Think of the most recognizable song intros of all time: Perhaps the boom-boom-clap beat in “We Will Rock You”… Or the plaintive acoustic guitar and recorder riffs in “Stairway to Heaven.”
What about the resonant acoustic guitar chords of “Wonderwall” echoing in your mind? Or the sliding bassline and rolling hi-hat/tom beat in “Come Together?”
The question is, what do all these song intros have in common?
Well, they demonstrate how to start off a song with a memorable hook, something that gives the songs a unique identity from the very first notes. Each intro is also compelling enough to draw you in and keep you listening – exactly what a good intro should do!
At the same time, they’re all completely different from each other. That’s one reason they’re so iconic!
Improve your songwriting by mastering piano.
Why Starting off a Song Right Matters
I believe the song intro is one of the most important parts of a song, especially considering the fact that today’s listeners have limited attention spans…
… Sorry, I was just checking Instagram real quick. What was I saying?
The reality is, how you start your song can determine whether it’s wildly successful or a total dud. The first few seconds are crucial to get people invested – so don’t be afraid to put your most interesting songwriting ideas right at the beginning!
If you want to learn how to start a song off the right way, check out my song intro ideas for the inspiration you need to hook your listeners and turn your song into a hit!
11 Awesome Song Intro Ideas
I’ve put together a handy list of 11 ideas for song intros below. My suggestion for honing your songwriting chops and beating songwriters block is to pick one type of intro you don’t normally do. (You can do it… Be brave!)
For example, I’m personally most comfortable playing rhythm on piano and guitar, so my intros tend to default to a few chords at the start.
This is fine, but it’s easy for anyone to get into a rut where all your songs begin the same way – so for me, experimenting with an electronic drum beat or maybe a lead guitar riff might open up interesting new possibilities.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with some (or all) of these song intro ideas for yourself!
1. Start with an Instrumental Intro
One of the most tried-and-true openings for a song is some kind of instrumental intro. Think of a soft piano pattern or a bold harmonica hum that instantly communicates what kind of song this is!
Often, the instrumental song intro is a hook that appears throughout the song and might even become a vocal melody for your lyric later on – but it can also be an element that does a great job of starting off the song and then doesn’t come back at all!
Example: I know it’s a little random, but the first song with an instrumental intro that popped into my head was “Lose Yourself” by Eminem.
There’s this somber piano part right at the beginning that serves as an intro – and while you do hear the piano playing throughout the rest of the song, this exact part is unique to the intro. It’s an effective way to set up the artist’s tone of near-desperation and sorrow (probably Mom’s spaghetti-related).
2. Jump into the Chorus
When you think of song structure, you probably imagine the intro as some kind of instrumental part or verse. But if you’re interested in grabbing people’s attention right away, why not lead with the most exciting and energetic song moment you have? I’m talking about your chorus!
It’s like one of those action movies where you’re dropped right into a fight scene from the very first frame. You have no context, but you’re definitely intrigued – and this gives you a reason to stick around and find out what’s going on. Countless iconic songs jump right into the chorus at the beginning, then usually dial it back with their first verse afterwards.
Example: I’ve had the song “Magic” by Pilot stuck in my head this week, so naturally, I thought of it as a song that starts with a chorus (after an epic instrumental hook, of course… see above!). Because “Magic” has such a catchy hook, this song is a great example of a chorus that pulls you in.
If you’ve written a strong chorus, starting your song with it can be magic – never believe it’s not so!
3. Use Spoken Lyrics
Whether over an instrumental or voice only, a spoken word part is a compelling way to start your song. It allows you to do some really interesting things, like quote a famous saying, include an additional voice aside from the song’s main point of view or “narrator,” or tell the listener something important without music as a distraction.
You could even use a sample of a famous speech or saying from pop culture to get your point across, in a way that your own vocals couldn’t.
Example: First, there’s Living Colour’s “Cult of Personality,” a great example of a song that includes bits of speeches from 20th century political leaders to get you in the frame of mind for their anthem warning against charismatic politicians.
There’s also Michael Jackons’s “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” – a song where the artist starts off speaking before the main melody comes in.
4. Start with a Beat for Your Music
How many songs start with an incredible drum beat that sets the tone for the whole song?
If you’re writing a new song that has any kind of drum or percussion part, this is essentially the foundation of the whole harmonic structure – so why not kick things off with it before you layer on any additional instruments and vocals?
Example: One of the most iconic drum parts ever is the Van Halen song “Hot for Teacher,” which has such a frantic and chaotic beat that it almost mimics the sound of a racing heart. In my mind, the intro beat serves as a preview of what the singer is about to reveal (spoiler alert: he’s hot for teacher).
Or “Drop It Like It’s Hot” by Snoop Dogg featuring Pharrell Williams, which is a masterclass in beat making. The song jumps in with a sparse percussive tapestry of mouth clicks, finger snaps, and simple drum machine beat. The fact that it uses such interesting and unusual details in its sound makes it immediately interesting, which is exactly what you want if you’re trying to hook listeners from the beginning!
5. Try a Musical Riff
The musical riff is basically the same as the instrumental intro, but more of a lead part than a rhythm part (and often on lead guitar). Think of the riff as a more memorable and bite-sized series of notes, so it can be repeated and hummed 45 years later in a dive bar with friends who don’t know any of the words to your song.
