Does your song need a hook?

Does your song have a hook?

Does it need a hook? Why / why not?

What is a hook?

A hook is a short musical motif that’s easily remembered and unique to the song.

As a short musical motif, a hook can be almost anything. It can be a distinctive melody. It can be an interested or arresting lyric. It can also be an instrumental phrase. Or even a silly sound. Any kind of short musical motif can be a hook.

A hook must also be easily remembered. In compositional terms, this starts with verbatim repetition throughout the song. Development should be minimised – the listener will learn to recognise it better if it appears in exactly the same form every time it’s heard. Better yet, having the hook appear at the same sequence point (for example, always directly following the chorus) will help establish its role in the song. This gives it a clearer identity, which helps with recognition.

A hook must also be unique to the song. The hook forms a big part of the song’s identity. At best, it’s used by the listener as a ‘handle’ for the song – the defining element that triggers the listener’s memory. For this to be effective, the hook must be unique to the song. It can’t be obviously similar to another song’s hook.

Does your song need a hook?

Not every song needs a hook. Many well-formed songs don’t have any element that functions as a strong hook. For some music, it’s entirely appropriate for there to be no hook. A lot of film music fall into this category. It is primarily textural, and composed to support the visuals. A film cue may even be dramatic and vocal without needing  a hook. Longer atmospheric songs may also function very well without a hook. For these songs, their defining characteristic is the sonic texture itself and the dramatic (or otherwise) contours.

Whether your song needs a hook or not depends on how you want listeners to remember it. If it needs to cut through the radio or iPod playlist, or if you want people to be humming it for hours or days after their listen, the song should have a hook. On the other hand, if none of these things are important, you don’t need to worry about it.

-Kim.

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    • shelby
    • August 17th, 2010

    i wouldn’t give the impression that film music is the most notable genre that doesn’t require a hook. many musics don’t envolve this device. it’s common for songs to have long forms that may or may not repeat, forms in which motifs are often repeated but continually varied. jazz, folk, rock bluegrass, orchestral, Indian classical music- tons of stuff can work that way. It seems like a lot of electroni music producers are under the impression that if you make electronic music. you have to have a hook in your songs (unless your making atmospheric music). can’t wait for this perception to change.

  1. @shelby
    That’s true. There are a lot of musical forms that don’t need hooks. I just picked two examples that easily came to mind and that I thought most people could relate to.

    -Kim.

    • shelby
    • August 18th, 2010

    Excuse my rant. This is a good article, for the record. I just got a lite worked up.

    • Bert
    • November 25th, 2010

    some artists actually confuse them selves or mistake what a hook is.

    imo a hook sounds nothing like your main section ,your main section keeps evolving and getting more complex but your hook is just an ad lib maybe 1 or 2 bar ,and it always is constant where as your main section keeps moving ,and has lots of variation.

    im surprised as to some artists or people think a hook is

    your I chord of your main section or somehow your hook has to sound like your main section , i think the best hooks are when they sound nothing like your melody.

    like robert miles the children thats a great example. then theres some people who think the hook is your main melody so go figure ,i know in music there is no right or wrong but its just funny to see how different people define things differently.

  2. @Bert
    Good point Bert, a hook is a different to a melody or chorus. Often a strong chorus will feature a hook, or a hook might be part of a significant melody, but they’re not the same thing.

    -Kim.

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