Song Intros: 10 Seconds That Can Make or Break Your Tune

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Rock concert crowdPractically all songs in the pop genres use intros. It’s often not a songwriting issue per se, as intros will either consist of a guitar being strummed until the vocal starts, or it’s something put together in the studio, quite apart from whatever was happening in the songwriting process.

But a song intro can mark a song for musical death if it doesn’t somehow captivate a listener enough that they want to keep listening. Those first 7-15 seconds are vital, especially nowadays when a listener’s ability to stop a song and start another one can happen with the tap of a finger. You don’t have the luxury of making an audience feel bored.

An introduction probably doesn’t need to be defined for you, but in case there is ever a doubt, they usually need to do the following:

  1. Establish the song’s key.
  2. Establish the tempo and rhythmic feel.
  3. Establish the mood.

Taken together, those 3 elements, however they occur, all combine to grab the listeners’ interest.

As with anything in music, there are notable exceptions. Not all songs will present an intro in the same key as the rest of the song. “Strawberry Fields Forever” by Lennon & McCartney, starts with an intro in E major, with the first verse in A major. Jane Siberry’s “One More Colour” uses an intro in Eb major, leading into a song that’s in the key of G major.

There really is only one main symptom of song intros that don’t work: listener boredom. It needs to entice the audience to keep listening, and it doesn’t have much time to do it; today’s songs feature intros that are anywhere from roughly 7 – 15 seconds.

If your song is finished, you’re in the recording or performing phase, and you’re struggling with creating an intro, here are some tips to keep in mind:

  1. Not every song needs an intro. There’s nothing wrong with starting with the verse (or with the chorus for that matter). Your song will often benefit from that kind of structural surprise.
  2. Using a part of the chorus may work as an intro. 
  3. Developing a rhythmic hook may work as an intro that can also serve as a backing hook for your song (think “Superstition” by Stevie Wonder).
  4. Intros can be brought back into a song after a second chorus or a hook. A good example of this is the intro of “Jump” (Van Halen), which reappears after the instrumental bridge.
  5. Intros, even if they aren’t “hooky”, often need something rhythmic to establish the mood and grab listener interest right away.
  6. Don’t assume that the first idea you get for an intro is the best one. Experiment!


Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter

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