3 Ideas to Take You From Hook to Complete Song

Once you’ve got a good hook, your next step is to identify where in the song it belongs.

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The Lumineers - Hey HoGenerating a good songwriting idea is not going to be your biggest challenge. After all, creating ideas from the imagination is what humans do. Not all those ideas will be good ones, but eventually you’re going to create something that’s catchy and exciting. The question is: how do you turn that catchy idea into a good song?

Knowing what to do with a good hook means knowing how that hook fits in to the rest of the song. It may be a melodic/rhythmic background hook that serves mainly as an intro that keeps reappearing (“Smoke on the Water“), or it could be something that is more obviously a climactic moment of a chorus (“Stronger” – Kelly Clarkson).

Some hooks are a little tougher to figure out when it comes to expanding on them. For example, what would you do with that “Ho Hey” intro in The Lumineers’ song by that name? How do you know what to do next once you’ve got something good?

You know (hopefully) that successful songs give a sense of connection between all song sections. Even though verse, chorus, and any other section will use a different melody, and usually a different chord progression, there needs to be a sense of progression from one section to the next. This allows song energy to naturally build and keep listeners, quite literally, hooked.

There is no rule that says that the main hook of your song has to provide compositional material for the rest of your song. Deep Purple’s iconic guitar riff in the intro of “Smoke on the Water” doesn’t really provide material for the song’s melodies. Still, there are ways to use it as a musical springboard for creating an entire song. To give you some ideas, try the following:

  1. For intro hooks (“Smoke on the Water”): Use it as both an intro and as a connector between verses. When the hook is strong, it takes the pressure off having to create a strong memorable verse, and your chorus can succeed by being short and basic. Also,when creating a verse that comes in right after the intro hook, try reversing melodic shape. The start of the “Smoke on the Water” riff moves in an upward direction, while the verse melody starts by moving in a downward direction. That kind of connection will never be noticed by listeners, but it does provide a strong structural element.
  2. For chorus hooks (“Stronger”): Use repetition – it’s important. If you’ve created a strong, 1-bar idea, you’ll probably find that it works really well to immediately repeat it, and then come up with a 2-bar idea that gives you a complete, 4-bar phrase. That 4-bar phrase can itself be repeated, and you’ve got a complete chorus. That’s the great thing about chorus hooks: they’re usually simple, work well when repeated often, and can almost form an entire chorus.
  3. For “shout out”- type hooks (“Ho Hey”): These kinds of hooks don’t have a lot of melodic information that can be expanded into something else. So this is a great kind of hook to add to a song that you’ve already written, but is lacking in something snappy or catchy to pull listeners in. “Ho Hey” would have worked fine without the hook, but it’s less remarkable. The hook “ho hey” gives the song something extra for the listener to remember.

When you’ve got a hook but you don’t know what to do next, your first step is to identify where in the song you think your hook will live. Most of the time, that hook will form the basis of a chorus, and so start there. Fill out the hook using Step #2 above, and then create a verse melody that sits lower in pitch, and moves up to join your chorus hook at its end.

Remember that a good hook does not guarantee that you have a good song. Song structure still needs to be strong. In short, adding a hook to a bad song means you have a bad song with a hook. But getting that good, strong hook working first can stimulate the imagination to help you generate the rest of the song.


Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

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