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Medical Mysteries of Music

Why are we so attracted to musical hooks?

The hook of a song is its musical signature, the thing that we remember most about the song and the thing that gets stuck in our head. But what is it about the human brain that’s so susceptible to these bits of pleasant ear candy? This from Psyche.co.

“It’s the ‘yeah, yeah, yeah’ in the Beatles’ ‘She Loves You’, the guitar riff in Blur’s ‘Song 2’, or the ascending vocal in ‘Kill Bill’ where SZA sings: ‘I might kill my ex.’ For many listeners, each of these serves as a hook: a musical or lyrical moment that both stands out and is easily remembered. This definition, based on one put forth in the 1980s, is a useful way to think about what hooks can be. Pop music is full of hooks, but there are plenty of them in other kinds of music, too – whether it’s the motif at the start of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony (da-da-da DAH), or Bill Evans’s descending piano chords at the beginning of Miles Davis’s version of ‘On Green Dolphin Street’. A hook can come in many forms, from a particular beat or series of notes to the lyrics or other elements at a certain point in a piece of music – any feature, or combination of features, that stands out and sticks in a person’s memory.

“A hook is supposed to be heard and noticed easily. For example, the intended hook in ‘Who Let the Dogs Out’ is obvious: it’s the bit where Baha Men chant: ‘Who let the dogs out? Who, who, who, who?’ Whether you like the song or not, there is something in this part of it – its rhythm, its simplicity, the sound of the voices, or perhaps its repetitiveness – that seems to transcend personal taste. It is easily remembered to the extent that it can enter into your consciousness and stay there, whether you like it or not (making it what psychologists call an ‘earworm’).”

Keep reading. It’s fascinating. (Via Andrew)

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38427 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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