Without a hook, it’s difficult to catch a fish. And same goes for your song, if you want to snag a fan. In your song, the hook is the catchy part that sticks in the listener’s head. It’s what makes someone want to listen to your song over and over … or sing it in the shower. It’s been called, “the foundation of commercial songwriting, particularly hit-single writing.” *
Although a hook might be melodic, rhythmic or lyrical (even the title of a song can be a hook), the melodic hook is the most common type and is what makes your song instantly hummable or singable. Whether it’s an instrumental riff, the chorus melody, or something else, it’s the section of your song that people remember most. Take Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony for example, which contains perhaps the most recognizable series of four notes ever put together. That simple “dum-dum-dum dhaaa” is the perfect example of a hook.
It is hard to define exactly what features make a hook appealing to listeners. While some melodic hooks include skips of a third or more to make the line more interesting, a hook can be equally catchy by employing rhythmic syncopation or other devices. A hook may also grab the attention of listeners from other factors, such as the fuzz tone guitar sound in the opening riff of The Rolling Stones‘ classic song, SATISFACTION. (Was it the fuzz tone or the notes chosen that made it a hook? Who knows, but it certainly snagged listeners and made the song immediately recognizable.) But most often, the melodic hook is found in the chorus of the song. Nothing beats a catchy chorus, and nothing is worse than a chorus that you can’t remember.
There are thousands of examples of a chorus melody serving as the song’s hook, but one is the song BE MY BABY, performed by The Ronettes, where the hook consists of the words “be my baby” over the conventional I-vi-IV-V chord progression of the chorus. A final example of a melodic hook is found in the worship song, HOW HE LOVES written and performed by John Mark McMillan. In this tune, it’s actually the melodic tag, not the chorus melody, that is the strongest and most singable melodic hook of the song (When the line, “He Loves Us, Oh How He Loves Us”is repeated several times.)
* Kasha and Hirschhorn (1979), p.28-29. Cited in Gary Burns (January 1987). “A Typology of “Hooks” in Popular Records”. Popular Music 6 (1): 1–20.