A hook has several defining attributes that all partner together to make it memorable and catchy:
- It’s main identifying characteristic is its shortness, making it easy to remember.
- It has a melodic component that frequently includes some sort of leap, usually upward (“Born in the U.S.A.”).
- It has a rhythmic component that frequently includes a syncopation or other rhythmic pattern.
- It uses a simple but strong chord progression.
As you know, a hook might also involve the lyric, which means a short, patterned bit of lyric that might include alliteration (“Sugar Shack”) or some otherwise playful set of words.
“Hooks and Riffs: How They Grab Attention, Make Songs Memorable, and Build Your Fan Base” describes several kinds of song hooks, and how good songwriters often layer those different kinds within the same song. Buy it separately, or get it as part of “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting 10-eBook Bundle”
The whole point of including a hook in your song is that it helps to make the song memorable. And perhaps even more than that, it serves as an important point of focus. This point of focus is important because pop songs tend to be short, and so a hook has a way of grabbing attention for itself that’s so important for short songs.
If you’ve written a song that includes what you think of as a strong hook, but you find that you’re not getting much of a positive reaction from your audience (or if you can tell the song is falling short somehow), you can often point to the hook as the item which needs attention.
When we use the term hook, we most often mean the identifying bit of chorus — usually the start of the chorus — that often includes the song’s title. So that should be the first place you look if you want to solve the problem.
Those four points listed at the start of this article will serve as a useful checklist when diagnosing problems with a hook. Not every song hook will necessarily include all of those characteristics, but many do.
And though I am often telling you in my blog posts that you need to listen to your songs objectively, assessing a song’s hook is actually one time when a bit of subjective listening can help. You need to be able to listen to your hook and ask yourself, “Do I like this?”
The good news is that many problems with songs can be solved with minimal fixing. It’s often not necessary to toss out the entire hook. Simply adjusting a melody, for example, to include one short leap, can suddenly add a point of interest that brings a failing hook to life.
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They say everyone has an opinion. As a songwriter, though, you deal with an aspect of modern life that people even just 15 years ago didn’t have to deal with: how quickly an online consumer of your music will offer that opinion.
It’s not just the immediacy of opinions, though. If you’re involved in the creative arts at all, it can be shocking — if you’re not used to it — how harsh, callous and hateful those opinions can be.
If you can hear the problems with your songs, but you can’t figure out how to solve them, you need to consult “Fix Your Songwriting Problems – NOW!” It centres in on 7 of the most common songwriting stumbling blocks, and offers solutions you can try right away.
How do you deal with haters? And what’s happened to common decency when it comes to expressing a dislike for music?
It’s an important aspect of being in the arts these days, and I don’t suppose it will change much in the foreseeable future. So how do you deal with negativity?
If you’ve been posting or streaming your songs online, and you’re having a hard time coming to terms with people who express hate for what you do, I offer some advice:
- Stop reading comments. Easier said than done, but do what you can to simply quell the interest in what others are saying online. This is not the same thing as saying that you shouldn’t care what people think. But there are other — and frankly, better — ways to get people’s opinions.
- If you must read and respond, always take the high road. Never let someone’s hateful comments allow you to respond in kind. No matter how harsh they are, reduce it in your mind to the essential “point” they’re making, and then respond as if they worded their comment respectfully. You’d be surprised how much this can disarm an online troll.
- Don’t take someone’s negative comment as evidence that you’ve written something bad. Everything you ever write will have those who love it and those who hate it. A bad comment, on the face of it, is not evidence that your song is bad.
- Be courageous, and keep your longterm vision. You became a songwriter for a reason, and one person’s (or even thousands of people’s) opinions shouldn’t be allowed to sway you from that vision.
Online bullying is horrible, there is no doubt. The people who do it can be amazingly normal in most other aspects of your life, and it simply makes you shake your head to understand why they allow themselves to descend to the levels they do to express hatred.
The worse thing you can do is succumb and descend to their level. Be strong, remember why you’re doing this, and keep moving forward.
If you’ve dealt with online haters/bullies, how have you dealt with it? Please feel free to comment below.
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If you find that everything you write is in a major key, you’re missing out on an opportunity to create songs that tap into a darker or perhaps edgier side of music, a side that minor key writing offers.
It might be that you aren’t sure how to create minor key progressions, and so I’ve put a few examples you can use or experiment with below.
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Minor key writing might mean writing in a minor mode (aeolian, dorian, etc.), or the music might be in a minor key (D minor, A minor, etc.) If all this discussion about keys and modes is a bit confusing, you might try some of the articles I’ve linked to at the end of this blog post.
