You know the song that gets stuck in your head then you’re humming it to yourself for hours on end without knowing exactly why? Well, it’s because that song had a great hook. As a songwriter, it’s your job to include well-crafted hooks in your songs. If you’re new to songwriting you may not even know what a song hook is.
The hook in a song is the part or parts within the song structure that make the song memorable to the listener. A song can and should have multiple song hooks within it. The main hook is usually the title of the song. Short, repeated musical motifs are often used as song hooks.
Song Hooks are Memorable
The hook of a song is the part that reaches out and grabs you and plants itself in your brain like a weed in your garden. Once it’s there it’s almost impossible to completely remove it no matter how hard you try. As songwriters, our job is to plant as many song hooks as we can! This is one place where a garden full of weeds is a good thing!
I’d say the earliest in life we’ve been exposed to and hooked by one of these garden invaders is with the song, “Happy Birthday to You”. Think about it….you hear it at least by the time you’re 1 year old and it sticks with you the rest of your life! Now that’s a very hooky song.
The title is the first thing you hear, then the second, and then the fourth…. (repetition is a key factor in setting the hook). Additionally, that simple melody is easily remembered. I’m sure you’ve heard someone say about a certain song, “that song has catchy lyrics”. They are just affirming, without knowing the why or how, that the song stuck in their head contains some sort of hook.
Tools to Write Better Song Hooks
Ok, it’s time for a new analogy here. When you go fishing you take all the gear you believe will help you catch the fish, right? Well, that includes the bait, whether you use live bait or lures. You have to bait the hook in order for it to be attractive to the fish. If one type of bait is not working you switch to a different type. You use different bait and cast in several locations until you catch the fish.
In the same way, there are various methods of baiting your song hooks. If one doesn’t result in catching the listener’s attention you need to try another. Below are some ways you can bait that hook. You can use one, two, or a combination of them. It’s up to you.
1. Melodic Song Hooks
2. Rhythmic Song Hooks
3. Vocal Song Hooks
4. Percussive Song Hooks
5. Instrumental Song Hooks
Examples of Song Hooks
If you’ve heard the group Sugarland’s song, “All I Want to Do”, then you know someone involved in that production process came up with a brilliant hook in the line of the chorus… “All I want to do, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh ooh.” That’s about 19 “ooh”s” by my count! Go give it a listen if you’ve never heard it. It’s a great example of a song hook produced by implementing short melodic and rhythmic phrasing. I’d also say there’s a percussive feel to that hook as well.
Don’t overlook using oohs and aahs, along with other “non” word sounds for some of your hooks. Strategically placed, these gems can take your song to a new level of hookdome!
Titles as Song Hooks
Another example of a repeating phrase being used as a hook is found in the Beatles song, “Let it Be“. The title is mentioned 5 times in the chorus. There are only 5 words in the chorus that isn’t the title. Again, an effective technique of drilling that phrase into the long-term memory portion of the brain!
How about, “Who let the dogs out? woof, woof”…
Or, Meghan Trainer’s.. “All About That Bass“…
The examples above happen to be ones that incorporated the actual title of the song into the hook. This is a fairly common strategy, to make the title of the song easily remembered. It’s a great way to get more sales too. Someone goes and Google’s the phrase they remember from the song and are more likely than not given results that include the actual song title and artist.
I could go on with plenty of other examples, but I hope you’re getting the point. Using a short, repeatable phrase that employs these tools is a potent method of hooking listeners to your songs.
Instrumental Song Hooks
Instrumental Hooks are a useful tool for forming hooks as well. One that has been around since 1808 is a composition I’m sure you and most everyone reading this has heard, even if they don’t know the name of the composition. The first few bars of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5. cast a very familiar hook. You hear the opening and you start humming along or moving your arms like an orchestra conductor with the rest of the song as it reels you in.
Opening guitar riffs are a fantastic way to immediately hook your listener. Eric Clapton’s “Layla“, Stevie Ray Vaughan’s, “Pride and Joy“, Steve Miller Band’s, “Jet Airliner” all have great hooky openings.
Then there is that clavinet riff that Stevie Wonder plays throughout his song, “Superstition“. That is a perfect example of a great instrumental hook.
