How to Write a Song Intro (12 Ways Songs Could Begin)
Where to begin? Sometimes that’s a tough question to answer because songwriting can get overwhelming quickly and give you paralysis by analysis.
The answer is often the same every time, just start simple, don’t overthink it.
Sometimes you won’t even think of an intro until the rest of the song is written. Sometimes it’s the first thing you write. Either way is cool.
With this in mind we’re going to go over a few different ways your song could begin (WITH EXAMPLES WOOHOO!), which are common to many songs in general.
Song intros come in many forms.
What is a Song Intro?
A song intro is the first section of a song and eases the listener into the mood, rhythm, and key. This could consist of one or a few instruments but is generally less elaborate to allow room for the song to develop. They are usually short, lasting only a few seconds.
How to Write a Song Intro
Often song introductions are made with simplified variations of other song sections but with less instrumentation or a shorter version of it.
A song intro can be made by using some of the basic elements of a verse, chorus, or bridge. This could be the drum beat, guitar riff, bass line, chord progression, etc. By presenting the song elements little by little, you can give a sneak peak of what the listener can expect later in the song, where the section is presented in it’s full form.
You’ll notice many songs at some point repeat whatever the intro was, but more developed, or it may be repeated at the end as an outro to tie things back up. They end the same way they start.
Some songs might also have an intro that has nothing to do with the sound of the rest of the song and is never repeated. For example, a metal song might have a classical baroque intro with classical instruments or acoustic guitar and then drastically switch to distorted metal guitars and loud drums. However many times, the melody that was played in the intro instruments will be repeated with the new instruments at some point.
Common Ways Songs can Start
Can a Song Start with a Chorus?
Yes, a song can start with a chorus and this is common in many songs in different genres. It’s a great way to hook a listener from the beginning, as choruses are often the catchiest part of a song.
Check out the example below. It’s Black Out Days by Phantogram. Here we see a short variation of the chorus as the intro, which is further developed later in the song with additional production aspects and vocals.
Start With Only One Instrument
Most songs usually start with only one or very few instruments. It’s one of the most common ways to make an intro. This could be done in a few different ways.
A drumbeat plus a guitar or bass line
There’s two good examples.
First off, Weird Fishes/Arpeggi by Radiohead. I love this intro because the groovy drums are super catchy, make a great hook and do a great job of setting the guitar up to come in.
Next up, Ticks and Leeches by Tool. Also does the same thing except that instead of the guitar it’s the bass that comes in with the drums.
An acoustic guitar strumming with a vocal before the full band starts
This is one of those intros you hear in all kinds of genres, from metal bands starting with an acoustic intro to prog rock to R&B. Lots of artists have at least one song with this intro.
Here’s an example from Battery by Metallica. They don’t sing over the acoustic part but lots of metal bands have intros that start with an acoustic before the band comes in.
Here’s an example by The Mars Volta on Cygmund…Vismund Cygmund where they do sing over the acoustic part.
And lastly here’s a more recent example, Favorite Part by Sabrina Claudio. She also sings over the acoustic intro on this one.
A lone guitar arpeggiated
If you like Tesseract you may or may not know the singer’s side project White Moth Black Butterfly. It goes in a pop direction and is pretty cool to hear something different.
Here is their song The Serpent where they begin with a guitar chord arpeggiated with some delay before the drums come in.
A synthesizer pad
A synth pad is always a good way to set the mood at the start of a song.
It can be as short as a few seconds like Pantera by ?Teo? or a more long drawn one like on Shine on You Crazy Diamond by Pink Floyd.
Guitar melody intro
I don’t hear this one as often anymore but I’m sure there’s probably many examples I’m not thinking about right now.
For now I’m going to give you what comes to mind. Both of these songs are a bit on the older side but maybe you can be the one to bring it back?
Here’s Roundabout by Yes.
And this one is Reelin in the Years by Steely Dan.
Rhythmic punches intro
This one is so common that I’m going to give you two widely contrasting examples. One is groovy jazzy vibes and another is prog metal lol.
Just goes to show you that sometimes you don’t need your intro to be something super complicated or even melodic.
Here’s Nakamarra by Hiatus Kaiyote.
And here’s Nocturne by Tesseract.
Sample of Instrument Not in the Band
This is a good way to switch things up for your songs. Many artists will use orchestral instruments, or ethnic percussion, or samples of traditional world music as an intro. Pretty much anything is fair game.
Here’s an example from Marigold by Periphery where they not only use a sample of a violin in the intro but they also use that same sample in the bridge.
Start With a Monologue Sample
You see this one a lot in many genres as well. Usually artists will sample monologues, speeches, movie quotes, and more. It’s a good way to introduce the topic of the song and will probably make your audience curious to read the lyrics and see why you chose the sample you did.
I actually first learned who Bill Hicks was thanks to the sample of his standup that Tool used in their song Third Eye.
Here’s another example from Garden Fiya by Magic City Hippies where I’m guessing they recorded one of the members talking about some psychedelic trip, I think?
The entire song is really more of an intro to their album in general rather than an entire song in and of itself. It’s a cool way to set the mood for the first full song of the album.
This type of intro focuses on creating textures and mood without too much melodic content. Often they’ll have tons of noise effects, reverb, synth pads, maybe voices talking indistinctly, etc. Usually there’s a lot of ear candy and panning to make you feel like you are being surrounded by the sounds.
Here’s an example from Terminus The Creator by Psychedelic Prn Crumpets. Like the example above with Magic City Hippies, this one is an intro song for their album in general although it has lyrics, vocal melodies, a chord progression etc, so it’s a bit more like an actual song.
All at Once
This type of intro is the most abrupt way to start. Basically all the instruments come in at once and it’s meant to feel a bit like a punch to the face lol.
With that in mind, a good example is In Your Words by Lamb of God. The vocals come in a few seconds into the song. If you’re in a metal band you’ll probably start a lot of songs like this.
This one is probably the least common as I can only think of one song that starts like this but I’m sure there must be others.
The song is …And We Go Gentle by Hiatus Kaiyote and what is great about this intro, besides that it’s uncommon, is it’s also really chill, so good for vibey music.
Wrapping it up
As you can see from the examples above there are numerous ways to start a song. I’m sure there are a ton of other ways which I didn’t include here but the idea was to give you options if you’re looking for how your song can start.
It depends on what you are looking to do. You might want something that feels like a punch to the face, or maybe you want the intimacy of an acoustic guitar before you switch to some vibey synth pads.
Don’t stress over the intro too much and remember to keep it simple. The meat of your song is what happens after the intro anyways.
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