For now, though, if you’re simply wanting to try to get a minor sound upon which to create song melodies, try the following progressions and feel free to change them to suit whatever you’re working on. They work in any tempo, style and/or time signature:
- Am G F G Am. This is the progression from “All Along the Watchtower” (Bob Dylan). With just these chords, you don’t have enough information to say whether it’s in A minor, A Aeolian or A Dorian. It really doesn’t matter… it’s got a nice sense of symmetry as it starts on A minor, moves by tones down to F, and then back up again.
- Am Dm E7 Am. This is a standard A minor progression. The E7 is a major chord, which is standard for progressions that are in a key, and not a mode.
- Bm F# A E G D Em F# Bm. This is the opening to “Hotel California.” It’s what we call a harmonic sequence, in that it starts on Bm and descends a 4th; the next leg of the sequence starts on A and descends a 4th to E, then G to D, before twisting around to return to Bm. Chords aren’t protected by copyright, but this one is distinctive, and if you’re going to use it, you’ll want to rather massively change something else about the music: a new tempo, definitely a radically different melody, etc.
- Em A D Bm. This is a nice minor key turn-around. You can keep playing this one over and over, because the end of the progression (Bm) leads easily back to the start of the progression (Em)
- Dm Am G____Bb F A. There are a couple of ways to look at this progression. It’s either thought of as dorian mode (the G chord gives us that). Or it could simply be thought of as straight-ahead D minor, with a modal mixture G major chord. As I said earlier, it doesn’t really matter when it comes to the task of writing.
If you want to know more about modes, keys, and the differences between them, try the following articles:
- An old article from 2009: Dorian Mode, Aeolian Mode, Minor Key… What’s the Difference?
- Songwriting: Moving From Aeolian Mode to Major Key
- To change a song idea from major to minor: Giving Your Song a New Identity
“How to Harmonize a Melody” shows you the steps to adding chords to that melody you’ve just come up with. With sound samples to help you understand the concepts. It’s part of “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting 10-eBook Bundle”
Let’s say you find yourself in a situation where some catchy lines of lyric, or some great word combinations, have been rolling about your mind, but you don’t have a story or song topic that helps knit those lines or words together.
“Use Your Words! Developing a Lyrics-First Songwriting Process” shows you several ways to make the lyrics-first songwriting method work for you. Right now, this eBook is FREE when you purchase “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting 10-eBook Bundle”
It may seem backwards to come up with a topic as a secondary part of the lyric-writing process, but I think you’d find that that’s relatively common amongst many songwriters. It’s not unusual at all to find a great line, and then go looking for a reason for that line’s existence.
And if that’s the circumstance you find yourself in, here are some ways to take that line and make a fuller lyric out of it:
- Create word lists that start with your chosen line. Let your imagination run a bit: think about what might cause someone to say that line, or what situation might cause that line.
- Try writing a short story in which your chosen line appears. Creating a story is a vital part of giving a randomly created line some purpose.
- Find rhyming lines. Don’t worry if the lines you’re coming up with don’t have a lot to do with your original line or combination of words. Just find the rhythm of your line, and see what you can create that seems to partner up with it. The more you can come up with, the better.
- Look through previous unfinished songs. You never know… something you’ve written in the past may be the song that your new line has been looking for.
It’s a great idea to keep a notebook (real or digital) of these kinds of lines. Your creative mind likely has an instinct for finding cleverness and creativity with words, and it’s a shame if something that is attention-getting or otherwise imaginative might get tossed, simply because you don’t have a song (yet) for it to live in.
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This is a tricky but very true concept: A good song generates emotion. It may also express emotion, but it’s possible to express emotion without generating it.
So you can spend a lot of time in a lyric telling the world how you feel, and you may have wasted a lot of time… if you haven’t done anything to generate emotion in the listener.
The generating of emotion is done mainly in the verse, because it’s the verse that sets the scene, describes the people, and tells the story.
And if you’ve told that story capably enough, with the kind of imagery that creates powerful images in the mind of the listener, they’re already beginning to feel something.
And that’s when a chorus lyric becomes so poignant, and so effective. If the verse has done its job, the chorus will express and generate emotions in the heart of the listener.
So if your entire song is an expression of emotion, don’t expect your audience to feel the same. They won’t, because they’ll be missing the story that typically comes from the verse.
When a song fails to make an emotional mark on the audience, start by looking at the verse.
Have a great melody, but stuck at the “how to add chords to it” stage? “How To Harmonize a Melody” shows you, step-by-step and with sound samples, how it’s done, with suggestions for chord substitutions that might work as well. It’s part of “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 10-eBook Bundle.
I’m Gary Ewer. This blog has been my labour of love since 2008. You’ll find the five most recent songwriting articles right here on this page, and if you want to browse through the more than 1500 posts in the archive, scroll to the bottom of the page.
Please feel free to leave a comment at the end of any article. I love reading what others are thinking about music.
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