Hooks and Earworms


Whenever I get comments from friends and fans about my music, it’s funny, because almost always they complement the pieces I would have thought to be less praiseworthy than others. It’s actually quite strange that the songs I write that I think should be complemented or praised more often are almost never mentioned. So I thought about it.

What is the reason why this happens? What is it about certain pieces that I or others have written which gets people talking? Is it possible to find a common characteristic or “magic” quality that creates a special connection with listeners? In this article, I am going to share some of my thoughts and conclusions on this subject and try to answer some of the questions I listed earlier.

The first thing I realized was that one way to go about writing unforgettable songs is through the brilliant invention of memorable Hooks.

A Hook is a musical idea, which can be a short riff, musical passage, or lyrical phrase that makes the song appealing and captures the ear of the listener. Often the chorus contains the hook and generally the hook is melodic, rhythmic, or verbal. Usually it also incorporates THE MOTIF, a unique or clever melodic, rhythmic, or lyrical device, specific to the piece.

In contrast, an earworm has a more psychological connotation. It is commonly defined as musical or lyrical material that repeats itself compulsively within one’s mind. Studies have determined that different people have varying susceptibilities to earworms but that almost everyone has been affected by them at one time or another. For our purposes, the terms hook and earworm can be used interchangeably. Think about it a hook can become an earworm and an earworm is likely based on a hook.

Now that we’ve cleared that out of the way, let’s hook&loop dig a little deeper. So is there a “magic” quality or reason why this happens? And the answer is yes!

Although hooks and earworms are “catchy,” studying them alone does not necessarily tell the whole story about what makes them “catchy.” What does tell the rest of the story is studying the nature of altered states of consciousness – such as trances. We’ve already discussed how in popular music such as rock, dance, and pop, there are two terms that identify a “catchy” song and they were Hook and Earworm. But what the Hook and Earworm into existence is a “trance generating loop.” A trance generating loop is created when a certain quantity of repetition is reached sufficient to produce an altered state of consciousness in an individual.

Trance researcher David Wier says, “Music consists of many trance generation loops consisting of the multiple rhythms and melodies [and words]. As one listens to one specific rhythm or melody, when a certain value is reached, the melody is ‘learned’ and a dissociated trance is produced.” He goes on to say that the trance becomes stable when additional loops are introduced in order to reinforce the original loop. Further trance research has shown that “the strength of [a] trance or the duration of the effect of the trance depends mostly on the number of repetitions and NOT on the content of the loop. He concludes with, “It is a strong [trance force] which gives the sense of weirdness or other-worldly quality to deep trance.”

So in a very real sense, we could say that an intelligent songwriter is capable of inventing or discovering their own signature pattern for creating songs you can’t get out of your head. Following these discoveries he can then magnify the results by strategic promotion and marketing. Think about the power just one song can have in society where that song is seemingly omnipresent. It’s played on Internet, satellite, and commercial radio, it’s in millions of people’s iPod’s, it’s on T.V., on T.V. commercials, on movie soundtracks, there are bands doing cover videos of the song on YouTube.com, it’s getting played at clubs, getting remixed by DJ’s, getting played at school dances, getting played at house parties, and getting played in the car next to you.

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