Written by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website.
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If you study the music of Classical-era composers, you’ll come across something called the “Development” section. It has been a mainstay of symphonies for centuries. The Development is a part of a composition where the composer mixes musical ideas from earlier in the movement, creating a bit of a mash-up. You can try it with your song’s bridge, resulting in something quite creative.
The bridge of your song will usually occur right after the second chorus. By that time, you’ve usually been playing with at least two main ideas: the verse material, and the chorus material.
We already know that verse melodies should differ from chorus melodies in certain important ways. While most songwriters know that verse melodies tend to be pitched lower than chorus melodies, some don’t know that there is a rhythmic element to consider: if you use mainly short notes in your verse, try long notes in your chorus.
The idea of contrasting rhythmic elements also had its roots in the Classical world. Composers, when writing symphonies, would typically create two different melodies that they’d present as Theme 1 and Theme 2. Usually, if one used shorter notes with a more aggressive style, the second melody would use longer notes and be more gentle.
Then, in the “Development” section, the composer would bring both elements together, and find a way to mash the two themes together, sometimes dwelling on one idea, sometimes the other. For many listeners, the Development section was the most interesting part of the composition, because the Development showed the composer at his/her most creative.
There’s not an exact parallel to the Development section in most popular music styles, but the section that comes the closest to doing what the Development section in symphonies does is your song’s bridge.
We often use the bridge to present a new musical idea, a change in direction, perhaps. And a way to drive the song’s energy upward. In that way, modern-day bridge sections do what Classical composers’ Development sections do. They extend the music in very important ways.
Here are some suggestions for doing something more creative with your bridge section:
- Play with your verse and chorus melodies, and see if there is a way to borrow shapes from one and attach them to shapes from the other, creating a new melody that still has some connection to what the listener has already heard.
- Try taking those melodic shapes from the verse and chorus, and invert them. The upside down shapes are not necessarily overtly noticed by the listener, but an important connection is made. (Consider, for example, “Single Ladies” by Beyoncé, and the relationship between the ascending line “Up in the Club, we just broke up”, and the ascending/descending line “…then takes me and delivers me to a destiny…”)
- The bridge should primarily fragment the rhythms of the verse and chorus, so you should be dealing with shorter, quicker notes, in a bid to increase song energy. As you work your bridge melody higher (also to create energy) try to take chorus melodic shapes, and see if you can shorten the notes and work them higher.
The end result of a bridge melody is that it should not be simply a modification of the verse or chorus; the listener needs to have something that feels new. But using old material to create something new in this way helps to make a connection to the rest of the song.
Coordinating your music like this has the same effect as wearing well-coordinated clothing. You don’t want shirt, pants, sweater, etc., to all be the same colour. But at the same time, finding complementary colours help to pull it all together.
Your song’s bridge can serve as a way of pulling everything together. You present bits of material mashed together in a somewhat disguised way, and you’ll have something that really works well, increasing the creative nature of your song.
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