Christian Songwriting: Musical Elements - Musical Hooks

If you have ever found yourself constantly humming a tune even though you couldn't remember any of the words, you won't be surprised to discover that music also has its hooks; those few bars of a song that seem to latch on to your mind and won't let go.

These musical hooks may come by inspiration, or they may be deliberately written into your song to make it more memorable, but whichever way they appear, the important thing is that you employ them, and with repetition. The memory functions through repetition, and you are simply making use of this fact to give your song power. The reason you know your name, address and telephone number, or any other fact for that matter, is because of repetition. In fact, many of the Psalms used lyrical repetition which was probably reinforced with musical repetition.

The Riff

One important musical hook is the riff. A riff is a melodic phrase, played repeatedly, and can form the basis of an entire song. Examples of songs which rely heavily on a riff are: "Who's In The House" by Carman and Michael-Anthony Taylor; De Garmo and Key's "Stressed"; "Don't Pass Me By" (written by Phil Keaggy and Lynn Nichols); "Satisfaction" by the Rolling Stones; "Smoke On The Water" performed by Deep Purple; and Michael Jackson's "Beat It" (which contains a secondary riff).

Some of these songs are almost impossible to get out of your head - even when you're sick of it! That's the great advantage of the riff - it sticks. This is largely because of its simplicity. Writing on riffs is a lot of fun. Start with the beat and progress to the riff using mouth guitar. Try to do as many of the drum sounds as you can, as well as the complete riff, doing all the sound effects with your mouth. Once you've got something you think might work in a real song, start working on the melody and lyrics.

While the guitar dominates in the use of this musical hook, the use of other instruments, notably synthesisers, brass, and the saxophone, is not precluded. The riff is not usually repeated throughout the entire song. Rather, it is a major feature broken up by small patches of variation (a departure from the main riff). Heavy Metal Rock is a style which is built almost entirely on guitar riffs, and the trick of course, is to keep coming up with something new.

Short Musical Phrases

Short musical phrases appearing when there is a vocal rest can often be added as musical hooks. Frequently they are quite simple, and it is this simplicity which causes them to lodge in the mind. People may appreciate the musical brilliance of a complicated display of virtuosity, but they certainly won't be humming it!

On the other hand, they need hear George Harrison's "Something" only once and they can easily repeat the guitar phrase between the verse and the chorus. It seems like such a natural part of the song, almost like it could have had words to it. And that's what makes it so catchy.

A worship chorus that makes use of this technique is Reuben Morgan's "I Give You My Heart". While most choruses don't have intros that are particularly unforgettable, this one is the exception. Most people don't have any trouble singing or humming it and its memorability adds to the song recognition. In this particular song, the intro is repeated when returning to the verse from the chorus, acting as a kind of turnaround.

Vocal Backing

The vocal backing could also be regarded as a musical hook if it attracts the attention of the listener and helps make the song more interesting. Good examples of this are the "ah ah Mr Wilson....ah ah Mr Heath" of George Harrison?s song "Taxman", and the "da da da da, da da da da" at the end of the chorus in Lennon and McCartney's "Hey Jude". Suitably placed oohs and aahs, shooalalas, etcetera can also be very catchy.

For more information on musical hooks, including modulation, and more, buy Successful Songwriting. (This link will take you to, a subsidiary of Amazon.)

Lyric Writing - Rhyme | Lyric Writing - Lyrical Hooks | Song Content - Song Plan | Song Structure | Musical Elements | Rhythmic Devices | Melody Writing | Writer's Block