“It’s all about the hook,” you’ll often be told, when it comes to successful pop songwriting. The only problem with that assertion is that it makes it seem as though other song elements aren’t quite as important. A hook grabs attention, to be sure, but doesn’t excuse you from making sure that the overall structure of your song is solid.
There is some truth to the statement, though, if you consider that a 3-to-4-minute song needs something to grab attention right away, and that’s what a hook does. A hook makes it more likely that your song will be immediately remembered.
To be the kind of musical element that gets attention right away, a good song hook usually needs these three important characteristics:
- An enticing melodic shape.
- A catchy rhythm.
- A strong chord progression.
The best way to grasp the importance of these characteristics is to consider a song that’s known for its strong hook. Think of The Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations”, (“Good, good, good, good vibrations”) and you’ve got a fantastic classic example: the enticing melodic shape, the syncopated rhythm, and the short, repetitive chord progression.
It doesn’t need to be an even balance of all three components, however. The Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love” is a really strong hook, but the melodic component of it takes a back seat to the syncopated rhythm and the strong chords.
There is much more to the quality of music than the strength of its hook, however. Lennon & McCartney’s songs are great examples of the fact that there’s more to good music than hooks.
So what’s the more?
- Strong motivic development. If a hook strengthens a song by standing out and being noticeable, a motif strengthens a song by staying out of the way, and working from the background. If you comprise your verse melody by contrasting downward moving ideas with upward moving ideas, that’s an example of motivic development. It acts as structural “glue” to help the listener makes sense of a song, even if they aren’t aware of it.
- Strong lyric development. Songs can rise quickly to the top of the charts, and then flame out forever. The songs that rise, and then stay, or become candidates for the top of “Best Songs Ever” charts, are usually songs that have a lyric worth listening to. They may not be masterful examples of poetry, but they speak to common people in an enticing voice, on important issues of the day. Songs with lame lyrics rarely hit and stick.
- Strong sense of innovation. A good song needs something about it that sets it apart from other songs of the genre. That unique feature may be instrumentation, quirky voice, unique approach to the sub-genre… anything that combines expectation with innovation.
Regarding the hook, there’s one other characteristic that makes a strong hook a welcome addition to most songs: it makes it fun to sing. Never underestimate the importance of the fun factor in bringing audiences back to songs, and/or making it a sellable item.
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter
“Hooks and Riffs: How They Grab Attention, Make Songs Memorable, and Build Your Fan Base“ – This eBook is part of “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” Deluxe Bundle. 10 songwriting eBooks that will take your own writing to a new level of excellence.