Play Pop/Rock: The Art of the Intro

Tips to make your intro sound like there could never be any other way for the song to start
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Tips to make your intro sound like there could never be any other way for the song to start

There are a million different ways to come up with piano intros. I often try to use a little information from the song at hand, like a nice motif that’s not too complicated or a pattern that creates a feeling or mood that really sets the song up. You want your intro to sound like there could never be any other way for this song to start. Here are some tips on coming up with intros of your own:

1. The Song

Ex. 1 illustrates a verse of an imaginary song I created for this lesson. It’s a bit of “old school” pop, with a few soulful, gospel shades thrown in. The last chord (F) would be the first bar of the chorus. I used a few signature chords, like the G/B, and the Bbmin6, to give it some personality, and for material to draw on for intros.

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2. The Pretty Intro

Ex. 2 is what I’d call a fairly standard “pretty” intro. This one doesn’t necessarily use a lot of specific harmonic information from the song, but grabbing the Bbmin6 (here voiced as a Dbmaj13) chord helps tie it in sonically. This type of intro would typically have its own theme that would be reiterated in the middle and again at the end of the song.

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3. Gospel and Blues

The intro in Ex. 3 employs a gospel/blues feel. This melody could possibly be the ending melody of the chorus and part of the melodic “hook” of the song. It might be played as a turnaround at the end of the first chorus, and maybe again at the end of the song.

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4. The Rhythmic Approach

Ex. 4 is a type of intro that might have other components playing along with it (e.g., a drum pattern or possibly a guitar doing a similar pattern). This intro is less about melodic content than it is about vibe and feeling. A sound is created with layers and motion that becomes a central component of the production.

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5. Blues with Chord Cues

Ex. 5 is another blues/gospel intro that uses a few of the signature chord changes from our song. Note how the intro here highlights the progression A7sus-A7/C#-Dmin7-G7. Try creating intros that illustrate the chords used in your own songs and performance repertoire.

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Practice Tip

“It’s important to remember that your intros should always be in the service of the song,” says Matt Rollings, an acclaimed keyboardist, composer, and producer based in Nashville. Rollings has performed on countless recordings and onstage with artists such as Lyle Lovett, Mark Kopfler, and Mavis Staples. More recently, he co-produced the new Willie Nelson album of George Gershwin songs entitled Summertime. Find out more at mattrollings.com.