Setting Up a Hook Properly Can Be as Important As the Hook Itself

A strong hook is only part of what makes a pop song successful. Your song might have a catchy hook, but if it generally avoids some of the more important principles of songwriting, that hook won’t save it. In fact, a good hook can be wasted on a song that has other obvious problems.

All genres of music, whether we’re talking about pop, rock, jazz, classical, country, or any other you can name, makes use of a hook. In classical music, you won’t often hear about the hook; it tends to be a word used much more in the pop genres.

Hooks and RiffsThe chorus hook is just one type of hook, and you’ll make the greatest impact if your song actually makes layers from several kinds of hook. If you’re not sure what this is all about, you need to read “Hooks and Riffs: How They Grab Attention, Make Songs Memorable, and Build Your Fan Base.” Get it separately, or as part of “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting 10-eBook Bundle.

But hooks are there, and they’re important. They’re like a flag that gets waved — a strong symbol that says, “Hey, remember me?” Sing the first bar of Beethoven’s 5th, the chorus to The Village People’s “YMCA”, or Pharrell William’s “Happy,” and you know exactly what I mean.

Because writing a good hook can be such a powerful part of the songwriting process, it can make you think that everything else pales in significance. That’s because we often react that way to hearing a good hook in someone else’s song: it makes us forget everything else!

But as a songwriter, you can’t afford to forget everything else. Most of the time when we’re talking about a hook, we’re talking about a chorus hook – that bit of chorus (typically the start of the chorus) that grabs all the attention. You need to know that your hook is being set up and prepared well, so that when that hook kicks in, it sounds like the final, best step of whatever happened in the verse.

Are you weakening your chorus hook by not setting it up properly? Here’s a little checklist that will help you know. Don’t think of these as rules so much as suggestions to consider for strengthening the musical power of your hook :

  1. Try moving the verse melody upward to meet the chorus hook. We know that verses are usually lower in pitch than the chorus. But more than that, try to get your verse melody to rise toward the end if your chorus starts with a powerful hook. An upward moving melody draws attention to itself. Example: “I Want To Hold Your Hand” (Lennon & McCartney)
  2. Try making the hook rhythms longer and simpler than the verse melody rhythms. A verse, when it has lots of short, quick notes, will be the perfect partner for a chorus hook that uses suddenly longer and simpler rhythms in its melodic component. Example: “Layla” (Eric Clapton – Jim Gordon)
  3. Make sure that your hook uses a melodic leap (upward or downward). That melodic leap will go a long way to grabbing attention and waving that all-important flag. Example: “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” (Jagger/Richards).
  4. Try having your verse melody sit in and around one or two pitches, so that the chorus hook suddenly sounds animated and exciting. Example: Green Light (Ella Yelich-O’Connor, Jack Antonoff, Joel Little).

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

How to Harmonize a Melody, 2nd ed.Do you know how to add chords to that melody you just thought up? “How to Harmonize a Melody” shows you how to do exactly that. It shows the secrets of harmonic rhythmidentifying the key of your melodychord function, and more. It’s part of “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 10-eBook Bundle.

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