A hook – that short, catchy, memorable moment – is an important feature of many hit songs. Hooks don’t just show up in pop music; classical music also makes use of hooks. But classical composers are far less likely to discuss it or consider it a make-or-break element within their music.
That’s because classical works are often much longer than pop songs. So what does that have to do with anything?
Any individual piece of music needs to come across as being a kind of journey. When a song is finished, there needs to be a sense of satisfaction that there’s been a point to that journey.
In classical symphonies, a composer has a half hour or more to build that journey, and it has a lot more to do with developing ideas than it has in presenting a hook. In the case of classical symphonies, the point of the journey is the longer, more involved development of ideas.
The problem that pop songwriters have with that is that songs usually need to be finished before the 4-minute mark. In less than four minutes, there needs to have been a strong sense that there’s been a point to the journey. It’s hard to present and then develop musical ideas in less than four minutes.
That’s where the hook comes in. It presents itself as the flag-waving identifier for a song, and in so doing, presents itself as the point of the journey itself. Long after everything else has faded in memory, the hook will usually still be something audiences will remember.
If you’re trying to create hooks that might eventually become that flag-waving identifier, here are some tips:
- Make sure it’s short. A hook needs to be consumed in one bite. The longer it is, the less likely it is a listener will remember it. So keep it to something like 4 to 8 beats long.
- Make sure it combines melody, chords and rhythm in a concise, memorable package. It’s that combination of those 3 elements that make the most powerful hooks.
- Repetition is crucial. So a hook doesn’t just need to sound good, it needs to stand up to the rigorous demands of being sung and played over and over again.
- Aim for the chorus. A chorus hook provides the song’s title with an attractive, memorable backdrop – something that demands attention in the best sense of that term.
- Don’t forget strong musical structure. A good hook doesn’t excuse bad writing. You still need to be sure that the principles of good songwriting are being followed.
Written by Gary Ewer.
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