Most of the time when you talk about the hook of a song, you’re talking about the main, distinctive part of the chorus. There are many different ways to hook a listener, but you could argue that the chorus hook is the most important one, as it gives listeners the most memorable part of the song, the part that keeps people coming back.
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A hook can usually be condensed down to one important musical phrase, and it’s usually the part where the lyric contains the title. In order for a musical fragment to rise to the level of being a hook, you typically find the following qualities:
- It’s a short, memorable fragment that repeats throughout the song (as choruses, of course, usually do.)
- Its melody will be mainly stepwise, with at least one distinctive melodic leap (usually upwards).
- The rhythm of the melody will feature something different from what’s come before it in the song.
- The chord progression that supports that hook will usually be simple but tonally strong.
- It’s fun to sing.
In the recent hit by The Weeknd/Ariana Grande, “Save Your Tears” (Abel Tesfaye, et al), we get to see all those characteristics. Its chorus (like most songs’ choruses) is made up of a short fragment that repeats.
The melody is mainly stepwise, but featuring a leap upward on the word “tears”. The rhythm of the verse is primarily repeating eighth notes and quarter notes. The chorus hook, however, begins with two notes (“Save your…”) of longer value (half notes), setting the chorus hook apart from the rest of the song.
The chords that support the hook for this song are tonally strong, based mainly on the circle of fifths: I – vi – iii – V (C – Am – Em – G)
Practicing Writing Song Hooks
You’ll notice that while the verse and chorus for a song have a similar sound and feel, most of the time the similarities come from the fact that the instrumentation is the same (or close to the same), as well as the key, tempo, and other production-level elements.
What that means is that most of the time you can spend some time practicing the writing of hooks, and even use them in a song for which you’ve already got some verse ideas, but no chorus hook to bring it all home.
In practicing the writing of a hook, you can use the same processes that you’d use if you were writing a complete song. For example, you can start the writing of a hook by coming up with a short, strong progression (the “chords-first” method), or you might think up a short melodic idea (the “melody first” process.)
In everything you do, you simply need to make sure that your hook idea is displaying the five important characteristics listed above. Make sure there’s something distinctive about the rhythm, that the melody features some sort of leap, that the chords are simple, and of course that it’s fun to sing.
One of the best ways to improve, as with practically everything in music, is to listen to good songs, ones that have become hits, and focus your attention on the chorus hook. Ask yourself, “What do I like about this? Why does it work?”
Once you’ve got several hook ideas and you’re ready to create a verse that works with it, improvise verse ideas by starting lower in your voice, and using a chord progression that is either the same or at least similar to your chorus hook idea.
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