Writing From The Hook – 5 Ways to Engage the Ear 


Many people think the hook is only present in the chorus of a song. But often that’s not the case, especially in pop music.

It’s not unusual to hear hooks get blended with a song’s chorus. But, believe it or not, sometimes you also hear them in the verse, the intro and both the pre and post choruses.


In pop music, a good pop song includes several hooks, peppered throughout the song.  Listen, intentionally, to some of your favorite pop songs to find the different hooks used by the writer. Once you train your ear to listen this way, it’ll become second nature to identify them.

Okay so let’s look at what typically defines a hook. Here are the characteristics many writers use:

  • it’s short, memorable and repeatable
  • it uses three to five notes
  • it’s rhythmically interesting 
  • it utilizes space between the notes or between the phrases
  • it grabs the listener’s attention

Let’s look briefly at each of these.

#1. It’s Short, Memorable & Repeatable

Think ‘abcdefu’ by Gayle, ‘Shake it Up” by Taylor Swift, ‘‘Who Let the Dogs Out?” by Baha Men, (a classic novelty song), and ‘Yesterday’ by the Beatles,  the list goes on and on. In these instances, the hook is also the song title.

Getting down to sheer music basics, the major scale has seven unique tones. Frequently, hooks utilize what’s called the pentatonic scale – the first, second, third, fifth, and sixth notes of the major scale so 1 2 3 5 6 1.

#2  Write a hook using only three to five notes 

If you create three to five distinct tones, you can almost immediately hear a melody just by singing right up the pentatonic scale- utilizing the first three notes of the major scale  – ‘Do Re Mi”.

Think of the well-known children’s song ‘Three Blind Mice’

I mention that song and you immediately think of the notes, and the phrase ‘Three blind mice, three blind mice’  right?  It sounds familiar, something we’ve all heard and know well.

Perhaps that’s an oversimplification, but you get the point.  Keep it simple.  Simple is what people remember and draws them in, it creates a sonic memory.  

What’s important is we start to engage the listener by making them feel you’re singing something they know, something that sounds familiar. This in turn gets them to pay attention to the music, hence ‘ the hook’.

**NoteThe best songwriters know how to write around the familiar without copying something, which of course would be copyright infringement. It’s also why they’re a lot of copyright infringement lawsuits contesting really huge songs.  Remember ‘Blurred Lines”?  That’s just one well-known example. 

 Copyright infringement suits are extremely complicated and very hard to prove.  You can read about landmark cases, won and lost, by Googling ‘Famous copyright infringement lawsuits.’ Pretty complicated stuff and horribly expensive!

#3. Your hook should be rhythmically interesting 

The object is to create a hook that grabs the listener’s attention by creating some contrast between the downbeats and the upbeats – i.e. ‘syncopation’. You want to shuffle the notes to make your three to five notes a bit different – i.e. rhythmically interesting or rhythmically engaging.

#4 Create space between the notes and phrases

When creating a memorable hook, make sure to create space in between the notes and phrases. The listener needs a chance to digest the information (sounds) you’re giving them by utilizing space in between your notes and phrases. Change up the first phrase a little bit every time you use it, just slightly, so there’s space in between each phrase.

This gives them an opportunity to reset their ear so you can draw them in again with the next variation.  Finally….

#5 Grab their attention with lyrics

One last thing, you want to do anything you can to grab quickly grab the listener’s attention.  So next you introduce the lyrics.  There are a few tricks to make a listener feel like they’re listening to something familiar. 

The most commonly used trick is to incorporate popular modern phrases or familiar phrases you’ve heard since you were a little kid. Both are ingrained in pop culture. That’s why the people listening feel like they’re in the song or part of the conversation.

Think about the phrases everybody knows and hears.” We’re not gonna take it”, ‘”Put a ring on it’ and you get the drift. A familiar phrase instantly starts to sound like you’re turning it into a hook.  That’s how you can take a popular phrase using the above rules to start creating a hook.

Using these methods will help you start writing something that’s immediately rhythmically engaging and grabs a listener’s ear.  Try lots of different approaches using these tools and see what happens!