Composing a score for a film can be one of the most demanding and complicated tasks in the filmmaking process. MasterClass, an internet educational platform, has taken up the challenge to bring Hans Zimmer into your living room so he can teach you how to do just that. But is the course worth the $90?
MasterClass: Hans Zimmer Teaches Film Scoring
MasterClass, an internet educational platform that “takes a unique approach to online learning by working with globally-recognized instructors” has been offering the “Hans Zimmer Teaches Film Scoring” course for a few months now at the reasonable price of $90. It seems that this is one of the most desired classes on MasterClass, with numerous ads and shares on Facebook causing the filmmaking community to get pretty excited about having the privilege to listen to this guy. But why?
Hans Zimmer is probably one of cinema’s most important and influential composers, and is the mastermind behind genius pieces of music for blockbusters such as The Rock, Gladiator, Sherlock Holmes, Interstellar, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Dark Knight and more – films that are instantly recognisable thanks to their insanely impressive soundtracks.
Although my expertise is focused more in filmmaking rather than music scoring, I have some decent skills composing music on a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). Also, I was a pianist playing mainly classical music for over 10 years, so I am knowledgeable in music composition, music reading and writing, improvisation and theory, mainly in the classic symphonic world. I’ve always wanted to utilize this knowledge to help me sharpen my abilities to create my own soundtracks for my films.
Needless to say, I didn’t think twice and decided to take this class. After watching it repeatedly, I’d like to share my experience, thoughts and insights.
First and for foremost, you have to remember this: This class will not teach you how to score music. If you think this course will magically transform you into a music producer, you are wrong. This class is all about giving you inspiration – fragments of abstract information which can be utilized in combination with hard work and years of training. It’s not a practical, hands-on, fully-immersive course. It’s more theoretical and enriching.
In my opinion, everybody can shoot and edit something, but music is a whole other animal. Music is far more abstract as it involves really creating something from nothing. It’s hard. Very hard. You have to know how to play an instrument – ideally piano – be familiar with compositions, musical scales, reading music and have a musical ear. It takes years of training even before opening your favorite DAW.
This course is not for those just getting started with music, unless they simply want to hear this great man for the purpose of expanding their general knowledge.
The class is made up of 21 video sessions. Only very few of them are practical, with most of them being theoretical. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but if you want to create music, you have to implement a lot of practical knowledge. Theory is good, but for music production it is not good enough.
The packaging of this course is very aesthetic and professional, featuring nice camera movement, as well as great location and sound. But again, this alone is not going to transform you into a composer. It just shows you the tip of the iceberg.
The course is divided into 31 chapters. The theoretical chapters deal with concepts like working with directors, partnering with other musicians, creating themes and getting feedback from the audience, while more practical chapters offer insights into topics like making sound palettes, creating with synthesizer, choosing the right tempo and so on. Each chapter tries to dive into and tackle dilemmas through the use of case studies and challenges related to scoring film music.
There is also a Hub: a place where subscribers can share thoughts, works and initiate discussions with each other.
Expect a lot of frustration
Imagine Hans Zimmer sitting near his impressive DAW and keyboard controller. You are dying to see this talented man band over the piano and play some fabulous piece of music so you can inhale some inspiration. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen very often. Hans spends most of the time talking, which does seem like a bit of a miss, at least for me.
Take for example a session in the “Themes” class. According to Hans, he likes writing in D. For those who are not familiar with musical scales, this could sound like a bit of an enigma. What does it mean “writing in D”? At this point, there should be a primary basic explanation of musical scales and their critical role in music composition. It would help a lot in understanding the reason for writing in D, as there is indeed a good reason for that.
There are a few sections where Hans eventually does play a few notes, but unfortunately we can’t see what those notes are. The camera is focused on the piano, but one can’t see anything. In this case, the camera should ideally cut to a shot of Hans’s hands to explore the notes.
When teaching piano online, the most effective location for the camera is above the keyboard in order to see the structure of the hands and position of the fingers.
Having said that, there are also some wonderful and inspiring hands-on sessions in Hans Zimmer’s MasterClass, like “Creating with Synths”, which is the most practical. In this session, Hans demonstrates how he makes his sound from scratch by using synth plugins.
Hans Zimmer is a synth guy, but the majority of his inspiration comes from classical music. This link between synth-electronic music and classical-symphonic music is most fascinating, and indeed there are a few compelling examples in this course. However, this was not enough for me. I’d like to have seen more examples of fragments taken from known classical pieces merged and combined into synth segments to create a piece of music out of the box.
According to Hans, he never uses presets because he wants to create something from nothing without any limitation! He actually makes fresh palettes for each project, uses them and then throws them away to start from zero in the upcoming project.
In the “Creating with Synths” chapter, you get to travel through Hans’ thoughts to sound creation. It seems like a very complex process that one would like to know about pixel by pixel. This session finally brings a little bit of hands-on knowledge but, in my opinion, this masterclass needs a lot more of this.
This particular session also includes a PDF that provides a basic explanation of synthesizer definitions, but students would need a lot more information on how to produce sounds from a synth in terms of plugins, as well as more detailed demonstrations on how to create particular sounds.
Furthermore, Hans makes his own sound palettes by sampling musicians he knows in order to create samples from scratch. Again, we would need some more evidence from a technical point of view so we can learn and implement this knowledge by ourselves.
The Music Diary session of the Sherlock Holmes score is also a very practical one. Hans presents his virtual orchestra by demoing some layers in the software. However, it is also a mismatch for me since I would like to see how Hans breaks this project down layer by layer in order to discover what is underneath: instruments, parameters, definitions and also a demonstration of how to build the layers and link the sound fragments would be ideal, as this chapter once again remains in the abstract.
Inside the chapter “Theme – Jack Sparrow” there are actually a few more minutes of true practical teaching arising from analyzing one of Hans’s pieces. Surprisingly, some of the notes are shown, which leads to great things. We finally get to see a combination of notes, piano keys and a scene from the movie. This is called teaching! Nevertheless, it’s a rare part of all the sessions.
Hans Zimmer is amazing, humble and a true charmer. His body language reflects his great passion for conveying the story of the film through music. It seems that one of Hans’s goals is to transmit that outburst of strong emotions needed to create story telling by music. He is a true inspiration. That said, in order to utilize this course and actually compose music for films, you need a vast knowledge of playing an instrument, reading notes, expertise in DAWs and a good musical ear. In other words, you have to already be a musician.
On the other hand, if your primary goal is to be generally educated and enriched in film scoring by listening to one of the most fascinating musicians out there, go for it. But remember: there are numerous Hans Zimmer sessions for free on the web.
Bottom line: The Hans Zimmer course at MasterClass is not about teaching, but about inspiration. Is it worth $90? That’s really up to you. In my case, this course really inspired me to actually write some music. Maybe this is exactly what you need as a music composer: the inspiration to give birth to a soundtrack. Thank you, Hans!
Will you be taking this course? Let us know in the comments below!