We typically talk about a song’s hook as if there is just one. But in fact, most songs have several hook-like elements, all working to make the song attractive to listeners. While one of those hooks tends to stand out as the main one, songwriting success comes from having several of them on the go, and then properly layering them.
A hook is simply any aspect of a song that draws the listeners’ attention and, so to speak, waves a large flag that says, “Hey, listen to me!” Sometimes it’s a hard element to precisely define, being one of those things that you recognize when you hear it.
In the pop music genres, the success of a song is often all about the success of the hook. “Hooks and Riffs: How They Grab Attention, Make Songs Memorable, and Build Your Fan Base” shows you how to make your hook really stand out.
Two songs come immediately to mind. First, a great example from classic rock: Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’“; and more recently, “Want to Want Me” (Jason Derulo, et al). In both cases, we hear the main hook happening in the chorus, and each hook gives us the typical characteristics we want to hear:
- An enticing melodic shape. The melody that delivers that line, “Don’t stop believin’” is not complicated, and you don’t want it to be. It’s got to be something that’s relatively easy to sing, often (but not necessarily always) including a melodic leap upward. The line “want to want me” is simple in design, but that simplicity, at least in part, makes us want to listen.
- A catchy rhythm. For “Don’t Stop Believin’, we get a catchy syncopated rhythm. In “Want to Want Me”, the rhythms in and around the title words are quick and rhythmically energetic, so we get the title line delivered with what amounts to sudden simplicity. It really grabs our attention.
- A strong chord progression. In this context, “strong” means that it unambiguously targets the tonic chord. For Don’t Stop Believin’, the chords clearly sit in E major (E B C#m A). In “Want to Want Me”, the key is Eb major: Eb Cm Ab Cm.
Those two songs give us textbook examples of what song hooks should do. Because the chorus hook in each song is so strong, the audience is willing to wait through the verse and any other miscellaneous section in order to hear it.
But if you go back to the start of each song and give it all a closer listen, you’ll notice that there are actually several elements that all exhibit the qualities of a song hook: catchy melody, rhythm and chords.
Just like a good painting of a spectacular mountain gives us more than that one mountain, a good song will give us several elements that act like hooks to make us want to listen, before the main hook arrives.
In “Don’t Stop Believin’, that opening piano riff is one of the most recognizable intro/instrumental hooks in rock history. And all along the way before we finally get to the chorus hook, we hear other elements, none rising in importance to the main hook, but important none the less.
In “Want to Want Me”, it’s that opening bass line, and the repeating melodic idea in the verse.
They’re crucial, because it’s important to keep your audience enticed and listening until the main hook happens. A boring verse runs the risk of jeopardizing the interest level of the audience.
In your own songwriting, take your latest song, and, at least for the moment, ignore the strong chorus hook you’ve written, and then ask yourself:
- Have I given the audience anything else before the chorus hook that will keep them interested?
- Is there an excitement in my song before the chorus that has the effect of building musical energy?
- Is there catchy rhythm or repeating melodic cell in the verse that stands out a bit and helps define the song to the listener?
Anything catchy and repeating will have the properties of a hook, and every section of your song needs something along those lines that operates as a hook.
With the painting of a mountain, all the other parts of the artwork will act subordinately to the main feature: the mountain. But all those other bits — the flowery field, the birds flying overhead, the clouds in the sky — they’ll all work to “hook” the viewer.
And it’s that way with music. Sure, there is a main hook. But every good song section needs something that pulls the audience into the song, making them feel that the wait for the main chorus hook is worth it.
Are you ready to take your songwriting to a new level of excellence? Let “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting 10 eBook Bundle” show you how the greatest songs ever written can serve as models for your own music.