Adult Guitar Lessons

Finding the "hook" has nothing to do with something a large-mouth bass swallowed!

The "hook" of the song is "What" the song is about. Quite often the hook is the same as the title. Sometimes it's not.
header guitar pic 2 02The hook is the word, or words, in the lyric that "are" the song. You typically hear the hook in the chorus of the song. In most cases, a chorus cannot exist without the hook.

Turn on the radio and listen to most any song, even one you have not heard before, and you will almost always know what the "hook" is before the song ends.

It is often repeated over and over until it almost beats you over the head!

Songwriters are in an endless pursuit of the next great hook. Hooks can be elusive, but they can be found.

The hard part is that there are so many millions of songs floating around, that finding an original sounding hook can be a huge challenge.

What Makes a Great Hook?

Quite often, a great hook is one that expresses a universal emotion or truth in a unique way.
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For Example: "Walkin' on Sunshine" (happiness),"Ain't No Sunshine" (loneliness), "The Dance" (loving with no regrets), "I Hope You Dance" (the promise of life), "Boot Scootin' Boogie" (dancing).

Finding Hooks

As stated before, great hooks can be elusive. How can you find a way to say "I love you" that hasn't been said a million times before? Or "he lied", or "she cheated", "I'm happy", or "I'm lonely"?

It is rare the songwriter that can sit down and just say, "today I'm going to write a great hook".

Hooks don't usually pop out of thin air without a little coaxing.

Turn On the Radar

Waiting for a moment of supreme inspiration will not typically produce a great hook. Sometimes you have to turn on your "radar" and be ready when they hit.

Hooks are everywhere around us. You could hear something in a nearby conversation, or a line in a movie. You might read something in a book or magazine that triggers a hook.
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The key is to have your radar on knowing that a great hook can come from anywhere. When you are in tune to the mindset that hook ideas are all around us, your subconscious mind takes over and picks up on things that you might have otherwise overlooked.

Hook Book

Most pro writers carry a pad or notebook with them all the time and when they hear or see something that sounds like a hook they write it down immediately. Don't trust your mind to remember every good idea. Chances are that something that hits you as being a good hook idea at lunch time, will be gone by supper.

Just the sheer act of getting into the habit of writing down hooks will kick your subconscious mind into overdrive and you will be amazed at the new ideas that will start to materialize.

Test Your Hook

Once you have a great hook you may want to test it out before devoting hours or days writing a song around it.

One method I use is to see if it has been used before. Although this is in no way an exact science, whenever I have a new hook I will look it up on the PRO's (Performance Rights Organizations) data base and see how often the hook has been used.
header guitar 5 03I will go to BMI and ASCAP websites and do a title search for the hook I am contemplating using. I cannot tell you the number of times I have come up with a "great" hook, thinking I was a genius, only to find that there were a thousand other "geniuses" that already wrote songs using the same hook!

If there are only a few other titles registered under that hook (or none at all), it might be a hook worth pursuing.

Write It

Once you have a hook that you think is worth trying, it may be best to see if you can write a chorus around that hook first. Then try to keep a clear vision of what the hook is saying, and as you progress through the writing process, never lose sight of that vision so the song maintains continuity from beginning to end.

Expressing yourself through song is one of the most rewarding experiences you can have as a musician. Before you immerse yourself too deeply in the process, make sure you are starting off with a great hook!

Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions!

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In an earlier discussion we talked about the importance of lyrics in your songwriting. (see "Songwriting - Lyrics")

We also discussed the fact that in country music the emphasis is often placed on the lyrics, but in rock pop music, the melody is often the driving force behind the song.

The Melody

A song's melody is usually the first thing a listener will remember. It is what gets, and keeps, their attention.
header 6 01The melody is comprised of the notes that are played or sung on top of the song's chord progression.

In many circumstances a typical song will actually consist of several melodies, a separate one for each section of the song. (see "Basic Song Structure")

As you can imagine, a song with the same melody just repeating itself over and over could become pretty boring. So you will normally hear a distinct melody for the verses, a different one for the choruses, and yet another different melody in the bridge, if the song has one.

