BY LIL’ REV | FROM THE SPRING 2019 ISSUE OF UKULELE
I heard it once said that in the beginning, there was an intro and, in the end, there will be an outro. If music mimics life, then every well-crafted song deserves a respectable intro and a snazzy outro.
The history of intros and endings in American music is a treasure trove of cool chord combinations, melodic hooks, and rhythmic memorabilia. From the fondly familiar blues turnarounds (which can be used as both intros and endings, by the way) to the oft-overplayed, shave-and-a-haircut endings of bluegrass, one generation passes its collective intros and endings onto the next generation.
Looking back at the last 100 years, we can see how everyone from George Gershwin and Irving Berlin to Chuck Berry and Paul McCartney borrowed and built upon existing intro/endings themes for their original works. My recent instructional book, Intros, Endings & Turnarounds, is designed to distill some of the best of these intros and endings into a single, history-rich collection so that the aspiring ukulele student might come to appreciate the wealth of ideas available to use when setting up or ending a song.
The Lil’ Rev All-Purpose Intro/Ending
To begin, we’ll look at my all-purpose intro/ending, possibly one of the most versatile intros I’ve found. This intro can be used to begin a blues, rock, doo-wop, country, Tin Pan Alley, or singer-songwriter-type tune. Like most of the intros and endings in my book, often you’ll discover that it’s teaching you to expand your vocabulary of moveable or inverted chord forms beyond the first position.
To play the intros depicted in Examples 1 and 2, strum two downbeats for each chord, until the third measure, then strum four beats on the I chord, finally striking the V7 for a four count that can be played as tremolo or struck once and held for four beats.
For the all-purpose outro (Examples 3 and 4), play two beats on each chord until the last measure, then strike the I chord once.
The Classic Ragtime Ending
Some of the most fascinating intros and endings come from an era when ragtime, jazz, and blues were all intersecting. From Scott Joplin’s rag “The Entertainer,” to Jimmie Rodgers yodeling blues songs, to Louis Armstrong and his remarkable Hot Five ensemble, my book provides a gumbo of American music. These little gems are part of a rich heritage, and although they are often neglected, they beckon the ukulele world to take note and move beyond the cliché of starting a song by strumming the first chord then launching into the singing that we often blindly follow.
The classic ragtime ending will probably sound familiar, which helps to highlight ragtime’s influence on popular styles of its day and for decades after. This ending is another chordal-style pattern that can be easily transposed into any key and it works extremely well as top-notch ending for blues, jazz, jug band, and western swing styles. I’ve notated the ending in three different keys in Examples 5–7. Give each chord two strokes, then play the last chord (I) as tremolo (rapid down-and-up strumming) for as long as you like. This makes for a brilliant ending, full of pizazz and all of the playfulness inherent in ragtime.
Intro or Outro?
The main difference between an intro and an ending is that an intro has a V chord (for example, in the key of C, that’s G7; if in the key of F, then C7) at the end of its sequence and an outro or ending resolves back to the I or the root chord of the key you are playing in (C in the key of C, or F in the key of F). Or, to put it another way, pay attention to the last chord in the sequence and it’ll tell you whether it’s an outro or an intro. Does it resolve or does it sound like something is about to happen?