A couple of weeks ago I wrote a blog post about song hooks, and how to diagnose problems you might be having with the hook for your song: “When Your Song’s Hook Isn’t Doing Its Job.” In that article I gave a list of four important characteristics of good hooks.
“Hooks and Riffs: How They Grab Attention, Make Songs Memorable, and Build Your Fan Base” shows you how hooks from some of the world’s best songs work, and how layering those hooks is often a key to success.
I got an email from someone asking me what I thought the most important characteristic from that list is. There’s no good answer, because a good hook, like good songs in general, is good because of how all of those different components work as musical partners; nothing happens in a vacuum in music.
Good hooks have many characteristics, but as mentioned in that post, the most important ones, in no particular order, are:
- brevity (keep the most important and distinguishable part of it short);
- use a melodic leap;
- use an interesting rhythm; and
- use a simple chord progression.
If I had to label one as most important, my instinct would have been to say that the melodic leap (and an interesting melodic shape in general) is probably the most important, since I couldn’t come up with a good hook that didn’t have an interesting shape, one that sat on one note and stayed there.
But then I remembered Lennon & McCartney’s “All You Need Is Love” (written by Lennon). The most distinctive part of that hook, the bit that includes the title of the song, does in fact simply sit on one note: five D’s over the chord progression G – A7 – D7.
It’s got brevity (5 notes), an interesting rhythm (including a syncopation) and a simple chord progression underneath. But you get no melodic leap, and in fact no melodic shape at all.
In that sense, it puts my previous assumption, that melodic shape was one of the most important aspects of a hook, down at the bottom of the list!
But in music, putting finger on which part of a song is the most important is almost always impossible. That’s not the same thing as saying that you don’t have a favourite part. For some songs, the lyric might be what really connects with you.
But the impact of that lyric might be negligible if the chords aren’t setting the mood and the melody isn’t right for the words.
In every song, you need to work hard always at making sure that all elements work as an important partners for each other. It’s not much unlike a good sports team: one excellent player can be a vital part of a team’s success, but no team will be successful unless all players are working together.
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.
The perfect combination: “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting 10-eBook Bundle” and a Study Guide! Dig into the songwriting manuals that thousands of songwriters are using to polish their technique, complete with a study guide to show you how to progress through the materials. Comes with an 11th FREE ebook: “Use Your Words! Developing a Lyrics-First Songwriting Process”
Gary, love your work and always look forward to your blogs. Always great advice and an inspiration to what I would imagine to be so many people. Great stuff Mate.
Greg Bolton (Joyflight)
Thanks very much, Greg, I appreciate that.