Repeated Song Hooks
Hooks can and should appear multiple times throughout a song. There might be an opening guitar riff that repeats during the song at various points such as Lynard Skynard’s, “Sweet Home Alabama“. That opening riff carries the verses along and then in the chorus, they unleash another one. And, oh my, the instrumental breaks are off the charts, aren’t they?
Referring back to “Superstition’ by Stevie Wonder, you can see how he crafted a repeated hook with that clavinet riff that starts after the opening 4 bar drum solo.
Percussive Song Hooks
How about using percussion as one of your hooks? The television show Hawaii Five-O’s theme song has that opening drum fill that has become so famous. So much so, that the updated series uses the same song so many years after the first series aired.
The song “Wipeout” by Safaris has the iconic drum solo that gets repeated throughout the song.
Experiment With Your Song Hooks
As you can see, there are endless ways to create hooks. One important thing to keep in mind, however, is just because you produce and place a hook into your song doesn’t mean it will automatically be catchy, or more importantly, hooky to someone else. I would suggest that you put yourself into the listener’s ears and give it an honest listen.
Does it place you in the groove, or make you look forward to that part of the song where you get to sing along or listen to? If not so much, try moving it around, or maybe put a beat or two of silence before or after. Or maybe repeat part of a line in one section of the song that is not repeated in the rest, so it stands out. By experimenting and editing, you will eventually land on a winner.
Have Your Song Hook Critiqued
When you feel you have a catchy hook, have someone give it a listen and look for their reaction. Watch their body language for those telltale signs like foot tapping, head bobbing, hand tapping, etc. Ask them for their honest opinion. Explain to them that you don’t want them to hold back on what they think.
They might be hesitant to share what they really think of it, but if you assure them you are just trying to improve your skills and really want an honest answer they will be more likely to give honest feedback. The more people you can get to listen, the better. It will give you a general idea of how you’re doing. If you have a more experienced co-writer that you’re working with, they would be in a better position to give a fair evaluation.
Analyze Your Favorite Song Hooks
Think about why you love your favorite songs. What is it that reaches out and connects with your soul? What moves you to tears, or gets your head bobbing while grooving to the music? Emotion is what a great song is supposed to evoke. People long to feel something. Don’t cause them to waste 3 or 4 minutes of their lives listening to a boring song. Actually, they will probably turn it off after a few seconds if it doesn’t do anything for them right away.
The Power of the Song Hook
Do you ever hear a song that you haven’t heard for years and are instantly able to remember what riff or repeated lyric or melody line is coming next? You can sing the lyrics without missing a beat even though you haven’t heard it in decades. That’s the mark of a great song.
My mom once told me that when I was about 2 years old and the Beach Boys song, “Surfer Girl” came on the radio, I would start crying. Now I don’t remember crying, but I can say that I feel a little melancholy to this day each time I hear that melody.
That example might be more suited for a discussion on melody, but I believe it falls into the hook category as well. Melody can be a hook. Think of that melody that goes with, “little surfer, little one, made my heart come all undone, do you…..” OK, I have to stop, I’m getting choked up!
You should incorporate multiple hooks into your songs. The more great hooks that are present in your song the better the odds of putting out a memorable song that will attract many listeners, and one that you will be proud to have crafted. There are no limits to the number of hooks that can be present.
Where are the Song Hooks Here?
I’d like you to listen to the song I co-wrote and sang. See how many hooks you can find. And let me know in the comments below which hook was the strongest in your opinion.
I hope that you now have a better understanding of how to write a song hook. What a hook is, how important it is in creating a song that is memorable, and what tools you can use to compose and incorporate each one as you learn how to write a hook for a song that you’re composing. Don’t be afraid to try multiple times and various ways to get your hooks to work. It takes experience and putting forth the effort at honing your craft. It truly is a joy to come up with a great hook!
I’m here to encourage you to go for it. I know you can succeed. I know you will get discouraged, frustrated, and feel like giving up. I also know that if you stick with it, persevere, and never, never, ever give up, you will be rewarded. I don’t necessarily mean rewarded with a mega-hit song and fame, although, that’s not impossible.
I mean the satisfaction that comes with finishing a well-crafted song that you poured your heart into. A song that brings out the emotion in people that you intended to evoke. One song leads to another… another BETTER song that is. Maybe even one that people will be singing for years! Write on, my friends! And enjoy the journey.