A Lesson On The 4 Qualities Of A Good Intro

In today’s lesson, we’ll be focusing on the 4 qualities of a good intro.

The intro is one of the most sensitive sections of a song because it introduces the main song by establishing its melody, harmony, rhythm, and other important components.

We started a comprehensive study on the intro in a previous lesson, where we explored the concept of the intro. In this lesson, we’ll be going a step further into qualities of an intro and we’re covering four of them.

#1 Quality – Shortness

The length of an intro is not meant to exceed 8 bars, except you are composing an overture. An overture is a piece of music that introduces another.

When Track 1 of your favorite gospel album is absolutely instrumental (and sometimes vocal or both) with lots of mind-blowing or thought-provoking stuff and functions as an introduction to the rest of the tracks, then it is called an overture – not an intro.

The line between an overture and an intro is thin, consequently, an intro can be mistaken for an overture by the audience if it lingers more than necessary.

At the same time, it is important to state that an intro should not be too short. Therefore the length of an intro should be moderately short and meaningful.

One of the key ways to create an intro is to chisel out the melody of the last line(or last two lines) of the chorus in a song, and then develop it into something catchy and captivating that will trigger the interest of the audience.

For the gospel song “Oh How I Love Jesus”, here’s the chorus to the song:

Oh How I Love Jesus,

Oh How I Love Jesus,

Oh How I Love Jesus,

Be-cau-ause he first loved me.

There are two ways to approach the intro of the song Oh How I Love Jesus:

  • Developing it from the last line.
  • Developing it from the last two lines.

From the last line we have:

Be-cau-ause he first loved me.

Alternatively, the intro can be approached by the development of the last two lines:

Oh How I Love Jesus,

Be-cau-ause he first loved me

This approach of taking a chunk of the song is effective while playing an intro and an interlude as well.

#2 Quality – Simplicity

Although a complicated intro may sound captivating most of the time, it loses its essence most of the time because the intro is not understood by the average person in the audience. This is a hard truth that a vast majority of musicians don’t want to hear.

A good intro should be simple and straight to the point. The intro is JUST the introduction of the entire composition/song and is usually effective when left simple. In a nutshell, what I mean here is that less is more effective most of the time.

Some of the complicated ideas can come into the picture way into the song. Let the goal of the introduction be realized – which is to introduce the song and establish its vital components like its melody, harmony, etc.

“Can I Make A Suggestion, Please?”

Start simple – with fewer instruments. A lead instrument(piano,guitar,saxophone) or voice can play unaccompanied/solo for some parts or entire intro section OR one or two instruments can accompany the lead instrument or voice throughout the intro. After the introduction, the band can come in. This creates a dynamic contrast

Start simple – with basic ideas. A  good way to start an intro is with the use of simpler chords and chord progressions, with emphasis on the melody, knowing fully well that other sections of the song will afford you the opportunity to develop the basic ideas(in the intro) with chord substitutions, borrowed progression etc.

#3 Quality – Surprise

An intro prepares the listener ahead of time for the music experience.

When all the chords, progressions, etc., are within the imagination of the listener.

When you sound predictable.

When someone in the crowd can figure out where you’re heading to.

You’re NOT getting it ALL right – believe it or not! Something is missing and you have to counteract the predictability

You can counteract the predictability by interjecting one or two ‘out-the-box’ ideas that can engage and excite the listener, who would probably say to himself, “wow! that sounds nice” and with that, you are already making him wonder what to expect much later in the body of the song.

Inasmuch as an element of surprise is effective, overdoing it can mar your intention and piss off some conservative listeners who want it simple.

Attention: There are basically two audience types every musician faces:

  • The conservative listeners
  • The radical listeners.

Conservative listeners don’t appreciate it much when the music goes beyond their imagination.

To make sure that the surprise doesn’t mar the intro, predictability and unpredictability should be combined in the rightful proportion and as the occasion demands.

Elements of surprise can include:

  1. Substitution. An unusual chord or chord progression can be interjected into an intro to substitute the regular chords and chord progressions.
  2. Dynamics. The notes of an intro can be played softer or louder than usual. In some cases, it is effective to play from softest to loudest or vice versa.
  3. Embellishments. Decorating the melody with embellishments like the grace note, trill, tremolo, mordent etc.

#4 Quality – Special Effects (sfx)

Special effects can be created with unusual sounds produced by musical instruments. These effects add an extra dimension to an intro because they sound unusual, crazy, sick, etc.

“Check Them Out…”

Bass effects

Bass effects include harmonics, chords, slides, twangs and slaps, wide vibrato and bowed notes

Guitar effects

Guitar effects: bends and vibrato, tremolo, muted strumming, harmonics, tuning effects, and octaves.

Keyboard effects

Keyboard effects: clusters, tremolo, block chords, hammering, strings and pedals, and glissandos.

Saxophone effects

Saxophone effects include overtones and split notes, altissimo playing, and thunks.

Trumpet effects

Trumpet effects: double/triple-tonguing, using mutes, pedal tones, walking bass.

Wind instrument effects

Wind instrument effects include bends, falls, growls, half-sounds, air and keys, humming, circular breathing, and alternate fingerings.

When special effects are poorly executed, distraction is inevitable. Therefore, ensure that the effect sounds special.

We all know that special effects sound crazy, right? One or two instruments doing the special effect is ideal – especially one.

Final Words

From what we’ve learned, a good intro must have elements of shortness, simplicity, surprise, and special effect as well.

There are other qualities of a good intro and we’ll be covering them in subsequent lessons.

See you then!

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Chuku Onyemachi

Hello, I'm Chuku Onyemachi (aka - "Dr. Pokey") - a musicologist, pianist, author, clinician and Nigerian. I started teaching musicians in my neighbourhood in April 2005. Today, I'm humbled to work as a music consultant with HearandPlay Music Group for musicians in Africa and beyond.

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