Chorus Melody

Many consider the melody for the chorus to be the most important element of the song. The chorus should "soar" above the rest of the song and be the one thing that "sticks" to the listener after only hearing the song one or two times. In the writing process the chorus melody is often the first part of the song that is written, and the rest of the song is written around it.

Verse Melody

The melody for the verses is typically more subdued than the chorus melody. The melody notes are often in a lower range than the chorus melody and the verse melody serves as a "setup" for the big "payoff" of the chorus. The verse melody will normally transition smoothly into the chorus melody.

header guitar pic 1 02Bridge Melody

If the song has a bridge, then the bridge melody is usually different than the verse and chorus melodies. Sometimes radically different. The bridge melody typically serves to break up the repetition of the verse and chorus melodies and keep the overall song fresh to the listener.

Re-Writing Past Melodies

With the millions of songs that have ever been written it might be hard to imagine being able to write a melody that is completely new and that people have not heard before.

But the fact is that new melodies are written everyday. The combination of note intervals along with variations in timing leave unlimited possibilities when writing melodies.

It is inevitable, however, that as you are writing your own melodies you will come up with something that "sounds" familiar. Something you swear you've heard it before but can't put your finger on where.

This happens to all of us. Melodies come out of our subconscious mind from something we heard in the past. This is not a matter of trying to "steal" a melody, it just comes out.

Turn on the radio and you can hear evidence of this all the time. Songs that will have a line or two of melody that sounds like something else. This is simply matter of the songwriter's subconscious mind inserting a piece of a melody that they heard in the past.

Keeping Melodies "Fresh"

So with all these melodies floating around in your head, how do you come up with truly original ideas?

One way is to allow yourself some "Doodle Time". (see "Practicing on Guitar") This is when you allow yourself to float freely, whichever way the musical winds want to take you. These are times when you turn off the "internal editor" and just let yourself play or sing whatever comes out with no regard for what's right or wrong.header guitar pic 2 02
You might not always "strike gold" by doing this but there are times when "magic" happens, just by letting go and not thinking too much.

If you are stuck
on a melody you have written that you know sounds familiar, you can try to change one or two of the notes to something else. Or change the inflection of the way you are singing it, or maybe change the timing up a little bit. These are all things that can take a familiar sounding melody and give it a new twist by making it truly your own.

Sometimes it can help just to play around with note intervals on the guitar and see if new melody ideas pop out. This would be another variation of "Doodle Time". You could also sit down at a piano (or anything other than your guitar) and play random notes until something starts to pop out at you.

The Melody Test

Of course the best way to try out a new melody or to see it you have just re-written something that's already been written, is to play it for some friends whose opinion you trust.
header 7 pic 01There is just no substitute for the "human ear" test. In is the truest way to measure whether you have a melody that is going to "stick" to a listener.

If you are aspiring to write your own song try to devote some time to just coming up with some unique melodies without worrying about lyrics. It's a great way to get started on that next big hit!

Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions!

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The heart of every song is the lyrics. The words, the story, the meaning, the message - all lie embedded in the lyrics.

Paul McCartney once said that "Melody is King", but in Nashville the mantra is a resounding, "Lyrics are King"! Who's right?

They both are. The answer has a lot to do with what type of song you are playing. what the genre is and where it came from.

Country Music - Nashville

Historically, country songs tell a story about "real life". The songs tend to be reflective of situations and emotions that everyday people go through.lyrics 1

To a large degree, artists in Nashville do not write their own songs (although this is a trend that is changing rapidly), so as a result, the town is a mecca for songwriters. It is highly competitive, lyric driven market where only the best songs get recorded.

Rock, Pop, Blues

In the world of rock, pop and blues; many of the songs are written by the artist themselves. The songs tend to speak from the artists own life and experiences and the songs are not held to the same lyrical standard as a Nashville written song.

Quite often, artist written songs in the rock and pop genre tend to lean more heavily on the melody side than the lyrical.

Writng Your Own Songs

At some point you will probably feel the urge to write your own songs. It is a natural progression for any musician to want to express themselves.

So what should you write about? Anything! You can write about your feelings, something that touches you emotionally, Something you did fretting 04recently, a place you traveled to, an event that took place in your life.

is fair game for the lyrics in your songs. They can be sad, funny, introspective, corny, or have a "message". They are your babies and you can do what you like with them.

