One of the most powerful aspects of music is its memorability, and one of the most effective means of creating memorable music is the hook. A hook is a musical idea that catches the listener’s ear. It is popular music’s equivalent of classical music’s motif.

Recently I had the privilege of hearing an outstanding live performance of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Despite the many deficits in our educational system, I think one would be hard pressed to find an American today who does not recognize those infamous first four notes; G, G, G, Eb. Pretty good for a song written over 200 years ago by a German! Not every listener could name that tune, but they could sure hum along.

Some “hooks” are so outstanding they are not merely easy to remember; they are impossible to forget.

The hook can be a musical idea or a lyrical phrase. The best songs combine both. There are many great secular music examples:  “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” by Marvin Gaye, “Let It Be” by The Beatles, and “Stop in The Name of Love” by The Supremes as well as those from contemporary Christian music: “Rise Again” by Dallas Holm, “Fresh Surrender” by The Archers and “Sing Your Praise To The Lord by Amy Grant (composed by Rich Mullins).

In these songs, not only is the hook both a lyrical and musical phrase, it is the title of the song as well – a triple threat for songwriting success.

By contrast, I helped two young ladies prepare “The Climb” by Miley Cyrus for their school talent show. I really liked the song and thought the lyrics were quite insightful for someone so young. When I looked a little closer, I realized the musical hook was the beginning of the chorus and the title was the last line of the chorus. I’m not suggesting Miley should change her title to “There’s Always Gonna Be Another Mountain” especially since “The Climb” really does capture the theme of her song. (See previous blog entry “What’s the Point?”) What I am pointing out is how challenging it is to write a great hook that is both musical and lyrical, place it at the most prominent point of the song, and make it both the title and the theme of the song.

So how memorable are your songs? If you want them to catch on, to catch the listener’s ear be sure to write a great hook.