What's this section of a song, and is it the same as a chorus or a refrain? Most people like to use the terms interchangeably.
In modern music, you can usually interchange the words "chorus", "hook", and "refrain" when speaking about the most important part of a song that repeats at least twice. An example of a common song has two verses, a bridge, and a chorus/refrain/hook.
So in most cases, you can use either of the three words. The more popular term is "chorus" and the term "refrain" can seem traditional and more dated. The term "refrain" is often used for songs in traditional styles like classical, gospel, or folk music.
The term "hook" emphasizes the need for this section of a song to "hook" the listener with its catchiness in both the lyrics and the melody. Therefore, this term is mainly used in "pop" genres, including hip-hop, R&B, and dance music.
Songwriters in these genres are often encouraged their song hook sections to be as memorable as possible to encourage the listener to put the song on repeat.
The hook of a song is a big deal. It'll make or break the greatness of your entire creation. The hook is likely the most memorable part of your song, and you need the length to be perfect.
You want your hook to be not too short, not too long. If your hook is too short, no one's really going to remember it or realize it happened, and if it's too long, it won't be catchy enough.
In theory, your hook can be as long as you want it to be since it's your song.
But if you're trying to get the approval of fans and the music industry, you will probably want to follow the industry standards when it comes to your songwriting to get the best results and the most pleasant response from your listeners.
To understand hook length, you will first need to make sure you understand a bar or a measure of a song and a song's BPM.
A bar, also known as a measure, is a small section of a song that usually accounts for 3 or 4 beats each. All songs are made up of dozens of measures, also called bars, since they are literally separated by bars when written in sheet music format.
The rhythmic feel of a song bar makes it feel like they should naturally be paired in fours, i.e., a hook that is 4 bars, 8 bars, 16 bars, etc.
A song hook usually lasts 8 or 16 bars in a song. Your choice to make the bar length 8 or 16 depends largely on the song's chord structure, the lyrical structure of your song, and, most frequently, the BPM of your song.
The good thing about creativity in music is that you don't have to follow the rules, so there is no definite right way to write an addictive hook.
So how do you make a hook section stand out, hook the listener in correctly, and encompass the message and feel of the whole track? Thankfully, the thousands of other songwriters before us have paved a way that we can build on.
As a professional songwriter, here are ten things I always consider when writing the hook part for a song. Not all the tips below are things that must happen because, again, it's all up to your creativity.
But here are some patterns I've come across in the millions of hit songs in countless genes I've heard over the years that inspire me to write hooks that really please my clients and fans.
If you're going for a pop song that will attract listeners, simple and catchy lyrics are always a good way to go when it comes to the hook.
The verses often have much more words than a hook does in many music genres.
A lot of hits are about love, and it's one of the most desired and talked about topics in the world, so why not? Obscure lyrics are cool to put into songs, but they don't always work for hits.
For lyrics to be catchy, they also tend to be pretty repetitive. Many people hate hit songs because they get stuck in people's heads, but that's their magic!
It may feel weird to add very repetitive and basic lyrics to your song if you're used to a deeper approach to writing, but don't overthink it, and keep it fun!
Your lyrics have to be basic yet unique, with a good rhyming scheme if you want to write a hit.
Most hit songs follow the rhyme scheme of either AABB or ABAB. A lot of songs get away with using similar-sounding words instead of using perfect rhymes.
Like creating catchy lyrics, you will need to develop some catchy melodic phrases for your verses and your hook. Of course, your hook should be the most catchy section of your song.
The trick to creating catchy melodies is that you will need to come up with unique melodies that haven't already been used.
If you're looking for how to write a rap song only, you can skip this part, incorporate some sing-rap phrases into your song or even have a catchy sung hook.
You may notice that many popular songs are melodies that are recycled from past hits. This is easy to do if you're signed to a big label and have an appropriate budget.
You need to get approval and pay the original content owners to incorporate that borrowed melody into your hit song. As an independent artist, you might as well stick to unique ideas only.
While it's not a requirement, many hook sections bring home the overall idea behind a song's lyrics, so you want to put important keywords in this section of your song.
If you're writing a song about heartbreak, the pain you feel should be the highlight of the lyrics in the hook and not some random detail about the overall story.
If you're writing a song about being a bad person, you want the highlight of your evil ways to be showcased in the hook section of your song and not a line about how you had a short stint of being an angel.
Harmonies are often added to the hook section to make them pop and stand out, but they are a requirement. Sometimes vocal layers that are in unison help the song to pop without the need for harmonic layers.
Although a lot of people miss out on this, R&B and pop songs often have vocal layers that are an octave above or an octave below to add fullness to the hook section of a song, and it can be very effective.
