How to Make More of a Song's Hook

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website.

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Stevie WonderWe all know what a song’s hook is: it’s typically something short and memorable, comprised of a catchy melodic shape married to a catchy rhythm. When it does its job, it keeps listeners coming back to your song. But as I have often stated, for a hook to really work, the song itself needs to be strong even without the hook. Here’s how to use your hook to create an even better song.

The hook is often the part of the song that sits at the most prominent part of the chorus (the beginning, usually, but can really occur anywhere), and pleasantly repeats. It often is part of the chorus with the title, but not always. For example, the funky clavinet hook that pervades Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” acts as a foundation upon which the entire song seems to germinate and grow.

That sense of a hook being the germ from which the rest of the song springs provides for a solid song, because all the ideas feel like they sport an important similarity. For example, in “Superstition”, the hook makes great use of three important melodic intervals: 1) the opening rising and falling whole tone; 2) the rising perfect 4th following that; and 3) the descending 3rd following the ascending 4th. These intervals also figure prominently in the opening of the verse melody.

So in this case, the hook serves as a breeding ground, if you will, for melodic and rhythmic ideas that work their way into the melody.

And it makes a great case for writing a song by starting with the hook. Give it a try:

  1. Start by composing a short (4 – 8-beat) hook comprised of one or two chords and an interesting melodic shape.
  2. Try isolating and identifying the various melodic intervals that go together to create the hook.
  3. Create a melody that makes regular use of those particular intervals.

The end result is that you’ve got a melody that feels like it belongs, like it really works well. It’s possible to look through such a melody and find references back to the hook that permeates the song, and that kind of connection really helps everything click.

In that sense, you’re using the hook as a source of motivic material. Listeners are often unaware of why songs that use hooks as a source of other material for the song work, but that doesn’t matter; the benefit of the technique is that it provides much needed structure to your music.

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