Written by Gary Ewer, Senior Instructor, Dalhousie University, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website.
• Follow Gary on Twitter
• Good songs sell! Check out “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6 e-book bundle – available now at a 50% savings!
As you likely know, I’m fond of telling others that a song’s hook is often a bit misunderstood. The hook, as a stand-alone entity, is not a necessity. The Beatles hardly ever created songs around hooks, per se, opting instead for the more subtle element we call the motif. A hook, in common usage, is a short idea that repeats over and over in more-or-less the same way throughout a song. A motif is a rhythmic or melodic idea that gets modified and developed throughout a song, serving as a building block of sorts.
Most hooks are the obvious parts of choruses. Think of a chorus that you can’t get out of your mind, and you’ve got a hook. (“Born in the U.S.A.”, for example, or Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer”)
Some hooks are instrumental riffs that glue the entire song together. Stevie Wonder’s repetitious clavinet riff in “Superstition” is a great example.
And “Superstition” is great for another reason: it acts as a summary of the tonal/melodic structure of the song. The notes of the riff are created out of the Eb minor (Dorian) scale: Ab Bb Db Eb Gb. When Stevie starts to sing, he creates a related (but not identical) melody comprised mainly of the notes of the riff.
The connection between the hook and the melody form a bond. The hook essentially displays to the listener what they’re about to hear, and it works brilliantly.
This kind of hook is something that can be added to a song, so give it some thought especially if you’ve written a tune that seems to be lack-lustre or missing something.
Simply find the basic tonal information of your song (key, along with basic scale structures), and try creating a hook that uses that information in a slightly different way. Make sure your hook is short, that it’s memorable, and that it’s got a strong rhythmic component. And learn from the best: use “Superstition” as a model.
Download “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” for your desktop or laptop, and get back to writing great songs!