How to Write Strong Hooks in Your Songs

by Giselle Fletcher

This is an excerpt from Giselle’s new course Secrets of Songwriting, available now.

Strong hooks are created by the repetition of a small musical riff. Hooks should appear everywhere in your songs to make them catchy and memorable, don’t save them just for the chorus. Grab us right from the start of your song and hook your way through to the end. Give the hooks variety through pitches, intervals and rhythms, but hook us in!

I would also include hooks in your accompaniment as well for extra pull, especially in the intros. One of the biggest, most successful bands of all time, Abba used to write hooks everywhere. Just take a listen to their song Dancing Queen by Benny Anderson, Bjorn Ulvaeus & Stig Anderson.

Examples of excellent hooks right from the start of the song in the accompaniment:

Opening of Sorry, by Justin Beiber, Julia Michaels, Justin Tranter, Sonny Moore & Michael Tucker.
Opening of 7 Years, by Lucas Graham, Stefan Forrest, Morten Ristorp & Morten Pilegaard.
Opening of Passenger’s Let her go, by Mike Rosenberg. 
Opening of Coldplay’s Viva La Vida, by Chris Martin, Guy Berryman, Will Champion & Jonny Buckland.

Developing a Hook

A really good way to develop a hook is to take notes that are next to each other in the scale, and then put them in a different order. For example:

C D E F G

Could become:

C D F E G

Then maybe you could leave it at that, or maybe you might want to alter the rhythm of the riff, maybe add a triplet in there or some dotted notes. But keep it simple. Less is more in the case of a riff.

There’s one absolute sure fire way to know if you’ve done a great hook… Imagine hearing your hook two times in a row. If you can write it down or sing it back easily, then that’s great. So try this with a member of your family or a friend.

If they cannot sing it back to you, it is not a great hook.

Even if your hook deals with intervals and not just neighbouring notes, it must be a hook that can stick. Once you have one hook, create as many as you can and then start weeding them out. Yes, you can have too much of a good thing. I know I said that you should put them in the melodies and the accompaniments, in the verses and the choruses… even the bridges… but timing is everything. You don’t want your song to sound like just a series of hooks strung together.

The opening hook of your song should be a strong one, but maybe your verse hook comes in the form of half of a phrase that keeps coming back. Or maybe your strongest hook comes near the beginning and not straight at the start, like in Sia’s Chandelier “1,2,3, drink” moment.

I would recommend that every day you develop hooks at your instrument, or with your voice, and record them in your phone, or write them down. All the time, be thinking of fun ways to make small riffs catchy. 

Hook Exercise:

1. Set yourself the job of writing a riff of no more than 5 notes in length.

2. Focus your mind by taking 3 deep breaths.

3. Set your stopwatch for 3 minutes.

4. Play/sing one note and hold it for 5 counts.

5. Play/sing 5 different notes around, above or below your given notes, with even rhythm.

6. Play/sing them again.

7. Now twice more.

8. Now Play/sing them again but change the rhythm.

9. Play/sing this new version again.

10. Record it.

11. Set a reminder to go off in one hour, and go off and do something different, like making a cup of tea or checking emails.

12. When your alarm goes off, if you can play/sing back your riff exactly as you wrote it, it’s a keeper.

Tip!

Make yourself a ‘Hook’ file/folder so that you have a never ending library of them to choose from. They are excellent at giving inspiration for new songs as well.

My name is Giselle and I am a Professional Music Motivator. I motivate and inspire you to achieve your musical and career goals through mentorship, education and public speaking. I have spent over 15 years performing on stages across the world. I am also a multi-award winning performer and singer songwriter. In addition I’m a singer/songwriter Ensemble Director at Carleton University in Ottawa, a Canadian JUNO Award Jurist, and a FACTOR Jurist. I have been a successful manager and acquired my artist over $70,000 in grant money, saw through the whole process of releasing their debut album, placed them in high profile industry showcases and arranged one-on-one personal meetings with the heads of A&R at Sony and Universal. Secrets of Songwriting is available now.

1 Comment

  1. Lovely post! We all write differently, of course… I find the hooks are locked inside the sounds and shapes of the words. x

    Liked by 1 person

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