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44: Hook Melodies

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Lesson 44: Hook Melodies

This lesson explores adding a melody to chords to create a chord-based hook. After you've chosen a hook chord phrase, this is a common next step in writing a song.

This lesson builds on many earlier lessons. Before taking this lesson, you should understand:
How do you add a melody to your hook chord phrase? There are no rules, but you can learn ideas from hit songs. For this lesson, we'll look at two:
  • Like A Rolling Stone by Bob Dylan
  • Crazy by Gnarls Barkley
(Links to recordings at the end of the lesson.)

Like A Rolling Stone

The hook melody in Like A Rolling Stone, at the chorus (1:05 in the recording), goes like this:

G7 How - does it feel Ch C - F

How might Bob have come up with this melody? The answer is not that complicated. This melody doesn't sound too different from someone just shouting "how does it feel?". Here are some things that make it more musical than just shouting:

Rhythm: The strongest syllable, the word "feel", falls on the strongest beat, beat 1 of the chorus. This is very common, although certainly not a rule. Here are some more details about how this strongest syllable is placed:
  • The word "feel" is not exactly on beat 1. This is because it's anticipated, which you hopefully understand from Lesson 42: Syncopation. In fact, it's anticipated twice; first it's anticipated (moved earlier) by a ½ beat, from beat 1 to beat 3½, then by another ¼ beat to beat 3¼.
  • In order to place this strong last word, "feel", near beat 1 of the chorus, the hook melody actually starts (with the word "How") before beat 1 (near beat 3 of the previous measure, in fact). Starting a melodic phrase "early" like this is called a pickup. Notice that I've marked the start of the actual chorus with a Ch.

Chord tones: The strongest pitch (the F) is a chord tone (Lesson 35: Melody: Chord Tones). Since this is Bob Dylan, some of the notes are more "shouted" than sung, and don't really fit the chords (I've just written in approximate notes above). This "shouting" is not typical of most songs, but it's something you can do if you want to sound like Bob Dylan (most singers don't), but even Bob usually sings chord tones on the strong words.

Melodic range: The notes in this hook melody are the highest notes in the song. It's common for hook melodies to be the highest notes in the song, to focus energy and attention on the hook.


Here's the hook melody to Gnarls Barkley's Crazy (at 0:39 in the recording):

G Does that make me Cra- Ch Cm zy

Notice these similarities to the Rolling Stone hook above:
  • We can imagine someone shouting "does that make me crazy?" over the chords, but shouting "musically", with rhythm and pitches that fit the chords.
  • Rhythm: This hook also uses a pickup to place the strong word "crazy" near beat 1, and also uses anticipation.
  • The strong notes are chord tones.
  • The strong word "crazy" is at the top of the song's melodic range.

Blues minor pentatonic scale: Notice the B♭ note on the word "make". The note B♭ is not a chord tone in the G major chord that's playing at that point, so how does that note "work" with the chord? Well, the song is in the key of C minor, and the whole hook melody is in the C minor pentatonic scale. This is an example of using a minor pentatonic scale against a major chord for a blues feel, from Lesson 43: Pentatonic Scales.

Do It Yourself

Adding a melody to your hook chord phrase can be as easy as "musically shouting" your hook words over your hook chords. Or, you can study hook melodies more deeply, by adding activities to your writing exercises (from Lesson 2: Practicing Songwriting):
  • Analyze the hook melodies in songs you like; the examples in this lesson were just to help you get started. Look for the features that make different hook melodies "good".
  • Compare your own hook melodies to the ones you've analyzed. Are there good ideas in others' melodies which you can use?
  • Practice using, in your own hook melodies, the ideas you find in others' hook melodies.

Links to recordings:
  • Like A Rolling Stone by Bob Dylan: I used the version from The Essential Bob Dylan ($1.29 at Amazon last I checked).
  • Crazy by Gnarls Barkley: From the album St. Elsewhere (also $1.29 at Amazon).


1: Introduction
2: Practicing Songwriting
3: Pitch Names
4: Letters Game
5: Sharps & Flats
6: Half-Steps & Whole-Steps
7: Steps Game
8: Scales
9: Major Scale 1-2-3
10: Major 1-2-3 Games
11: Major Scale 1-5
12: Major 1-5 Games
13: Chords: Major Triads
14: Major Triad Games
15: Minor Triads
16: Minor Triad Games
17: Major Scale 1-8
18: Major Scale Games
19: Keys
20: Roman Numeral Chords
21: Scales Above 8
22: Diatonic Triads
23: Using Diatonics
24: Tonic Function
25: Subdominant & Dominant
26: Diatonic Function Analysis
27: Natural Minor Scale
28: Natural Minor Games
29: Minor Key Triads
30: 7th Chords
31: 7ths Games
32: Suspended-4th Chords
33: Time: Beats & Measures
34: Starting a Song: Hook Chords
35: Melody: Chord Tones
36: Treble Staff
37: Treble Staff Game
38: Note Lengths
39: Tied & Dotted Notes
40: Rhythm: Rests
41: Key Signatures
42: Syncopation
43: Pentatonic Scales
44: Hook Melodies
45: Hook to Chorus: Rolling Stone
46: Melody Rhythm: Rolling Stone
47: Non-Root-Bass Chords
48: Embellishing Tones
49: Diatonic 7ths
50: Pitch & Frequency

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