60-Second Songwriting: Song Structure Basics—the Intro - Guitar World

60-Second Songwriting: Song Structure Basics—the Intro

An intro’s main purpose, by design, is to pull the listener into the song. That said, the intro also serves additional functions.
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60-Second Songwriting aims to offer quick, concise, song-craft tips, basics and blasts for the time-crunched and attention-challenged 21st-century musician.

Song structure is one of songwriting’s key elements or building blocks. As songwriters, we casually throw common structuring language around all the time—“Let’s double a chorus here. Why don’t we go to the bridge there?” But how often (if ever) do we really stop to think, beginner or advanced writer alike, about the nut-and-bolt concepts behind the everyday rudiments of our trade?

An intro’s main purpose, by design, is to pull the listener into the song. That said, the intro also serves additional functions.

So what is an intro?

  • As its name implies, the “intro” is simply the introductory section of your song. It’s a structural element designed to draw the listener into the world of your tune.
  • It’s important to realize that the intro doesn’t have to be exclusively relegated to the beginning of your song. The intro section often reoccurs in a tune and is many times used by songwriters as a device to sort of briefly “reset” a song throughout the timeline of the tune.
  • The intro can take many forms. Sometimes it can be solely instrumental in nature, with a chord progression backing underneath and a top-line melody played by a specific instrument. Other times it can present itself as a chord progression bed covered by a top-line melody sung in nonsense syllables by a vocalist (nah, nah’s or ba, ba’s for example). Proper lyrics, while not overly common, can also be used in an intro.
  • Often an intro can consist of just a singular element–a lone guitar or piano, an a cappella vocal, a string section, a drum beat, etc. The possibilities are endless.
  • Dynamics (the variation in loudness between notes or phrases) are often used to great effect for intro sections; the listener can be gently pulled into the song with a whisper-quiet vocal or shocked to attention with hard pounding drums, distorted guitars and a screaming singer. Again, the possibilities are endless.

Mark Bacino is a singer/songwriter based in New York City. When not crafting his own melodic brand of retro-pop, Mark can be found producing fellow artists, composing for television/advertising and teaching songwriting via his Queens English Recording Co. Mark also is the founder/curator of intro.verse.chorus, a website dedicated to exploring the art of songwriting. Visit Mark on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.