Screenwriter John August’s Hooktheory Review

I recently stumbled across John August‘s podcast, ScriptNotes, and thought this was worth sharing. For those of you who don’t know who John is, he’s the screenwriter behind Charlie’s Angels, Go, Corpse Bride, Charlie and the Chocolate factory (the one with Johnny Depp, not Gene Wilder) and bunch of stuff you’ve almost certainly heard of.

It turns out he’s a Hooktheory fan.

…And he wrote a really nice review that made me smile. Thanks John! (if you’re into screenwriting and movies check out his podcast).

John August: …The idea of the book is to talk through music theory in terms of how pop music is built. And a part of me bristles at the thought of [this] because I always rip on screenwriting theory books, because I find those frustrating… but with music I’m giving it a pass because … there is actual logic behind music. There’s a reason why certain chord progressions are easy and certain chord progressions are really tough to make work. And there are reasons why you find stuff in between.

And since I’ve been working on the musical, I’ll often look over at the music department and they’re figuring out how to move from this key to this key. And they have a grammar and a way of talking about it that’s actually useful in daily life.

So what Hooktheory does is take a look at pop songs, mostly things of the last 10 or 20 years, and they’ll give you these little short 15 second snippets that will break down what the chords are and then how the melody fits into those chords. And by chords they’re not talking C, F, G, but they’re talking relative chords. So they’re teaching you sort of how relative chords work… and the natural ways that you can move from one chord to the next chord, and why certain things fit together really easily and certain things are harder.

And it’s very good and proscriptive [but it’s not] saying, like, “Well, you can’t ever do this.” It’s saying these are choices that make it easier. And this is why if you go to this cadence chord you’re going to find it much easier to start your next phrase.

So it’s very, very smart. A really good use of the iPad because it’s the kind of thing that would be almost impossible to talk about in a meaningful way with a normal conventionally printed book. If you didn’t have those little examples right in front of you that you could play back through and see, it really wouldn’t make a lot of sense.

So I read through this and I found myself very intellectually satisfied because it answered a lot of those questions that I’ve always had about how music works. And also frustrated because I felt like this is stuff that I should have been taught in high school. This isn’t Music 101 stuff, but like once I knew how to play an instrument, once I knew how to play piano past a certain point, someone should have taught me how this stuff works, because a lot of things just make much more sense now.”

Hooktheory is available on the Web as well as for the iPad on Apple’s iBookStore. Read the first chapter now.