Written by Gary Ewer
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The bridge of a song is supposed to be the section that takes the energy you’ve created in your verse-chorus structures and build on it. We’ve been looking lately at a few things that help to build that energy: dropping beats, and focusing on the dominant note. But what kind of chord progression does one use to build energy? It depends on what your chorus progression is doing.
The bridge exists mainly to give the listener a chance to be diverted away from the material of the verse and chorus. The standard format for songs that use a bridge is:
Verse – Chorus – Verse – Chorus – BRIDGE – Chorus – Chorus
But a bridge needs to be more than simply a new melody. Because it needs to build energy, the bridge should also be doing a couple of other things.
First, the melodic ideas should be shorter than the ideas of the verse and chorus. While verse and chorus melodies tend to be thought of in 4- or 8-bar phrases, bridges should present their melodic ideas as 1- or 2-bar ideas that are move back and forth between verse-style lyrics (“here’s the situation..”) and chorus-style lyrics (“here’s how I feel about that..”). This back-and-forth builds energy.
Secondly, the chord progression itself needs to offer something different from what’s been offered before. But it also needs to build energy. So what progressions work for a bridge?
When in doubt, bridges of major key songs will work well starting on a minor chord, and it’s quite common to use the vi-chord. Here is an example:
C Bb F G C (4 beats on each of the C and Bb, 2 beats each for the F and G, and 4 beats for the final C)
Am F G Am Bb F Gsus G
As you can see, whatever you choose needs to end on a chord that makes the listener not just want – makes the listener need to hear the chorus. This is achieved by ending the verse on the dominant chord (i.e., the V-chord). Dominant chords are resolved by moving to the I-chord, which is the first chord of our sample chorus.
Here are two more bridge progressions that would work, assuming your chorus is a standard progression that starts and ends on the I-chord. (Try 4 beats for each chord, but feel free to experiment):
II) Am Em F C Am Dm F G
III) Am Dm Am Dm F C/E F G
And what if your song is in a minor key? I find that bridges for a minor-key song work well if they dwell on the major, but not necessarily right away. So if your song is in C minor, and your chorus begins and ends on Cm, you may want to give something like the following a try:
IV) Fm Ab Eb Ab Fm Ab Bb (4 beats each, hold the Bb for 8)
V) Bb Gm Eb Ab Bb Eb Fm Gsus G (4 beats each, with the Gsus and G at the end getting 2)
Your bridge progressions will build the necessary energy by concluding with a dominant chord because dominant chords like to resolve to I-chords. As with every musical decision you make, your ears will confirm if the musical effect you’re looking for – the building of energy – is actually happening. If it isn’t, try shortening up the beats on each chord as you approach the end of the bridge.