A hook has several defining attributes that all partner together to make it memorable and catchy:
- It’s main identifying characteristic is its shortness, making it easy to remember.
- It has a melodic component that frequently includes some sort of leap, usually upward (“Born in the U.S.A.”).
- It has a rhythmic component that frequently includes a syncopation or other rhythmic pattern.
- It uses a simple but strong chord progression.
As you know, a hook might also involve the lyric, which means a short, patterned bit of lyric that might include alliteration (“Sugar Shack”) or some otherwise playful set of words.
“Hooks and Riffs: How They Grab Attention, Make Songs Memorable, and Build Your Fan Base” describes several kinds of song hooks, and how good songwriters often layer those different kinds within the same song. Buy it separately, or get it as part of “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting 10-eBook Bundle”
The whole point of including a hook in your song is that it helps to make the song memorable. And perhaps even more than that, it serves as an important point of focus. This point of focus is important because pop songs tend to be short, and so a hook has a way of grabbing attention for itself that’s so important for short songs.
If you’ve written a song that includes what you think of as a strong hook, but you find that you’re not getting much of a positive reaction from your audience (or if you can tell the song is falling short somehow), you can often point to the hook as the item which needs attention.
When we use the term hook, we most often mean the identifying bit of chorus — usually the start of the chorus — that often includes the song’s title. So that should be the first place you look if you want to solve the problem.
Those four points listed at the start of this article will serve as a useful checklist when diagnosing problems with a hook. Not every song hook will necessarily include all of those characteristics, but many do.
And though I am often telling you in my blog posts that you need to listen to your songs objectively, assessing a song’s hook is actually one time when a bit of subjective listening can help. You need to be able to listen to your hook and ask yourself, “Do I like this?”
The good news is that many problems with songs can be solved with minimal fixing. It’s often not necessary to toss out the entire hook. Simply adjusting a melody, for example, to include one short leap, can suddenly add a point of interest that brings a failing hook to life.
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