HooktheoryHooktheory.com is an exciting new site which promises to make learning music theory more fun and engaging than ever before. It features chord analysis of current pop songs, innovative ways to explore chord progressions, and daily ear training challenges.

Today we’ll take a quick tour of Hooktheory.com’s features, and then get the low-down direct from David Carlton, one of the site’s founders.

Hooktheory is based around using “relative analysis” to simplify the understanding of melody and harmony in music. This means that instead of thinking in terms of “C, F and G” chords for example, you’d think about I, IV, V – or, as Hooktheory would have you thinking: 1, 4, 5 (… or even red, green and blue! More on that later…)

Scales are treated the same way: instead of worrying about key signatures and the details of letter names for notes, everything is boiled down to the scale degrees 1 through 7.

This approach can be a great way to boil music theory down to what really matters.

Just like learning about 3 chord songs and the I-IV-V or using solfege for ear training, the relative-naming approach used by Hooktheory just might give you the insight into how music works that you’ve been looking for…

Let’s take a quick tour around the main areas of the Hooktheory site.


Song Analyses

A crowd-sourced database of the harmonic and melodic content of songs, covering rock, pop and more. Hooktheory uses innovative visualisations and a powerful interactive song player to let you explore the theory behind the song you’re hearing. It ties in directly with YouTube videos (so you hear the real song) or can synthesise simple piano arrangements (so you can hear more clearly what’s going on).

Here’s an example of a Song Analysis:


The Hooktheory team have been publishing some fantastic articles analysing modern music and explaining what’s going on. Lots to learn, and entertaining too, the blog posts are well worth a read!

Recreate pop songs or make up your own

Song Editor

The Song Editor is what powers the big database of analyses. You can use it to create a transcription of a song you know, and sync it up with the YouTube video. Or start from scratch to compose your own creation!


Naturally, this is our favourite part of the site: Daily ear training challenges at three levels (beginner, intermediate and advanced) required you to listen, and then use the song editor interface to re-create what you hear, in terms of melody and/or chords, depending on the challenge.

What’s most fun here is that the songs are taken from the main database, so you can as easily get “Call Me Maybe” as “Jingle Bells”!

See the ear training feature in action:

Hi Dave, and welcome to EasyEarTraining.com – thanks for joining us here on the site!

Let’s start off with the origin story:

Where does the team come from, geographically and musically – and what was the inspiration to create Hooktheory?

The Hooktheory team: David Carlton, Ryan Miyakawa and Chris Anderson

The Hooktheory team: David Carlton, Ryan Miyakawa and Chris Anderson

We each have very different music backgrounds, and I think this has been a real asset because it’s meant that we all come at things from different points of view.

I’m classically trained and grew up taking piano lessons and playing the trumpet, but before college I hadn’t taken a lot of serious harmony or ear training classes. Ryan started playing the piano when he was 3 and is certainly the most talented musician of the group. He has a really impressive ear and is a talented composer. Chris is the “casual/self taught” guitar player of the group. That’s been critical for us because I think things could have gone really differently if we were just a bunch of music theory nerds.

We’ve been best friends for years and Hooktheory was, at first, a great project for the 3 of us to work on as a hobby in our spare time.

I think things could have gone really differently if we were just a bunch of music theory nerds.

Hooktheory really began as course in the Music Department at UC Berkeley that we taught as part of the DeCal program there. As we were teaching the course, we were actually creating and laying the groundwork for a lot of the tools on our website now. It was all very primitive back then, but the response was so positive from the students that we decided to keep going after it was over. It’s all sort of snowballed from there.

If it’s not too impolite a question: how many people are using Hooktheory now? Do you know the balance between students, professionals and music educators?

The site has been public for less than a year, and we’re still relatively small, but we’ve been ecstatic with the rate at which it’s growing. I don’t have any specific usage numbers breaking down groups, but we did just recently pass our millionth visitor.

What proportion of users contribute new analyses?

Most people who visit the site don’t contribute to the database. We think that’s fine. We recognize that it takes a really good ear to be able to analyze the chords and melody of a song just by listening to it. We’re starting to build a great community of really talented people though, and it’s really fun to see what songs get analyzed for the database each day.

Most of the people who come to the website are there to consume the analyses that have already been added, ask questions about the harmony, and use the other tools we’ve built. It’s been very gratifying to hear all the creative ways that people are using our Music Editor. We’ve had teachers from around the world send us emails saying how much of a difference it’s made in the classes. At the same time, we’ve heard from many singer-songwriter types telling us how the editor has helped with their songwriting.

You created some waves online with your music analysis blog posts last year, using data on real pop songs to explore some facets of chord theory and validate the rules and concepts many of us have learned as the theory of chord progressions.

Were there any big surprises that emerged as you analysed the database?