What Is a Hocket?

Donna Tinus

A hocket is a term that is used in music to describe a rhythmic linear technique using two voices or players that alternate between each other. The two voices or players do not sing or play at the same time, but rather directly after the other, leaving little or no pause between the two. It can also be used with more than two voices or players. The voices don't appear to interrupt each other, but rather to pick up immediately after the other one ends, creating short bursts of back and forth rhythmic music. The hocket technique is sometimes used with one voice, where one singer sings alone, but with short phrases or notes sung with short rests, as opposed to the traditional melodic phrases.

A hocket may refer to a rhythmic musical technique that utilizes two voices that alternate between each other when singing.
A hocket may refer to a rhythmic musical technique that utilizes two voices that alternate between each other when singing.

Hocketing first appeared in the 13th century and is closely associated with the music of Notre Dame Cathedral. The most common combination in a hocket is a pattern of long notes combined with short notes. The hocket method would be interspersed between conventional rhythmic notes, creating a long piece of music. Larger compositions were usually composed with six different pre-set rhythmic patterns. Hocketing was generally found in motets, conductus and organa.

The Notre Dame Cathedral is closely associated with hocketing.
The Notre Dame Cathedral is closely associated with hocketing.

During the mid-thirteenth century, motets and other short pieces were referred to as hockets. These songs have hocketing throughout the entire piece. Another technique formed at this time, and was called “modal trunsmution.” This technique was associated with one rhythm, also called a mode, that eased effortlessly into a different mode.

Hocketing became very common in the beginning of the 14th century. Hockets were fast and easy to compose, so it became a popular technique for music writers to use. Conservative churches shunned music that utilized the hocket technique because of its use in mainstream music.

Some French music showcased the hocket method, particularly the chaces, canons and chansons. Examples of hocketing can also be found in Italian caccias and madrigals. Though sometimes used extensively throughout songs, hocketing was also sometimes used in a minor role in the musical composition to mimic stuttering, cries or noises from animals. Hocketing fell out of favor by the end of the 14th century, replaced with more smooth, melodic music.

Hocketing can be found in later centuries, in some classical music. Some types of African music use the hocket technique with drums, xylophones and other musical instruments. A few other cultures have used the technique, and it is found in some songs from the Swiss Alps and some dance music from New Guinea.

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Discussion Comments


I think I'm going to have to hear a few recordings of hockets before I get an idea of what this article is about. I do enjoy classical music, but I'm not really experienced when it comes to medieval or early baroque compositions.

It sounds a little like "call and response" to me, where one singer performs a line and another singer (or group) sings a reply, but I'm sure there's more to it than that.


When I was in a madrigal choir in college, we performed a few hockets as part of our repertoire. They were fun to sing, but I think they were a little confusing to the audience. It was like watching a vocal tennis match sometimes. I don't think the new choir instructor includes hockets in the program anymore.

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