Geurilla Songwriting

The hook. All songwriters have heard the term. It is a musical passage designed to “grab” a listener. At their most basic (and boring), hooks are just phrases repeated enough times in a song to be remembered. However, good hooks are far more sinister. They lay in wait to surprise and shock. They grab the attention, engage the ear, and imprint themselves on the subconscious. They are a musical ambush.

Baiting the Trap
A good ambush is always hidden; you don’t see it coming until it is too late. The obvious place to hide hooks is in a chorus, but don’t hesitate to plant them in other parts of a song as well - the more the better. They can be lyrical or musical. Heck...hooks can even be unusual sounds or samples - the "pop" in Lollipop by the Chordettes, for example. Regardless of what type of hook you are using, the key is for it to be unexpected.

Bait your trap by making the listener think they know where a song is going. Let them hear a simple chord progression once or twice. Give them a melody that would seem to have a predictable resolution. Feed them lyrics and rhymes that seem obvious. Lull them into a false sense of security. Then pounce.

Surprise Attack
Boom! Bend their ear with an unexpected note. Bam! Rattle their brain with a crazy rhythmic twist. Whoosh! Throw in a beat or two of complete silence. Do something that refuses to go unnoticed; that forces a listener to sit up and listen.

Once you’ve sprung the trap, use it again and again. The most beautiful thing about a musical ambush is that once it is sprung, the listener looks forward to hearing it again the next time around. Let them. The idea is to surprise them, and then make sure they remember it.

Take the following four-line chorus for example. I’ve only revealed the first three lines. Can you guess what the fourth line will probably be?

I love you.
I love you.
I love you…

Yep, you guessed it: “I love you.” Yawn. The only hook here is the Vaudeville hook coming out from behind the curtain to drag those crappy lyrics off the stage! Unfortunately for music fans, there are literally hundreds of thousands of choruses out there written just like that. Remember: in order to engage your listener you must surprise them! Let’s try the same chorus again with a slight change:

I love you.
I love you.
I love you.
‘Cause I’m stupid.

See how much more engaging that chorus is once it contains a surprise? Musical hooks should be surprising as well. Set the listener up with three similar melody lines and then use the fourth line to a deliver a rhythmical curve, a surprise note, or a big interval jump, and then resolve it.

Be a Warrior
Don’t be afraid to try things that at first glance seem stupid. Often those are the most effective hooks of all, because they are the most unexpected. Set your trap, and be brave!

So…has guerilla songwriting ever worked for you?

*Photo by atomicShed.


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