How to Write a Catchy Hook in 5 Simple Steps
With most great, world-renowned songs, the “holy grail” is a catchy hook / chorus. This is the part that listeners remember the most and usually get “stuck” in their head for months, if not years to come. This month, we dive and dissect the seeming mysteries of this “holy grail” as applicable to writers in Top 40 genres of music. Here are 5 simple steps you can use to write a catchy hook – and if you can accomplish all 5, you are well on your way to writing and landing your song in the heart of the masses 🙂
Photo: Erin Biafore
1. Develop a Catchy Melody
A catchy melody usually has one or more of the following characteristics:
-It uses no more than 4-7 notes with all the notes falling within an octave. The reason for this is two fold: a limited amount of notes makes the chorus melody easy to remember AND it makes it easy to sing for almost any listener, no matter their vocal skills. A great example of this in action is the song Party Rock. This song is the #5 highest charted Billboard song of all time and the hook melody (which stuck in the heads of millions for months and months) consisted of only 6 notes – all in the same octave.
-The melody is repeated more than once. This adds to the boost in memorability. (Party Rock also does this by repeating its chorus melody twice, using the same melody for both lines in the chorus).
-It uses melody parts from other familiar melodies (e.g. classic pop songs, nursery rhymes, lullabies, well-known folk songs, etc.) woven into a new melody structure. Since the melody may be partially familiar to the listener already, it enhances the catchy and memorable nature.
2. Present a Unique, Relatable Take on an Old Concept
Let’s face it: almost all songs written touch on 3 main feelings: happiness, sadness or fear (and/or derivatives of these e.g. happiness x trust = love). Therefore, coming up with a unique way to talk about age-old topics and feelings is key.
An example of a fresh take on writing about love was Rihanna’s “Umbrella” written by The-Dream. This song talked about the ups and downs of loving someone but in a unique and extremely relatable way. By using an “umbrella” as an analogy for loyalty and a running metaphor of “weather” used to express the various stages of loving someone, the chorus beautifully shows how you can take a relatable concept and utilize it in a unique way to express a common emotion.
3. Include Rhyme & Syllable Symmetry As Much as Possible
Symmetry in this sense means that two or more lines have the same syllable count and/or have a very simple rhyme scheme that is repeated. This symmetry or rhythmic “patterning” is important because the brain biologically and chemically is built on patterns. Therefore, if one or more patterns (using symmetry) are used in a chorus, the chances that the listener’s brain will pick up on the repeating patterning and remember the hook increases dramatically.
Here’s an example of two lines which have both rhyme & syllable symmetry:
Too deep to let go, Too strong to be weak (10 syllables – ending line “weak’)
My truth is my truth, Hear me when I speak (10 syllables, ending line “speak” which rhymes with first line)
4. Use a Word or Phrase that Repeats
Whether it’s a word repeating 16 times (like “controlla” in Drake’s song of the same name) or a phrase repeating 49 times (like “she got a dunk” in Soulja Boy’s song of the same name) repeating words/phrases works by lyrically blanketing the listener with a main point or message from the song. This enhances the “patterns” in the song with repetition which the brain’s memory easily digests.
5. Sync Your Performance with the Lyrics
Most of the elements above have related to either the lyrics or patterns woven into the lyrics of the chorus that enhance memorability. Yet, once you do all the masterful lyric-writing and pattern weaving work, the last step is the most important: the performance. An emotionally convincing performance – one that matches the topics, content and flow of your chorus lyrics – is key to engaging the listener in actually listening to the song. And once the listener is engaged through the performance, you then have the best chance for them to remember your masterfully crafted, catchy, chart-topping chorus.
About the featured blogger: Ami Kim is a topline songwriter and vocalist for DivineTracks.com and is based in Los Angeles.