Tips ‘n Tricks: Writing a Hook that Works

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GuitaristSay the word “hook”, and you think immediately of pop songs. But hooks have been a part of music composition starting the middle-Renaissance through to the present, in pretty much every genre you can think of. Classical composers were less likely to call them hooks and more likely to use the word “motif” to describe that repetitive, catchy musical figure, but the objective was roughly the same: Create something short and memorable that keeps the song alive in people’s minds.

By strict definition, a motif is not necessarily a hook, as a motif can change throughout a musical work, while a hook usually stays the same. But the idea is similar: create a short, memorable figure that is easily remembered.

Think of the opening of Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus”, and you’re singing one of the most successful, iconic hooks ever composed. So there is something here that songwriters can learn from the Classical world (I use the term “Classical” here as a catch-all to mean Baroque, Classical, Romantic and beyond) when it comes to writing a successful hook.

Here are some tips and tricks to make sure your hook is as effective as it can be:

  1. Your song title should incorporate (i.e., be) a hook, and people should feel like they want to sing that title all day long.
  2. Set up a hook early. Even if your title is a hook, don’t take that to mean that you can’t use other hooks throughout your song. The sooner you can get a hook going (i.e., set something up in your song intro), the quicker you get your song riveted into listener’s minds.
  3. If you’re adding a hook to a song that already exists, try developing something that comes from your melody into a hook. If your song features a prominent rhythm or melodic shape, see if you can develop something that features that idea. For example, one could easily picture the short intro from Beethoven’s 5th Symphony as being something he added after much of the rest of the movement had been composed.
  4. If you’re afraid that creating a hook that features already-existing melodies might be too much of a good thing, try creating a hook that features the same rhythm, but completely different notes. Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” is a good example of this.
  5. Find places in your song to drop a constant hook, and then bring it back again. When we hear something all the time, it can start to be a bit tiresome. The bridge is a great place to silence your hook for a few bars, and then bring it back in for the final choruses.
  6. Melodic bits, short rhythmic ideas and one or two chords are the typical components of hooks. But look for other interesting ways to create something that grabs a listener. Try a sound effect, a captivating instrumental effect, or a shouted word as a basis for a hook.


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