Of course, while lead guitar is most commonly used for riffs, you could argue that brass, saxophones, ukuleles, or electronic riffs are just as good – with the added advantage of a unique timbre that listeners won’t always expect!
Example: I could write a million examples of songs that start right out with a hook-y riff, especially on guitar. The first one that popped into my head was the distorted electric guitar notes of “Sweet Child o’ Mine” by Guns N’ Roses, but “Back in Black” by AC/DC was a close second, and “Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynyrd Skynyrd is another classic.
The point is, if you’re writing a song in the rock, metal, blues, or country genre, a solid guitar riff is the perfect lead-in – and it can even double as your vocal melody or a riff to include throughout the song!
6. Give Your Songs a Bass Groove
The bass is often there in the background for many types of song intros – but whether you choose to play bass alone or feature it prominently with other instruments in the mix, a bass groove can start things off in a fun and interesting way.
Example: There are some super cool examples of bass lines that make a song – from “Another One Bites the Dust” to “ Feel Good Inc.” – but I always come back to Muse’s “Hysteria.” What a fabulous bass line, and an incredible way to start a song. As the kids probably say, this song (and its bass part) just slaps!
7. Initiate a Chord Progression
Probably my favorite way to start a song is just playing the main chord progression I wrote for it on piano or guitar. Playing the basic rhythm part is simple, effective, and maybe a little lazy, but it gets the job done!
It’s also easy to layer in new instruments as you go – start with a simple guitar progression, then add the drums and bass, and then lead guitar, and then start to sing. It’ll sound great and keep interest high!
Example: Tons of fantastic tunes just start in medias res with the chord progression of the song going. I already referenced “Wonderwall” earlier – this classic song literally starts with just an acoustic guitar playing the open chords of Em7, Gmaj, Dsus4, and A7sus4, on repeat.
And since we’re talking popular 90s bands, a bunch of Green Day songs do this with power chords on electric guitar, like “When I Come Around.”
8. Spice up Your Songwriting With Vocal Harmonies
Vocal harmonies go in and out of style, but if they’re a fit for your song, why not start everything off with a beautiful harmony part? This can be sung lyrics or just la-la’s!
Harmonies sound amazing and will give your song a unique character!
Example: One of Queen’s most iconic songs, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” starts with Freddie and the gang singing a capella: “Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?” Only after a few lines does the piano come in – a truly iconic song from start to finish!
A more recent example is the memorable song “Some Nights” by Fun. that starts with a really nice a cappella vocal harmony. (By the way, you don’t have to do your harmonies a cappella – Beach Boys songs like “Barbara Ann” kick off with the band’s trademark harmonies over some simple instrumentation.)
9. Get a Guest Vocal
Many popular songs from rappers will include a guest vocal by a singer, often right at the start. But whether you’re writing a rap/hip-hop song or not, the idea of starting your song with someone other than the main artist can open up a lot of interesting thematic ideas for your song.
Is the other vocalist portraying a jilted lover? A partner in crime? Or maybe it’s just that guy you met years ago at a party and still owe a favor to? The possibilities are endless!
Example: The Eminem song “Love the Way You Lie” started off with the main chorus featuring Rihanna, and fully utilizes her talents as one half of the toxic relationship portrayed by the song.
Or consider one of the most viewed songs online ever: “See You Again” by Wiz Khalifa, featuring Charlie Puth. (Seriously, look it up – more than 5.2 billion views on YouTube!) This song similarly starts off with a passionate guest vocal hook before jumping into the first rap verse. It really anchors the core emotion of a song.
10. Start with a Sound Effect
Some songs start off with a sound effect first thing. It can make the song a lot more memorable than if you just jumped in with a standard instrument or vocal.
Bonus points if you actually record your own sound effect!
Example. One great example is “Back in the U.S.S.R.” by the Beatles, which begins with the sound of a commercial airliner taking off – this noise is audible in the background throughout other parts of the song and again at the very end.
Another great example is the song “One” by Metallica, which begins with the sound of gunfire and combat – a perfect way to signal the bleak tone of the song before you even hear the guitar play. There are also a lot of songs that use a “radio tuning” sound effect to kick things off, such as “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd or “The Way” by Fastball.
11. Combine These Intro Writing Ideas!
Realistically, your song’s intro will incorporate MANY of these ideas all at once. While some song intros are sparse arrangements featuring just one part at first, most songs include many different parts right from the very beginning.
This means you have the option to mix and match any number of these elements to create a new song intro that’s sure to wow your audience!
How to Start Off a Song Wrap-up
Are you thinking about the possibilities for how to start off your new song? Well, keep in mind that – like eating a Reese’s – there’s no wrong way to start a song.
Your intro can be long and elaborate, like AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck,” or quick and abrupt like the Beatles’ “Help!”… or maybe you don’t even need an intro at all!
The fun, yet maddening thing about creativity is that you don’t have any hard-and-fast rules to stick to. From your first thoughts to the song’s final production, if what you create sounds good to you, then it IS good!
I hope this guide to song intros will help you start off your next song better than before!
Improve your songwriting by mastering piano.