Improvised Intros

A good musical introduction creates anticipation for the listener by suggesting the key and style of a tune about to be played.

Ready, Set, Go!

Since most tunes begin with a I chord, a V7 chord played just before leads our ears right into the melody through its natural resolution. Listen to how the C7 in the Birthday Song seems to say, “Here we go.”

Watch an archived livestream on this same topic.


Drum Roll Please…

Stretch the V7 intro chord “Liberace” style with hand-over-hand arpeggios to pump up the audience. Corny and overstated? Yes. Effective? Absolutely. Students love it because it sounds impressive without being difficult. This example adds drama suggesting, “Ladies and gentleman, the show is about to begin.”


The Following Preview…

State the last few measures of a tune before the V7 chord to increase the sense of expectancy.  Like a movie trailer, Example 3 hints at coming attractions with a little teaser of the melody.


Mixed Combos
Combine approaches for maximum effect. This example includes the last few measures of the melody with a V7 intro chord and the “Liberace lick.” Now that’s an introduction!


More sophisticated intro ideas

  • Start with one or two measures of melodic pick up notes. 

  • Play a characteristic part of the melody unaccompanied. 

  • Start repetitive bass lines before bringing in the melody.

  • If the tune has a built-in turnaround, vamp on those chords.

  • Vamp on the main chord progression before the melody.

  • Noodle around slowly and freely before launching into the groove.

  • Compose an independent intro in the style of the tune.

As always, improvisation tips such as these are only suggestions to prime your creative pump. Run the tune for which you are searching for an intro in your mind away from your instrument and imagine what might sound good to kick it off.

Until next time, enjoy your creative music-making journey.


(A similar article first appeared in Clavier Companion magazine.)

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