What Is a Hook in Music?

That Moment When You Get Hooked With an Earworm

Photo of Sinead O'CONNOR
Sinead O'Connor performing on stage, 1990. Redferns / Getty Images

In theater, if you get the hook, that means a very bad thing. Imagine an oversized umbrella hook grabbing the performers off the stage for a performance that is less than satisfying. In music, however, a hook is a very good thing. If your song has a good hook, you've grabbed your audience. You got their attention. You probably have a musical hit on your hands, too.

What Is the Hook?

In music, the word "hook" refers to that part of a song that catches the ear of the listener. In other words, it's a lyrical line or melodic phrase that makes the song memorable. Popular hooks can have a tendency to leave an earworm with listeners (sometimes for the rest of the day). Ever have that moment when you can't get a song out of your head? You have been hooked by an earworm.

In this context you can say songwriting is somewhat like fishing; make your hook strong and appealing and you should be able to catch the fish and reel them in.

How to Make a Hook

If you are looking to make a hook for your music that will stand out, think about all the separate parts of your song. Keep in mind that the actual hook may be the title of the song, a lyrical line (usually repeated) that summarizes what the song is about, a rhythmic passage or an instrumental part called a "riff" or a good "guitar lick."

A hook that might grab listeners can include interesting vocalizations (like, "Da Doo Ron Ron" from the Crystals in 1963), or unique instrumentation, as in the case of the Beach Boys' use of an Electro-Theremin in "Good Vibrations," which had the sound of an electronic tone that was bent up in down in pitch with the turn of knob.

Music Most Hook-worthy

A hook is most evident in pop music, especially rock, R&B, and hip-hop. Songs that have made it to the top of the charts have unforgettable hooks. The hook is often found in a line in the chorus or a catchy chorus can be the hook. Radio stations and professional hook identifying services do market research to find the hook in a song or see how a song resonates with audiences.

Examples of Songs With Memorable Hooks

The following songs from the past few decades have popular hooks that have stood the test of time:

Don't You (Forget About Me) by Simple Minds

"Don't you forget about me
Don't, don't don't don't
Don't you forget about me"

With Or Without You by U2

"With or without you
With or without you, oh
I can't live with or without you"

Nothing Compares 2 U by Sinead O'Connor

"Nothing compares
Nothing compares to you"

I Will Always Love You by Whitney Houston

"And I will always love you
I will always love you"

You're Beautiful by James Blunt​

"You're beautiful, you're beautiful
You're beautiful it's true"