We associate the concept of the hook with pop music, though many genres, even classical music, have them. And when we say hook, we usually mean the chorus hook — that bit of the chorus (or sometimes the entire chorus) that listeners can’t get enough of, and hum it (hopefully) all day long.
There are other kinds of hooks, if by that term we mean something repetitious that’s attractive and catchy, keeping audiences listening. The instrumental background hook, for example, like we hear in the bass line of Pink Floyd’s “Money“, might be every bit as important as any other chorus hook.
There is more than one kind of hook that you could and should be using in your songs. “Hooks and Riffs: How They Grab Attention, Make Songs Memorable, and Build Your Fan Base” shows you why they’re all so important, and how to create them. With lots of examples from pop music history.
In pop genres, hooks are so important that the entire success of the song might come down to the success of the hook. The verse, the bridge, that guitar solo… of course they’re important, but no one will care about them if the chorus hook is weak or simply not doing the job of reeling in listeners.
There are no rules to writing a chorus hook, just as there are no rules about anything in the creative arts. But when you look at decades of pop music and compare their distinctive hooks, you’ll find at least three important characteristics in almost all of them:
- The melody has a distinctive and attention-seeking shape. Most hooks will use mainly stepwise motion, with at least one distinctive melodic leap. And that leap doesn’t need to be a large one. Often it can be a leap upward, followed by stepwise motion, like we hear in the chorus of Lennon & McCartney’s “She Loves You“.
- The chords are tonally strong, where the key of the song is strongly supported. In this case, “She Loves You” won’t be the best example, because the chorus hook in that case starts on the vi-chord. But most other songs will either incorporate the tonic chord, or at least strongly imply the tonic chord. Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” is a good example of this.
- The rhythm of the hook is strong but simple, one that really gets our toe tapping. Take any successful pop song, and simply say the chorus hook with the correct rhythms, and you’ll see what I mean by this.
In any good song there can be complexities, but by the time you get to the chorus hook, that’s when you’ll notice that things become simpler, uncluttered and clear. It’s an important part of giving audiences something to hum.
So while there are no rules about how to write a chorus hook, you do need to look at your own hook and compare it to whatever you’ve been offering in the verse preceding it. What you should notice is a kind of rhythmic and harmonic simplification, coupled with a melody that’s easy and fun to sing. Do that, and you’ve given your own audience something to remember and hum all day.
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.
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