Maroon 5 - Sugar

Assessing Your Latest Song Hook: a Checklist

Hooks feature prominently in pop songs because they grab immediate attention. If it’s a chorus hook, it’s not going to be heard until you get to the chorus, but that should happen before the 1-minute mark in most mid-tempo or uptempo songs.

Because songs in the pop genres are relatively short, a lot is riding on the success of a hook. If, by the time that chorus hook finally becomes evident to the listener, you aren’t grabbing attention with it, listeners will abandon your song and go looking for something else.

Hooks and RiffsThe hook might be one of the most misunderstood elements in music. Get the full picture, and learn how to use hooks effectively in your own songs: “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”

The longterm viability of a song depends in large part on the quality of the lyric, but the hook has the important job of pulling in fans and keeping them there.

How do you know if you’ve come up with a hook that really works? Here’s a checklist you can use:

  1. The chord progression is short, strong and repetitive. Strong means that it sits strongly in a key — there’s nothing ambiguous about it. So C Ab augmented is tricky to use, but C  F, or C  Bb, etc. are much stronger. Example: “Billie Jean” (Michael Jackson)
  2. The rhythm of the melody is interesting, usually incorporating a syncopation. A syncopation is a kind of rhythm where the majority of notes are happening “between the beats.” Think of the “Don’t believe me just watch” line from “Uptown Funk”, and you get the picture.
  3. The backing rhythm of the accompanying instruments helps to bring the hook to life. Yes, a hook can and should sound enticing even if you sing it on its own. But there is an important instrumental factor that contributes musical energy. Careful though: if you leave all of the work of generating musical energy to the backing instruments, a hook has a way of sounding quickly irrelevant.
  4. The melody moves, often incorporating a leap. You can have songs where the hook features a static melody line (“All You Need Is Love” — Lennon & McCarney), but most of the time your hook will benefit from a melody that moves a little, often using an upward leap. Example: Maroon 5 – “Sugar
  5. The hook sounds like the natural follower of whatever happened in the verse. If you use the analogy of a song verse as climbing a mountain, the chorus hook is the mountain peak. And it needs to sound that way. The audience needs to hear something building. It might be the melody rising; it might be instrumentation building, or even an obvious direction coming from the lyric. Then the chorus hook needs to be exciting, even breathtaking. Example: John Legend -“All Of Me.”
  6. The hook sounds great when it is repeated. And that’s one of the most important characteristics of a good hook; you want to keep hearing it.

In the final analysis, what really matters is: do you like it? Listen objectively, and ask yourself: Does this hook excite me? Does it make me want to keep listening? For any good hook, if you need to ask someone if it’s any good, it probably isn’t.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter

The Essential Secrets of Songwriting 10-eBook Bundle” is a complete set of eBooks that shows you how to write great songs. Written clearly and concisely, with sound samples to demonstrate the concepts.

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