In songwriting, you really only get a few seconds to impress the listener enough to make them want to keep listening. If you haven’t done something that captivates them within the first 7 – 10 seconds, you’ll lose them. It’s why intros can be such an important section, and require some serious thought. If all you’re doing is chording on a keyboard or guitar, and calling that your intro, you could be losing your audience before your song even gets going.
I want to show you five songs that have great intros. If you find your song is fine, but you just can’t seem to get the intro to work, y0u might want to try one of these ideas:
1) “Smoke on the Water”: Using a Hook as an Intro. Starting a song with a catchy hook is a great way to snag your listener and keep them listening. Come up with something short (2 or 4 beats) that demands attention. The classic example of this is opening guitar riff of “Smoke on the Water”, by Deep Purple, or Chicago’s “25 or 6 to 4.” The riff repeats, and other instruments get added to build energy and momentum.
2) “Tidal” (Imogen Heap): Using a “Non-Traditional” Instrument as Your Intro. Sometimes, to get attention, it makes sense to change up the instrumentation, and use something that doesn’t normally make it into your chosen genre. Imogen Heap’s fantastic album, “Ellipse”, does this by starting “Tidal” with a cello solo. Not only does the cello by itself make an impact, but the rhapsodic, rubato feel of the rhythm also makes it a stand-out. You’re left wondering what’s about to happen, and it’s just weird enough to keep you listening.
3) “One More Colour” (Jane Siberry): Altering the Key of Your Intro. This is such a curiously distinctive thing to do that you won’t be able to do it more than once in your career. But Jane Siberry does it with “One More Colour” on her 1985 album “The Speckless Sky”, and its effect is pleasantly startling. The intro is a rather basic synth opening with a syncopated bass, solidly in Eb major. The verse then begins by abruptly abandoning Eb major in favour of G major. It’s a fantastic attention-grabber!
4) “Whiter Shade of Pale” (Procol Harum): The Alternate Melody as an Intro. As a songwriter, one of your concerns will be to provide contrast within your song, because contrast prevents boredom. One of the ways you can do this is to develop a melody that works well between verses, or between the verse and chorus, and then use it as your song intro. The melody you use doesn’t even need to be related to the other melodies you use for this idea to work. In the case of “Whiter Shade”, the melody uses the same chord progression as the verse, and that gives it a connection that works.
5) “Seven Bridges Road” (The Eagles): Present a Melody as Unaccompanied 4-Part Harmony. Like the idea above, this can work well if you’ve got your song worked out, and all you need is something to start it. Simply take your first verse, slow it down until it barely moves, and develop a 4-part harmonization. If writing vocal harmonies isn’t your thing, simply take your chord progression, and assign a different chordal tone to each voice. Experiment with range, and you’ve probably got something that will work.
-Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website.
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i love the song ideas