Building a Song Around a Chorus Hook

Creating a chorus hook starts with finding a really catchy three or four words.

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synthesizer songwriterThere are many different ways that a songwriter can “hook” a listener. By definition, anything in a song that keeps listeners humming it, and keeps them coming back to listen to it again, is a hook. The chorus hook is the most common one. A chorus hook is usually the title of the song, and it’s typically repeated several times throughout the chorus.(Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi”, Adele’s “Rumour Has It”, and Maroon 5’s “Moves Like Jagger” are all recent good examples.)

Creating a good chorus hook can be done in a variety of ways. For a simple method that gives you something catchy in a short period of time, do the following:

  1. Create a working (i.e., temporary) song title. Choose a word or phrase that has interesting rhythmic possibilities. That rhythm is going to be an important part of what makes the hook attractive. Most of the time in the pop genre, the rhythm will be syncopated, meaning that it places some syllable on the strong part of a beat, but other syllables “between the beats”. This is what you see with “paparazzi” and “moves like Jagger”. It might be a strong, on-the-beat approach such as with the words “rumour has it.”
  2. Say the song title and experiment with various rhythmic treatments. You’ll want to say your word(s) over and over again, trying different rhythms each time. Try to find a combination of stresses and beats that makes the word(s) you’ve chosen most attractive and interesting. Choose one rhythm.
  3. With a guitar or keyboard, find one or two chords, with a catchy accompanying rhythm, that works well with the rhythm you’ve chosen. By now you should see your chorus hook really taking shape. Because this is going to be the main part of your chorus, you’ll only need two or possibly three chords at this point; chorus progressions are often shorter than verse progressions. Start by chanting your words to a pitch that works with the chords, but you should try forming a short melody to finalize the melodic part of your hook.
  4. Fill in around the hook. The chorus hook you’ve just created can serve as phrases 1,2 and 4 of a 4-phrase chorus. Now all you need to do is create a 3rd phrase that balances everything. For this 3rd phrase, consider creating a short, rhyming line that takes the melody up to its highest point, and then finish your chorus with a repeat of the chorus hook. You may have to modify your hook to create a satisfactory ending of the chorus. “Move Like Jagger” is a good model for this.

Those 4 steps will give you a simple and quick chorus around which you can start to build a song. Whatever your chorus hook words are, they are going to imply the song’s topic. Your challenge when creating a verse lyric is to come up with something for which those words will sound like an end point.

For example, if your chorus hook is “You kept my spirit alive”, your verse might talk about times in the past when you’ve felt lost, abandoned, and unloved. A special friend was able to keep your spirits up, extended the hand of friendship, supported you in times of trouble, and… “You kept my spirit alive.”

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Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

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3 Comments

  1. Pingback: 5/2: Song Machine II – musicfundamentals2016

  2. Thanks for the great post.

    I’d like to hear more about how to actually write songs based on a complete hook. I find it extremely easy to come up with catchy, strong melodies but it’s the verses and song architecture I have trouble with.

    Your site is my homepage, by the way. Never stop posting!

    John

  3. Hey, Gary, you’re totally awesome!!

    I quite like this framework for hooks, and have been enjoying your other details explanations, too!

    Kudos

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