To a beginner or even most experienced musicians the act of composing original music is a daunting task.  Due to the perceived difficulty associated with composing most individuals avoid it completely or limit themselves to very basic, unsatisfying projects.  Enter Hooktheory.  An easy to use tool that when combined with classroom instruction can make the act of composing music fun and engaging.


hooktheory screenshotHooktheory is an online service with many different facets.  The first is as an interactive textbook (Hooktheory 1) that claims to not require any previous musical knowledge or even the need to be able to read music notation.  The book contains interactive exercises and sound recordings of popular artists that help a student understand the basics of how composers structure and write their songs with the goal of making composing music easier and less mysterious to those who have not had advanced musical training.

Once the basics of chord progressions are understood a student can then use the Hookpad music software to quickly string together a series of chords that they like and then compose a melody on top of those chords with the help of color coded suggestions that help the student to realize what notes would work well within those given chords.   This visual melody assistance can be turned off if desired.

Alternatively a student can create their own melody and add chords later, using their own ideas or if they get stuck they can ask for help and the system will suggest what a good next chord might be.  The neat thing about this “Magic Chord” suggestion feature is that not only does it give reasonable advice it also tells the user why that chord was picked.  Such as “This chord was used similarly in SONG NAME by ARTIST.”  If you don’t like the suggestion hit the next button and a different suggestion will appear.  The first suggestions tend to be pretty tame, mostly standard root chords, but as you continue through the suggestions the suggestions get much more complex leading into suspensions, inversions, augmentations, etc.

hookpad screenshot

Another interesting feature is Hooktheory’s daily melodic dictation challenges.  For these challenges the system plays a melody and it is up to the user to play the melody back using a midi keyboard or the on screen keyboard/number keys.  Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced level challenges are provided each day.

The free version of the app limits you to one melody line per song and only with the piano sounds.  A premium version of the app (Hookpad+) opens access to up to four melody voices, multiple instruments, many other composition features, the ability to print in music notation, and the ability to export your songs as MIDI or other files to be imported into your favorite digital audio workstation program for further development.  The Hookpad+ version costs $4.99 a month or $49 a year.   

For use in a classroom setting there are additional benefits.  Like many online music education apps Hooktheory also provides teachers with the ability to access a basic learning managment system where classes can be created, assignments given, and the resulting work reviewed and graded.  The cost for this classroom capability starts at $29.99 per student per year if the student is paying privately or the classroom version can be purchased for the entire class for $350 per year allowing the students to sign in for free.  Purchasing the classroom version provides access to all of the Hookpad+ features as well as access to the Hooktheory Assessment Kit (the online gradebook).

Overall Hooktheory and Hookpad are great, easy to use ways to introduce anyone to the world of music composition.  The only dark spot on the program is it's reliance on Flash for the Hookpad application which makes using it on certain devices more problematic.  If your device can run it though it is well worth checking it out.  

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