Songwriting Principle No. 10: If They Aren't Humming it Tomorrow, it isn't a Hook

The last two of the eleven principles of songwriting refer to the creation of a hook. A hook is a short, memorable component of a song that occurs from beginning to end. The chief purpose of a hook is tocreate in the listener’s mind something catchy that just won’t go away

I often think that songwriters will spend too long worrying about a good hook for a song, and that’s only because not every song needs a hook. But at the same time, don’t overlook a good hook’s potential to sell a song. The basic principle involved is quite simple:

Make the hook short and memorable.

If your listeners don’t remember the hook, it isn’t a hook. Through this website, I receive emails from songwriters in which they attach a sample of a song they’re working on, looking for advice. Sometimes it happens that as I prepare to send advice I have to keep going back to the sound file to remind myself how the song goes. This is a bad sign. It means that there is not much inherently memorable about the song. And if I am not remembering the song, you can be fairly sure that others aren’t remembering either, and the song will fail.

A hook’s main purpose is to keep the song churning in the listener’s brain.It needs to be attractive, in the literal sense of that word. Most hooks are good if they incorporate a good melodic shape with a strong rhythmic element. Here are some tips for writing a good hook:

  1. The melodic component of a hook often involves a leap upward (or, less commonly, downward). This provides the tonal interest, those crucial notes that “won’t go away.”
  2. The rhythmic component often incorporates syncopation (a catchy displacement of the beat). Syncopations tend to be more memorable than rhythmic features that adhere to the beat.
  3. The longer the hook is, the less memorable it is. Hooks usually tend to be from two to eight beats in length.
  4. Beyond melody and rhythm, there are other aspects of a song that act “hookish”: an interesting instrumental sound, a word or phrase shouted out, a well-placed silence, and so on.


A couple of other thing to note about hooks:

  1. Not all songs have them, and not all songs need them. If your song has great melodic structure, with a great lyric and harmonies that support it all, it may not need a hook at all, and many of the world’s best songs don’t have an identifiable hook.
  2. A hook can be used as a starting point to compose the rest of the song, or may have nothing much to do with the rest of the song. If the latter is the case, it at least needs to composed with a similar “feel” as the rest of the song. It needs to “belong.”
-Gary Ewer (from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website)
Posted in Chord Progressions, Hook, songwriting and tagged , , , , , .

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