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The bridge is the part of the song that typically follows the second chorus, and it has a few reasons for existing. Chief among those reasons is the chance to leave the verse and chorus melodies and lyrics and introduce something new; it keeps the song sounding fresh. But song bridges also have another important duty: they usually allow for an intensification of song energy and forward motion. The chords you use play an important role in that task, so let’s look at how we can use chords to make a bridge work.
I like to think of chord progressions as being either mainly strong or mainly fragile. A strong progression is one that strongly points to one chord or note as being the harmonic goal. For example, the progression A D E A makes A sound like the tonic chord. It’s hard to hear that progression as being anything but strongly rooted in the key of A major.
Conversely, a fragile progression is one that doesn’t clearly point to any one note or chord as being the tonic. For example, F#m D Bm D F#m all go together to make F# minor sound like a possible key, but those chords also exist in the keys of A major and D major.
It makes good sense to use lots of fragile progressions in verses, because verse lyrics tend to be inconclusive. The verse is where you’re relating a story, and your story hasn’t come to any conclusions yet. The chorus is where you emote, where you tell people how you’re feeling about a situation, and so strong progressions work well there.
But what about the bridge? The bridge tends to present fragmented musical ideas. Musical phrases tend to be shorter and more energetic, lyrics describe situations or pose questions, with an answer or reaction right away. The intention is to build energy, and to prepare to enter the final part of the song.
Because song bridges give us new a new melody and lyric, you’ll want to offer a new chord progression. Generally, this is the part of the song that should allow for more complex chord relationships. The unsettled effect of altered chords, which allow you to venture further afield, help to build energy. And that energy allows for the final section of the song to feel even stronger.
So what do you do with the chords of a bridge? Here are some thoughts:
- Start a bridge progression with a chord that differs from the start of the chorus. Songs that are in major keys will work well if the bridge starts with a minor chord, often the relative minor. (i.e., if your song is in A major, try starting your bridge with an F#m chord.
- If your bridge is to be followed by the chorus (the usual choice), allow your bridge progression to start mainly fragile, and become stronger as it goes, ensuring that it connects strongly and seamlessly to the first chords of the chorus progression.
- If your bridge is to be followed by a 3rd verse, you’ll need to have the bridge dissipate energy to connect smoothly to the verse. Because the verse will usually feature fragile progressions, keep mainly strong progressions in the bridge, even as bring the dynamic (loudness) lower.
It often works well to use deceptive cadences in a bridge. A cadence is the end of a musical phrase. A deceptive cadence means that the last chords went in an unexpected direction. For example, this progression, which ends with a deceptive cadence, would work well in a bridge: D Bm D E7 F#m.
Written by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website
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Thanks for the correction, Gary. Truth be told, if it weren’t for your previous articles, I would not have picked up on the error (lol). Yes, it pays to check this website every day. You’re a heck of a teacher!
Curious though, are you planning any other e-books in the near future?
Yes, I’m working on an e-book that deals with writing vocal harmonies, as well as a comprehensive songwriters’ checklist. I hope to have those finished sometime this year.
I was reading the article which came right on time. I’m just about to write a bridge for my song when I came across this. But I do have a question. In the 4th paragraph of your article you state “it makes good sense to use lots of FRAGILE progressions in verses…” But then you go on to say “The verse is where you emote…and so STRONG progressions work well there.”
Am I not following you correctly on this? Are you saying that a bridge should contain both fragile AND strong progressions? Or should verses contain fragile progressions and the chorus should contain the strong ones? I guess I need clarification. BTW, I’ve printed out almost all your articles (for personal use, of course) and made sort of a book so I can use it as a study guide. Great stuff!!
Oops! That was an error on my part. I meant to say that the *chorus* is where you emote. Sorry about that. I’ve corrected that mistake.
About the bridge, I think you’ll find that the standard bridge should start with fragile progressions, ones that feel like they can go in various directions if needed, but that as the bridge continues, you’ll want the progressions to strengthen as you prepare for a return to the chorus.
Glad you enjoy the material, and thanks for finding that error!