Intros, Figures, Fills and Endings

Featuring Paul Baloche Posted on January 20, 2010

How important are introductions, figures, fills and endings and how much attention should the songwriter give to them? Some of these considerations are left entirely up to the arranger, but some songwriters like to present their songs as complete compositions. 

• A good introduction should set up the song, create an ambiance, establish the mood and the feel and lead straight into the vocal. 

There’s no set rule as to how long an intro should be. Some consist merely of an arpeggio, while others sound like the first movement of a symphony. But unless the introduction is powerfully exciting in itself, it shouldn’t be long. 

• Some songs have “figures” or countermelodies written into them that appear in every arrangement you hear. A figure is a running thread that recurs throughout the song and gives it a sense of unity and cohesion.  Whether it was created by the songwriter or the arranger of the recording or was perhaps improvised by one of the sidemen, it has become the song’s “signature lick,” an integral part of the song’s structure. 

• Lyrics don’t have to fill up all of every line. In some styles, especially those that use improvising instruments, as in jazz or blues, it’s a good idea to use the first half of each four-bar phrase for lyrics, and leave holes, or “leave some air” for instrumental fills. This makes a refreshing interplay, or conversation, between the voice and the instruments. 

• It’s possible to become a successful songwriter while offering no more than words, melody and chord symbols, but the more control you have over these other components of your song, the more satisfied you’ll be. 

• There are several ways to end a song. 

1. A fade. In some genres it’s popular not to end at all but to fade, to give the impression that the participants were last seen boogying off into the sunset. On rhythm section charts for recording we usually notate this “Vamp till fade.” (Vamp simply means to continue to improvise on a short repeated chord progression.) But this can be awkward in live performances; “Vamp till fall apart” is usually the impression the audience gets. It’s better to bring a live rendition to some sort of satisfying conclusion, such as: 

2. An extended ending (stretching out the last few chords or notes) 

3. A delayed ending (bringing in unexpected chord and melody changes that necessitate repeating the last line) One often used device is a walk-down to the vi minor chord, or simply replacing the final tonic chord with a vi minor, thus indicating to the singers that you are repeating the last line once or twice. 

4. A tag ending or coda (additional material added on the end) 

5. A “Paramount Ending” (building to a last-long-loud-high-note) 

6. Just slowing down and coasting to a stop 

7. An out-tro. In an especially gentle song that doesn’t build to great heights, it’s sometimes a good idea to return to the feeling of the intro so that the listener, who has been riding along with us, “gets off where he got on.” 

8. A “payoff ” ending. This may be a form of a delayed or extended ending, but with a twist. This happens when the song is building toward a “payoff ”last  line. You know it’s coming… you’re waiting for it… but the tension is heightened by building, delaying, extending, perhaps pausing, to set up the “payoff ” line. For instance, look at “If My People Will Pray,” on page 129. The last line is what everything else in the scripture verse has been leading up to: the culmination, the fulfilment of the promise.  So we delay the gratification by repeating “I will forgive their sin” three times, each louder and higher than before, then adding two extra bars and pausing, before delivering, with quiet intensity, the “payoff ” line, “and heal their land.” 

9. An unfinished ending. It can also be refreshing on occasion, especially in a quiet mood song, to end on a sustained IV or V or some other “unfinished” chord and let it drift away. 

In a song for congregational singing, it’s best not to put any surprises in the ending, since they can lead to awkward moments of confusion that disturb the flow of worship. Give thought to how you want your song to end. It leaves a lasting impression. 

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