The type of songs you write, and what the lyrics say, have a lot to do with what direction you want your music to go in.

If you are writing songs purely for the fun of sitting around your house and playing, then anything is fair game. The only one listening will be you. (or captive family members!)

If you are writing songs for your band or group to play then you may want to consider how the public might react to your lyrics. Will the audience relate to what you are saying.

On the other hand, if you are writing for the commercial market - songs that you may be pitching to other artists - then your lyrics will be held to a higher standard.

The best song lyrics have a universal message. Something that the masses can relate to. They tend to pull the listener in and touch them on an emotional level.

Many popular songs were written from the composers personal perspective, but relay an overall message that a large number of listeners are drawn to.

Songs written in Nashville rely heavily on "imagery". Instead of "telling" you they "show" you.

Instead of "telling" the listener, "I slept in this morning", they might "show" you by saying, "I pulled the covers over my head to block the first rays of sun".

By describing the small details rather than the big emotion, the listener can relate to the story on a more personal level.

Lyric Ideas

Song lyric ideas can come from anywhere. Something you read in a magazine or book, a line you hear in a movie or on TV, something you pick up in a conversation overheard; literally anywhere. The key is to always have your "radar" on and be receptive to ideas when they hit. When they do, get in the habit of writing them down before they leave.acoustic guitar pic
If you aspire to write songs, whether for personal enjoyment, or with more commercial goals, there are many outlets that will help you improve your writing skills.

One of my personal favorites is This is a Nashville based online songwriters community that is focused heavily on songwriter education. They also provide song coaching with pro writers and publishers, and they have a song pitching service that has helped many members get cuts and publishing deals. I have been a long time member and have had success with them.

Another good source is the Nashville Songwriters Association International. And, when you are ready to start pitching your material a great place to start is

Good luck with your writing!

Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions!

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In almost any discussion pertaining to music it is important to keep one thing in mind. There are no "rules". Nothing is written in stone. Much in music is largely up to interpretation.

When it comes to songwriting, there are however, formulas and patterns that have proven to be successful time and again in regards to popular music and hit songs.

Songwriting Formulas

These "formulas" can apply to chord progressions. lyric content and, basic song structure.
header guitar 3 01By understanding some elements of successful song structure you will have a better grasp on the songs that you learn to play, as well as the songs you write.

Many popular and hit songs will typically follow one of a handful of different structures. They are used with great success because songwriters know that these are song structures that listeners are comfortable with and can relate to.


One of the most popular and well used formulas is the Verse-Chorus-Bridge song. The overall song structure can be shown as:


This formula is exactly as it looks. The song opens with the first verse (see "Songwriting - The Verse") which leads into the first chorus (see - "Songwriting - The Chorus"). Then the second verse leads to a second chorus. At that point the song would go to a bridge, which will typically go somewhere new musically and the bridge can be sung lyrically or played as an instrumental lead (see "Songwriting - The Bridge"). From the bridge the song goes to the final chorus before ending.


Another common song structure is the Verse-Chorus formula. This is basically the same as the previous example except that there is not a bridge. In place of a bridge there may be an instrumental solo that is played over the chords of the verse or chorus. The structure may look like this:



Yet another variation of the previous formulas is the Verse-Lift-Chorus structure. (see "Songwriting - The Lift") In this type of song there is a "lift" or "pre-chorus" that follows the verse and leads the song into the chorus. An example of this formula may look like this:


A couple of lesser used formulas would be the "AABA" and the "AAA" song structures

"AABA" Formula

The "AABA" formula does not have a chorus. It is just verses with a bridge. In this type of song the title or "hook" (see "Finding the Hook"), is typically stated in either the first or last part of the verses. An "AABA" formula may look like this:


"AAA" Formula

Another lesser used formula is the "AAA" which, as you might guess, is simply multiple verses chained together into a song. You will see this formula quite a bit in older folk ballads, but has also been used to a limited degree in popular music. The structure would look like this:


By far, the first three examples are formulas that are used over and over again. The reason is simple - they work!
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When you sit down to write your next song, try to be aware of what structure your song is going to take, and bear in mind the ones that have  proven successful if you are writing toward a commercial audience.

Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions!

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