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The main purpose of a song intro is to set up the basic feel and mood of what’s about to happen. It’s during the intro that you establish the key, tempo, and rhythmic foundation of the song. There’s another use for song intros that’s worth considering: providing a connection between sections of your song. Mainly we’re talking about connecting verses (when verse 2 immediately follows verse 1), or joining the end of a chorus to the next verse.
This is an idea that has its roots deep in the evolutionary past of songwriting. Composer Franz Schubert, famous for his more than 600 lieder (songs), used this “intro-as-a-connector” idea quite often. His song, Seligkeit (“Bliss”), is a good example. The intro keeps returning at the end of each chorus, almost as a “re-into”, but also to more clearly separate each verse.
The reintroducing of the intro is a great way for modern songwriters to strengthen the formal structure of their songs. And repeating the intro can be done in different ways.
The 1973 hit “Pretty Lady“, by Canadian band Lighthouse, used the song intro as a kind of bridge after the second chorus. The intro returns verbatim at 2’19”.
Van Halen reuses the song intro as an opportunity to regroup and refocus their song “Jump” after a somewhat complex instrumental bridge. After a song seems to have travelled quite far from home, bringing back the intro pulls us all back to the opening song ideas, and that’s its value.
So here are some tips for creating a song intro that can come back successfully in other parts of your song:
- Make sure your song intro is more than one-dimensional. A simple guitar strumming intro usually won’t do it (though “Shake Me Down” by Cage the Elephant uses a repeating intro that’s little more than a strummed guitar). See what you can do to create an intro with a good backing rhythm and catchy harmonic progression, and possibly with something melodically interesting.
- Let there be a good reason for bringing the intro back. A song intro that’s energetic can help to maintain momentum and energy (like “Pretty Lady”). One that quietly introduces the song is a good way for bringing an otherwise high-energy song back down (like “Shake Me Down”).
- Song intros that return work well if they’re melodically and/or harmonically different from the verse and chorus. In other words, the returning intro is possibly going to bore the listener if its return simply sounds like more of the same. The intro for “Pretty Lady” works so well because it’s like a mini composition by itself. Returning after the second chorus strengthens the song’s structure by giving listeners something familiar but something a bit new at the same time.
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