The ins & outs of intros and outros

Sometimes writing a song isn’t so hard once you get started. But how do you get there? How about a good intro?

In years past, a song’s introduction was typically longer and served a different purpose than it is does today. Old songs like Bicycle Built for Two (“Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer, do”) started with an intro that sounded nothing like the rest of the song. This is OK, as there are no rules here.

Many intros to songs today serve the purpose of establishing a rhythm or a riff to set the tone of the song. Think of “Ricki Don’t Lose that Number” by Steely Dan, or “Day Tripper” by the Beatles.

Here is a way to get things going to set up a feel for your lyrics: Introduce the song with a melody or some chords with a distinct rhythm that FEELS right for your song. Then bring in the next piece of your arrangement, be it the first verse right away, or maybe the chorus.

Maybe the intro could lead the listener to expect something predictable, then you surprise them with a clever change. Whatever seems to work probably DOES work, so go with it. Don’t worry — you can always change it again — you’re the boss.

When an intro works well, it often shows up again at the end of the song as an ending or “outro.” Kind of like bookends. Fade ins for intros and fade outs for outros are also options.

There are also many abrupt song endings that not only work, but are downright clever. You could end a minor chorus on a major chord, for example, or sing the last chorus a capella, or gradually slow down the last few bars (called ritardando or ritard, for short). These are common, so if you want to be unique, try something totally different.

To review some terms, a fadeout is when the overall volume gradually decreases. A ritard. is when the tempo gradually decreases. Ritards can be used effectively elsewhere in a song, not just at the end. You should be able to feel it.

Intros and outros are useful in getting your juices flowing. But don’t forget the fundamental rule of songwriting: There ARE no rules. Anything goes. It’s up to you.


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