Got a Great Hook… But What Now?

Coming up with a good hook probably isn’t the toughest part of songwriting. Knowing what to do next is.

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Tom Petty - Won't Back DownEspecially in the world of pop songwriting, hooks can be very important. There are a few reasons for this:

  1. Pop songs are relatively short (4-5 minutes usually)
  2. Pop songs don’t usually “dig deep” when it comes to lyrics.
  3. Pop songs need something that make them memorable and immediately catchy.

It sounds like I’ve given good pop songs the backhanded compliment of being really nice pieces of fluff. But in fact, it takes skill to create songs that are short, with lyrics that don’t tread into the world of the profound, while at the same time being attractive enough that people want to keep coming back to them.

That’s where the hook can often be a rather vital component. The hook particularly makes point #3 above happen. A hook is a combination of melody, chords and rhythm, and sometimes lyrics, all of which are immediately memorable and very attractive.

If you’ve just created a killer hook, you usually mean one of two types:

  1. A chorus hook. They’ve created what would usually serve as a great opening line for a chorus. (“She Loves You” (Lennon & McCartney))
  2. A background instrumental hook. They’ve created what would usually serve as a catchy memorable instrumental riff that keeps showing up throughout the tune (“Smoke on the Water” (Deep Purple))

There are other kinds of hooks that songs use, but those are the big two. So if you’ve created something catchy that sounds like the start of something big, what do you do next?

In the case of the chorus hook, try the following:

  1. Try a simple repeat of the hook. In the case of “She Loves You”, The Beatles do a repeat of the line with a different backing chord. (Listen) First Em, then A. Then follow up with a different line.
  2. Try an “approximate repeat” of the hook. In Tom Petty’s “Won’t Back Down“, he sings the title line, then repeats it at a lower pitch. Then you simply need a contrasting line to follow that, and then try a repeat of the original hook.

In both of the cases above, the hook works well if it’s repeated. In fact, that’s the best use of a hook. Since it’s so catchy, you’ll do well to use it often. Either way, a good chorus hook means that once you’ve got that initial line, you should be able to create an entire chorus fairly quickly.

If you’ve created a background instrumental hook, keep the following in mind:

  1. Resist the temptation to use it constantly throughout the song. Instrumental hooks work really well in song intros and choruses. Then consider allowing the hook to disappear for a bit, possibly only bringing it back for each chorus.
  2. Consider using part of the hook as material for the melody. Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” is a good example of this. You can hear elements of the hook appearing in the melodic line throughout.

Songs can work quite well without an obvious hook like the ones described above. Particularly if your song has a strong lyric, you may find that the imagery and story line supported by the lyric is enough to bring the listener back reliably.

But a strong hook is a great way to produce a song quickly, one that has some staying power and hit potential.


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