigorously been through these assignments but will bear these in mind when composing in the future.

Below is a summary of what I learned, which is hopefully helpful to some of you who are debating on whether to get access to his Master Class. Some of these points appear obvious but sometimes when you compose without thinking about the meaning behind the compositions, it's easy to just lose that foresight and passion which is what fired you up to get composing in the first place.

What I learned

1. A theme can just be so simple

A simple tune, which can involve a few notes like two, played with a full heart can really bring a theme to life, adding the entire piece to the backbone of a listener's memory. Of course, composing a simple tune is difficult - the fewer the notes, the less combinations one can make and originality is perhaps sacrificed but Hans Zimmer encourages the composer to not just think about these notes as an arrangement but as if they tell a story. So when coming up with a theme, the composer should feel something and ask what they are trying to convey. Once the composer has done this, they should then go about setting out the theme as freely as possible.

2. It's all about conversation

When composing, it's so easy to think that the next few notes to be written are what sounds right together but again, Hans Zimmer encourages the composer to think of music as a conversation - question followed by answer, sentence followed by a sentence, phrase followed by a pause. When adopting this thinking, music is seen as story-telling and this is what film music is all about.

3. Write with specific performers in mind

Hans Zimmer of course being the renowned composer he is, has a field of ponies for him to pick when selecting performers. His key message resonates however, 'write to the performer's strengths and the strengths of their instruments.' When writing music therefore, the composer should think about the performer's personalities, skills, limitations and versatility with their instrument. He encourages the composer to find those players who would sort out a solution rather than giving an excuse as to why they cannot play something.

4. Create the building blocks

Hans Zimmer takes us through how he creates unique sound palettes, which adds light and colour to the compositions. He emphasises that composers should continually create and re-create sound palettes which to me, are like building blocks in a piece of music.

5. The success of a film composition is based on relationships with the film makers

Three of his lessons focuses on the way he works with directors, including the ways ideas are formed from before the film was shot/ during/ after, ways ideas are bounced off each other and the evolution of ideas. His accounts of past experiences do make me understand (although in a superficial way) how relationships help with the building of film compositions - this applies not only with the directors but producers and others.

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