Writing a Hook and Making it Work

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Rock Band AudienceHooks are many things to many songwriters. For some, the hook is that neat little rhythmic/melodic idea that gets stated at the beginning of a song, and then keeps on keeping on. Think “Smoke on the Water.” For others, the hook is the catchy title of your song that immediately causes everyone to sing along. Think the final repeats of “Hey Jude.” No matter what it is to you, a hook needs to be short, catchy and memorable, and is designed to keep listeners coming back.

But you can do more than simply finding something catchy. You can use a hook to help construct the rest of your song by creating a motivic connection. Here’s how that might work.

It’s possible to work out a hook that gives a glimpse into the basic melodic shapes that the listener will be encountering throughout the song. For example, in “Smoke on the Water”, the basic hook is a short idea comprised of four even shorter ideas, all joined together to give that uber-recognizable, successful hook.

The four short fragments that go together to make up the “Smoke on the Water” hook are, except for the final one, upward-moving 2- to 4-note ideas.

The verse and chorus melodies that follow the intro primarily feature downward-moving melodic gestures.

So the two basic constructs of the song – the hook and the melodies – present themselves as opposing melodic shapes. This kind of contrast works really well.

So to incorporate this kind of construction in your own songs, there are two ways to proceed: either 1)  create a hook with a distinctive melodic shape that moves mainly in one direction, writing your verse and chorus melodies to move opposite to that; or 2) start with your verse and chorus and develop a catchy hook afterwards that moves in opposite directions.

This is a similar treatment as used by Chicago in their hit, “25 or 6 to 4”. It uses a mainly downward-moving musical gesture as the distinctive guitar hook at the beginning, with the verse made up of mainly upward-moving lines. And check out Bruce Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart” for a comparable approach.

So it doesn’t really matter if you start your next song with a hook idea, or if you work out your melodies before you even consider a hook. A hook is the way you’re going to keep pulling your listener back in, and keep them humming your tune.

And if you can make some sort of motivic connection between your hook and other aspects of your song, your hook becomes more than just catchy; it becomes a musical fragment that propagates throughout the song.

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