Hook development

A hook is a term that has different meanings in music.  Sometimes, it refers to a chorus.  When I use it, I am usually referring to some bit of something that makes a song memorable.  For example, it could be a rhythmic idea, a melody line, or some interesting harmony.

Arrangers want their music to have those kinds of ideas.  Otherwise, their arrangements are just boring.  But even a good hook is not enough because too much of a good thing gets boring and repetitive too.  That is where development comes into the picture.

Development is a term that simply means elaborating on an idea.  In other words if you have an idea (hook) for an arrangement, you do not want to use it exactly the same way every time.

As an aside, I am thankful for the chance to grow as a musician.  But the negative of that is I have to tell you that some of the music I have recorded does not demonstrate development very well.  I have learned things since recording a lot of my music, so if you find discrepancies between what I am saying here and my music, that is why.

Now that my confession is done, let’s just look at a quick example of a situation where I did better.  This is a hook I did recently for “Shall We Gather At the River.”

This is the first four bars of the arrangement and I am establishing a hook right away.  There are a number of aspects to it, but I want to focus just on the melodic idea.  The first measure states an idea.  It is not a fancy melody line.  It is just six notes.  Note that I use rhythm to make it more interesting.

Now if this was a 20 minute classical piece, I would probably restate the idea exactly the same way a few times before starting to develop it.  But we don’t have time to do that in a 3 minute hymn arrangement.  So I am going to start developing it right away.

Compare the line in bar 1 to bar 3.  I am restating the same idea but notice the twists on it.  They are subtle.  First, I added a few notes to the start of the phrase.  Second, I changed the rhythm slightly by offsetting the true start of the phrase (Eb) by half a beat.

There are a lot of other things I could do to help develop the idea.  Here is an incomplete list:

1) Change the rhythm
2) Add pickup notes or extra notes at the end of the phrase
3) Add/subtract notes within the phrase
4) Change the order of notes in the phrase
5) Change the pitches while keeping the same shape (sequence of steps and jumps in the same order)
6) Play the line with octaves or other intervals
7) Play the line in a different register
8) Change the dynamics
9) Change the tempo
10) Change articulations

Of course, we could go on and on.  Because there are infinite possibilities, it is pretty easy to see why one piece of music can maintain interest for 30 minutes or more.  Study classical music and you will quickly see that what I am talking about is a key component of that music.  Beethoven’s 5th Symphony is a great example of masterful development of a 4 note phrase–three notes of the same pitch and the a skip down.

So, if you are an arranger, start by looking for an idea/hook.  But once you have found it, don’t stop there.  Repeat it through your arrangement but look for ways to develop it.