What Makes a Great Song Hook?

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 10-eBook BundleIn pop music, a hook works quickly to pull an audience into your song and keep them humming it all day. How? By creating an enticing partnership between melody and rhythm. It’s part of the many, many things you’ll learn with “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook BundleMore..

GuitaristA hook is anything in music that’s catchy and memorable. A hook is good if a listener wants to hear it over and over again. It’s good if the listener keeps humming it long after they hear it. Those are, in fact, the two most important characteristics of great song hooks:

  1. they keep the audience fixated on the song; and
  2. they stay in the musical mind of the listener long after the song is finished.

But exactly how does a hook do it? We know that a hook is a short, catchy musical fragment, but songs are made up of many short fragments. What is it about a hook that does such a great job in bringing a listener back? Is the success of a hook predictable? And if it is, can you calculate and create a hook by following a set of rules?

Hooks and Riffs“Hooks and Riffs: How They Grab Attention, Make Songs Memorable, and Build Your Fan Base“. It’s part of the 10-eBook bundle of songwriting manuals, written by Gary Ewer. Get a free deal today.

I don’t believe there is much that’s accidental when it comes to the success of music. That is to say that when things work well, there are usually measurable reasons for why they do. Having said that, there are times when great moments in music are the result of “beneficial accidents” more so than the result of clever calculations.

So while it may be difficult to calculate and produce a good hook on demand, there are characteristics that are important qualities that appear in most great song hooks. Great song hooks such as:

  1. “Superstition”  (Stevie Wonder)
  2. “Smoke on the Water” (Deep Purple)
  3. “Born in the U.S.A.” (Bruce Springsteen)
  4. “Billie Jean” (Michael Jackson)
  5. “Ho Hey” (The Lumineers)
  6. “Moves Like Jagger” (Maroon 5)
  7. “Royals” (Lorde)

Each of those songs hook the listener in slightly different ways. Some use catchy chorus hooks (“Born in the U.S.A.”), while others set up catchy intros that pervade throughout the song (“Superstition”, “Ho Hey”, “Billie Jean”, etc.). In any case, here’s a list of the best characteristics of great hooks:

  1. They’re short. A hook is usually anything from 1 beat to 8 beats in length. Longer than that, the hook starts to become too long to stick in the musical brain.
  2. They have a catchy melodic shape. Usually, the melodic component of a hook combines stepwise motion with a leap, as you hear in “Born in the U.S.A.”
  3. They combine that melody with a catchy rhythmic pattern. That rhythm needs to be simple enough to remember, but with something (often syncopated) to create a groove. “Smoke On the Water” is a great example.
  4. They often disappear at various spots throughout a song. A good hook is often dropped at various times, especially, for example, during the bridge. When it’s brought back, it sounds all the more enticing. (The clavinet hook in “Superstition” gets dropped during the “When you believe in things that you don’t understand” part, and comes back in at the end of the verse. That dropping of the hook keeps it from wearing out its welcome.
  5. Songs with strong motivic development don’t necessarily need an obvious hook. If you don’t know the difference between a motif and a hook, read this article. Many songs rely on the strength of their formal design, lyric and other elements to create enticing, attractive music. A hook is great for the quick work it does to pull listeners in, but is only one way to succeed in the songwriting world.


Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBook Bundle looks at songwriting from every angle, and has been used by thousands of songwriters. How to use chords, write melodies, and craft winning lyrics. Get today’s free deal… READ MORE

Posted in Hook and tagged , , , , , , , .

One Comment

  1. Pingback: THE HOOK!! | Motivation to Succeed

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.