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Finding the DNA of a Theme

Hello readers! Today, I'll be sharing my notes on the first two lessons of Hans Zimmer's Masterclass on Film Scoring. I began the class today, and felt that sharing the notes with you might be interesting. The topic discussed was "Themes" and Zimmer used examples from his Sherlock Holmes score and the Interstellar score. I have tried to organize the notes as best as I can, but if you have any questions, please feel free to contact me!


Encouraging how not to do it, but how to do it my way! The music must constantly be moving in a score

Wants to find the next great composer on his heels

However hard it gets, it is WORTH IT If you feel compelled to write film music, DO IT


Nothing means anything until you have a tune

-That's the job! -Everybody else has played the same notes before -It's not concert music, it's the parallel story that the filmmakers are telling

-There are contradictions in everything film composers have to do

Find the simplest thing to set the score in motion

-Example: Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, those few simple notes

You have to make a decision that whatever you say MUST hold water

-It must take you through the vast arc of a story -It must take on many characteristics, or you have to "kill your favorite babies"

Hans Zimmer chooses D min so Basses can hit that very low Bass note with vibrato

-He likes using low "answers" because they work in a very satisfying way

-Pick a key that gives the most freedom and the most possibilities

Themes as Questions and Answers -Wherever his hand falls, he asks the question, then follows with the answer

Music is naturally a conversation - You can leave it as a question

- Confrontational question with a tritone - Question should be able to morph to happier mood, or a murderous one ITS A LANGUAGE -Likes "The Thin Red Line": Question is more interesting than the answer - Answer can be mundane - To maintain tension, add more stakes to the question

Creating a Theme: Sherlock Holmes -You have to test the DNA of a theme - "Half an answer" = a question (Romantic Movie: Last part you want to hear is "I Love You")

- Changed the bottom "boom - chuck" to make it "meaner" - Asks a "crooked" question with a wink in it's eye

- Set up questions that have half answers to drive it to the next question/answer

- Have themes go down octave when sitting under dialogue

Sherlock is "Efficient" Motive, short, succinct, says a lot

Creating a Simpler Tune: Interstellar Director was vague in his specificity Gave Hans Zimmer a fable about what it means to be a father -Wrote a very simple, personal tune -Inspired by his relationship with his son warm, small, intimate - no matter how big it got, could always return to heart of the story -starting with small, can play most of his tunes with just one finger -simplicity of material with let you expand to as big as you want

Know what you want to say, be very clear Zimmer believes we are compelled to tell stories, when we run out of words or images, we resort to this other language: "music"

You can express things about the human condition in music that you cannot express through words

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