In many genres, spoken word layers or crowd vocal layers are also a good way to beef up the vocal presence to showcase that the hook is the highlight of the track.
Similar to adding vocal layers, many songs are written so that the instrumentation comes in heavier in the hook section.
This can be due to adding new instruments that only occur on the hook or adding harmonies and layers, just like you can do with your vocals.
For example, if you have strings that play a chord progression throughout the whole song, the hook can feature the same strings with an added octave below to give the overall song that feeling of richness in this section.
This is the rule I take the lightest because it doesn't always apply, but it often feels right. If I write a melody in my verse, I go higher in the hooks for it to stand out, similar to how vocal and instrumental layers added to a hook can make it stand out.
For some hooks, I actually elect to go lower or stay around the same few pitches in the melody as I do the verse, but that often depends heavily on the format of the instrumentation.
If the instrumentation changes enough from the verse section to the hook section so that I don't need to do a lot melodically to signify a hook, I may not need to sing higher.
If the instrumentation stays pretty much the same throughout the entire song, I often choose to go higher and add layers to the hook to make it really pop.
Some hooks can be highlighted with a more aggressive tone in your singing or rapping to bring it out, similar to vocal layers or adding instrumentation.
In some cases, a hook can benefit from being softer than the actual verses. Depending on the genre, you can change your tone in terms of mood to make the hook stand out as well.
Adlibbing is also known as improvising, and it is often featured in hook sections, especially when the hook comes back after a second or third verse.
Similar to vocal layers, adlibs are a great way to make your vocals stand out, but with the added appeal of creative flair that could change up any time you perform the hook in front of a crowd.
An adlib can come in many different forms, including spoken words, hums, oohs, ahhs, and sung words. The great thing about adlibbing is that there are no rules (as long as you stay in the right key, I suppose).
You can develop your own rhythmic phrases that are short or long. You can come in with a note that is high or low. It's all about you getting in tune with the feel of the instrumentation and letting it take you away.
Runs and riffs are often best used when you're ad-libbing on a song as a vocalist.
In some popular genres of music, songwriters feature two other sections called the pre-hook and the post-hook, which you can consider for your own song.
A post-hook is a second chorus that is catchy and blends in with the first hook very well, but it also introduces a new melodic element that the main hook does not have.
A pre-hook is often used in pop genres and occurs after the first and second verses.
While this section is usually very catchy as well, it always feels as if it's leading you into the best moment, and you're not there yet.
Pre-hooks often have chord progressions that give you the feeling of anticipation, ending on the fifth chord that gets resolved to a root chord in the hook.
The post-hook doesn't give you that same anticipation. Its job is to keep your energy up once the momentum has fully hit.
Both can be repeated and use the same lyrics each time they are sung, but the post-hook often repeats melodic and lyric ideas from the hook itself.
One big challenge in creating the perfect hook is that after all of these rules to keep in mind, you want to make sure you have come up with something that is catchy yet unique at the same time!
While most musical ideas are just inspired by others, it is very important not to rip off other people's lyrics and melodies directly, and it can be very tough.
This is often why so many things are getting remixed and remade in today's world because, in music, it can seem like there are no new ideas under the sun.
But with the many different sources of inspiration from the millions of songs and thousands of genres out there, you should be able to create something unique enough to call your own.
So, now you know that the hook, chorus, ad refrain is likely the same part of a song, and the most important one at that!
However, the term "hook" is often used in popular genres like pop, hip-hop, R&B, and dance music to emphasize the need for the section to be memorable and "hook" the listener. The length of a hook is usually 8 or 16 bars, and it depends on the song's structure and BPM.
When it comes to writing a great hook, there are no set rules, but catchy lyrics and an earworm melody are essential. To make lyrics catchy, they need to be simple, repetitive, and have a good rhyming scheme. As for the melody, it needs to be unique and memorable.
If you're looking to create a hit song, it's also helpful to follow some common patterns that have worked in the past. For example, many hit songs follow a rhyme scheme of AABB or ABAB, and the hook is usually the most memorable part of the song.
Think of your hook as a fishing lure. You want to choose the right bait and present it in a way that will entice the fish to bite. In the same way, you want to choose the right words and structure your section in a way that will make listeners want to keep playing to your song.
So, there you have it, a brief overview of what a hook is in music and how to write a great one. Remember, creativity is key, and while there are guidelines to follow, ultimately, it's up to you to make your hook stand out and hook in the listener.
As a session singer, writer, and producer that has worked with over 200 clients to provide high-quality jingles, singles, and features, Yona spends her time creating and marketing new music and helpful resources for creators. Her recent collaborations include work with PBS Sound Field, Tribe of Noise, and the National Black Chamber of Commerce. Check out Yona’s latest releases on her Spotify, her Youtube and share if you like it!
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