U2- With or Without You

3 Great Song Hook Types, and How to Write Them

Hooks and Riffs
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When we talk about creating a hook for a song, there’s a tendency to think immediately about the chorus, and that melodic/rhythmic idea that we call THE HOOK. In that context, a hook is a short melodic fragment that usually includes the song title. Some of these kinds of hooks have become iconic (“Born in the U.S.A.”, “Stayin’ Alive”, “With or Without You”). But there are many ways to hook a listener, and it’s important that you know what they are, and what they can potentially do for the success of your song.

ad_4_2016In a way, any song that attracts listeners will have something like a hook that keeps people returning to it. Sometimes, like the title-hook songs mentioned, the hook is clear, obvious, catchy and memorable. But there are other ways to get the job done.

Check the list below. It describes ways to create three different types of hooks, with some suggestions for creating them. It’s possible to use more than one kind of hook in a song, so let’s take a look:

  1. Rhythm hook. This is a hook that establishes a beat/rhythm combo upon which the song is built. This was a favourite of Stevie Wonder, who started several of his big 70s hits that way (“Superstition”, “You Haven’t Done Nothin'”, “Boogie On Reggae Woman”, etc.) But this can work just as well with today’s style of songwriting.
      • Start by keeping a beat (tap your foot, or slap your knee)
      • A rhythmic hook needs to be short, so sing (improvise) a short 4-or-8 beat rhythm that grabs your attention.
      • A chord progression that accompanies the hook will also need to be short, so create a 1-or-2 chord progression that sounds good when repeated. (e.g., C-Fm7, C-Bb, C-Eb, etc.)
      • Create a bass line where the end of the line connects smoothly back to the beginning. This line needs to have a catchy rhythm, but doesn’t need to be (maybe even shouldn’t be) the same rhythm as the other instruments.
  2. Intro hook. While the rhythm hook uses a combination of various instruments, an intro hook is usually a melodic idea that gets established in the intro, then repeated over and over, appearing, then dropping out. Good examples: “Smoke on the Water”, “You Can Call Me Al” (Paul Simon), “Moves Like Jagger”, etc.
      • Improvise a short melodic idea (4-to-8 beats long) based on a strong, catchy rhythm.
      • Focus mainly on notes from the pentatonic scale (for example, in C major, use the notes C, D, E, G and/or A).
      • Create 3 separate chord progressions that will successfully accompany the hook. Those 3 should be able to serve as verse, chorus and bridge progressions.
      • Allow the hook to appear and disappear as your song progresses. Intro hooks are great, but can get tiresome if the listeners hear it all the time.
  3. Background Instrumental Hook. When you think of Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone”, you’re as likely to think of that catchy organ bit that happens in each chorus. U2’s “With or Without You,” which has that great chorus hook, also has a great instrumental hook: that immediately-recognizable guitar lick that happens throughout. Instrumental hooks are, in my opinion, one of the most important and under-utilized devices in a songwriter’s toolbox.
      • With your song complete, create a short 2-to-4 beat lick on guitar or keyboard that has a distinctive rhythm, and that can be accompanied by most chords in your chosen key.
      • Concentrate mainly on using it in the chorus.
      • Works well in combo with other types of hooks.
      • Fit it in and around chorus lyrics, rather than on top of chorus lyrics. In other words, don’t pull focus away from the singer. Let an instrumental hook act as a kind of “answer” to a chorus lyric.


Written by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website.
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  1. Pingback: How To Write a Killer Guitar Hook – TuneCore

    • Yes, you’re right of course. This post wasn’t meant to be exhaustive, but to offer three suggestions.

      Many thanks for writing!

  2. Pingback: November 2017 Assignment | Pittsburgh Songwriters Circle

  3. This was a great article! I always focus on making the Hooks 1st. To me, it helps give the vibe of what the song can be when the hook is there remind you. Building a house w/o a blueprint is just a sand castle. @hooks4good

    • Thanks for the help! I appreciate your own take on each type of hook, and your analogy at the end about the instrumental hook being an “answer” to a chorus lyric definitely helped me grasp the concept. I’d love to read more from you. Very well done, my friend!
      Thanks again!

  4. Pingback: Songwriting Lessons | Pghboemike's Blog

  5. it wouldve been better if u can make it suitible for those who like writing lyrics only and have no idea of the instrumental detail

  6. With regards to repetition and using it in a song we have to be very careful in
    how much we use , someone sent me a link recently and every song had too
    much , to the point of becoming annoying, In fact every song
    (there was about ten) had the same format the same rhyme schemes and the
    same length withing a few seconds.

    If we study The Beatles songs i can not point to two songs that were similar ,
    surely that tells us something about a successful writing partnership, or even
    solo composing.

    Excessive repetition will see listeners rushing to the stop button or on the
    Radio or switching channels on a TV programme

    I know this blog is about Creating Hooks but Great Hooks can be spoilt by
    Excessive repetition, its knowing how much is enough

  7. Pingback: 10 Reasons Your Songs Aren’t Working (Which Songwriting Sins Are You Committing?) | The Essential Secrets of Songwriting Blog

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