Written by Gary Ewer, Senior Instructor, Dalhousie University, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website.
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When I adjudicate performers at festivals, I love pointing out that good music is often more about what’s about to happen than what is currently happening. And when something great is happening, performers need to be thinking about what they can do to build on that, create a sense of forward motion and expectation. As a songwriter, you must do the same thing, and the bridge is a wonderful way to take musical energy to a new level and pull the listener along with you.
The bridge usually occurs after the second chorus, and there are several things your bridge needs to do. Its main purpose is to build energy beyond even what an energetic chorus can do. It provides new melodic, harmonic and lyrical information that expands on ideas already presented. In doing so, it allows the impending return to the chorus (or occasionally a new verse) to feel fresher.
Here are some things you’ll want to keep in mind when composing a bridge:
- The melody will often sit higher than the chorus melody.
- Melodic phrases can be shorter, which will help build energy. The general direction of melodic lines should be upward.
- Verse lyrics set up situations, and chorus lyrics tell the listener the emotional impact of those situations. Bridge lyrics will combine both qualities. Think of the lyric here as being several lines of “emotional short-snappers”: a situation, then your immediate emotional response; then another statement, and another response, and so on. This way of writing builds energy and pulls the listener along with you.
- Harmonic choices should ideally be in the opposite mode to your chorus, for contrast. So if your chorus focuses on major key harmonies, start your bridge on a vi-chord, or a IV-chord that moves quickly to vi-chord. (IV-V-vi, for example). Use the last half of the bridge to get your harmonies ready to make a smooth connection to the return of the chorus.
A bridge will allow you to control the overall energy plan for your song, while providing new material for the listener to focus on. Not all songs need a bridge, and in fact you can substitute an instrumental solo in its place. Another thought: try doing a verse 3 that builds on the energy of the second chorus, and changes some notes of previous verses by moving them higher.
Gary Ewer is the author of several e-books for songwriters. They can show you how to turn your own songs into winners. Read more about these e-books.