Many songwriters use the word hook to mean a song’s chorus, but I like to be more specific when I use that term. A hook is a short musical idea that usually has three notable characteristics:
- A short, catchy melody.
- An interesting rhythmic component.
- A short, tonally strong chord progression.
The combination of those three elements makes for something that attracts listeners, keeps them focused, and makes them want to return to the song over and over again.
Though most hooks are a combination of the three elements, it’s not unusual to have one or two of those components present themselves as most distinctive, and the others perhaps less so. For example, “Brown Sugar” (Jagger/Richards) features a catchy, syncopated rhythm over a single chord (the V-chord), while the melody is as simple as it can get: a single pitch.
If you like starting your songs by developing a strong chorus hook, Gary’s recent eBook, “Hooks and Riffs: How They Grab Attention, Make Songs Memorable, and Build Your Fan Base“ will help you make the most of a hook-first songwriting process. Get it as part of the 10-eBook Deluxe Bundle deal. READ MORE..
But most of the time, of the several different kinds of hooks you can have in a song (intro hook, instrumental hook, sound effect hook), the chorus hook is the one that’s usually going to do the most to identify your song and bring listeners back.
And it’s the one that’s going to usually need a fairly obvious melodic shape, something that listeners can latch on to and hum to themselves long after they’ve heard your song.
So it’s going to be important to give your chorus hook some distinction. Here are some tips to think about as you work on your next chorus hook:
- Place it in a singable range. Everyone has a different range, of course, so placing a hook where everyone can sing it may seem difficult. But everyone will place your hook wherever it fits for them when they’re back at the office humming your song. The best advice? Place your hook in the middle-to-upper middle range. That ensures that it’s high enough to work in a chorus, but not so high that they can’t sing it. Example: “Livin’ on a Prayer” (Bon Jovi)
- Give your chorus hook a high point. Having one note a bit higher than the others gives the hook the shot of musical excitement that hooks need. Example: “Royals” (Lorde).
- Make it fun to sing. The rhythmic component is going to do more for the “fun factor” when it comes to an enjoyable chorus hook than anything else. Syncopation (displacing the beat) is the most common rhythmic device for achieving this kind of fun quality.
- Keep the accompanying chords simple. People don’t tend to hum chord progressions, but simplicity is an important virtue nonetheless. Trying to place a chorus hook over a complex, non-standard progression makes it difficult for people to remember. So make sure the chords you choose sit strongly in your chorus’s key. Example: “Rumour Has It” (Key: D minor; chords: Dsus4 – Dm)
- Keep chorus hooks from straying into other areas of your song. One of the nice things about a chorus hook is that you get a break from it. That means that each time it returns, it has an exciting, fresh effect on the audience. So keep it in the chorus, and find something else catchy to develop in your verses and other optional sections (bridge, pre-chorus, etc.)
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.
“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBook Bundles cover every aspect of songwriting technique. How to write better melodies, chord progressions, lyrics, and more. The bundle packages contain hundreds of chord progressions you can use as is, or modify as you see fit.