When song writing, the hook is the most important part of the song for any genre of music and should be the strongest part of the song. It’s important that this section of the song be well developed as it’s the foundation for the verses. It is also the section that’s going to be repeated several times to drive home the main idea. If you review any type of music that is currently played on the radio (rap, electronic, pop, rock, or country music), you’ll notice the choruses are well written and usually very simple. Is this a coincidence? The answer is no. The songs were crafted in that way for a reason. This was done by professionals who have one goal in mind–to sell music! They are kept simple, yet effective as the overall goal of the chorus is to embed the melody and emotion into the listener as he or she listens and sings along.
What Makes A Memorable or Catchy Chorus/Hook?
This answer is not an exact science but there are many strategies that can be used while writing a hook to at least ensure you’re on the right path. Developing a catchy chorus takes practice and work but it can be done.
Melody: The obvious reason a chorus is memorable is the melody. There is no formula for writing a catchy melody but there are things you can do while writing your chorus. Melodies that travel too far or are too difficult to sing usually fail to standout. Most choruses travel very little in terms of notes.
Let’s look at the happy birthday song. Looking at this simple song let’s review the lyrics and melody for the first line:
“Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you”
(notes: |C-C-D-C –F-E | C-C-D-C –G-F|)
You’ll notice the melody did not travel too far. The “happy” is on the same note and the “birth” travels to one note higher (D), “day” then falls back to (C), then “to you” jumps to notes (F) and (E) on the first measure and jumps to (G) and (F) on the second measure. These small jumps in notes are not difficult to sing yet are very effective.
Listen to the melody below. Here is a quick melody developed for this example.
Here are the notes |D-D-D-F-F-E-E-D| D-D-D-F-F-E-E-D|
Did you notice how catchy this melody was? It’s simple, easily sung and repetitive. Also, notice a lot of the notes are repeated over and over. We have the melody starting on (D) and repeating three times, then jumping to (F) and (E), also repeating 2 more times. For music theory enthusiast these intervals are Unisons, Major 2nds, and Major 3rds.
Bring it Home
Did you notice the melody created above started on (D) and came back to (D)? When you bring the melody home it has a certain effect that can’t be described. It’s almost as if the listener went venturing on a path, got lost then, then found their way back again; it closes the melody and ends the journey. It gives the listener a sense of completion.
This is important when writing songs and should be considered when crafting your songs.
Listen to this melody that’s all over the place and you decide if it is as effective as the first one you heard?
If you listened to the example, you’ll notice it went all over the place. It was not memorable, was not catchy, and certainly is not something that would sell. The melody did not travel home and was composed in two octaves. This should always be avoided as very few songs jump from one octave to another and can be very difficult to sing. Most listeners find these songs not very memorable. Of course, there are always exceptions to this rule. For example “Somewhere over the rainbow” is a classic and is very well known by many.
Lyrics: The lyrics of the song are just as important as a strong melody. The lyrics in the chorus are what make the listener feel the emotion. This part of the song is what really needs to stand alone and be the catchiest part of the song.
In the example melody above, the lyrics for the chorus is:
We’re over and done
We’re over and done
Does this convey enough emotion to the listener? Not really. It’s pretty generic and sounds really cliché that a relationship is over. Now let’s imagine after several rewrites you came up with this:
I don’t know what you want from me
I don’t know what you want from me
This is a little more descriptive in that it gives the listener some insight as to why the relationship is stressed. It’s much more dynamic in terms of emotion and once the verses come into play the listener will be able to identify even more with the song.
How Long Should A Chorus Be?
The average chorus should be about 4 and 8 measures. It’s important to note that 1 measure has 4 beats/counts in it.
Count to yourself:
| 1-2-3-4 | 1-2-3-4 | 1-2-3-4| 1-2-3-4 |
| 1-2-3-4 | 1-2-3-4 | 1-2-3-4| 1-2-3-4 || 1-2-3-4 | 1-2-3-4 | 1-2-3-4| 1-2-3-4
Some Choruses even have 5 measures as well. Anymore than eight will lose the impact and the listeners will not associate that as a chorus. Most verses are between 4, 8, and 16 measures.
Note: In the examples above, remember we used only 2 measures to help drive our point home.
Harmonizing Your Melody
A quick note about cords before we move on to the harmonizing section: There are a total of seven chords in any major scale. In this example we picked a (D) Minor and a (C) Major to show our example for supporting the melody.
Now that we built a simple melody it’s time to harmonize it. This helps add contrast to our melody and brings in a bit more emotion.
“I don’t know what you want from me” is composed in C major Scale: C-D-E-F-G-A-B
We have also taken the words “what you” from “I don’t know what you want from me” above and moved it up three notes. This simply means that the words “what you” in our chorus that are on the note (F) will now be moved to an (A) note. Note: (F) is counted as the first note. So the “what you” will be sung in the (F) note and then will be sung again with the (A) note and then the two will be stacked and played together as if it’s just one voice.
Take a listen.
Contrasting your melody is just the beginning and once you have mastered these steps, more cool things can be done to develop your hook.
Production & Final Product
Now that the melody has been developed it can now be recorded inside a studio. For demo purposes we have used a synthesized voice to convey the idea here.
As a song writer, don’t stress too much on the music and production. Your job is simply to write the song and develop the melody. Let the producer add the instruments and groove to the song. This will eliminate any stress of production. If you are an independent artist, focus on your writing technique rather than the production side and let the producers arrange and finalize the song as production is an art all in itself.