A bridge is where you can build song energy. But sometimes you need to bring energy down, and a bridge can do that too.
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A song’s bridge, or middle-8, is typically a place where you can introduce a new musical idea. There are several reasons you’d want to do this, the most obvious being the simple need to give your listener something new after a couple of verse and chorus melodies. There is another important reason for a bridge, however, and it relates to the level of energy your song is generating. With the possible exception of dance music, songs with an energy level that remains constant from beginning to end will tend to dull the audience’s musical mind. As a songwriter, you want to find opportunities to change the energy of the moment, and the bridge gives you that chance.
How songwriters have used that short bridge section has changed from time to time. It used to be far more common to see the prevailing energy building through a bridge, preparing for the return of a powerful rendition of the chorus.
While that still happens, you often see the opposite: a bridge that brings the energy down, preparing for a quiet return to the chorus. Then subsequent choruses are free to bring the energy back up for the big ending.
But no matter what, the bridge is where that manipulation of energy all happens, and it’s why so many songwriters opt to include a middle-8. Not only can they play around with song energy, but they can use the opportunity to take the song in a slightly different harmonic direction.
Christina Perri’s gorgeous single, “A Thousand Years“, is a beautifully orchestrated ballad with heartwarming lyrics. There is an evenness, perhaps almost hypnotically so, to the flow of the song. So anything dramatic that happens, in a bridge or anywhere else, will likely feel out of place.
The solution in “A Thousand Years” was to create a short bridge that has one main purpose: to reduce song energy, preparing for a quiet return to the chorus. While it is typical for bridges to feature song lyrics that alternate quickly between narrative and emotive (and generating considerable energy as it does so), this bridge simply repeats a previous line: “One step closer/ One step closer..“, as the energy dips.
“A Thousand Years” never builds a lot of energy in the first place, so it almost begs the question: why the need for energy to dissipate if the energy never really rises above what’s typical for a ballad?
It’s precisely the fact that when a song is gentle and flowing, raising energy in a bridge can take the song to a level that’s not desired. But doing the opposite – reducing energy – can allow for a pleasant return to a slightly higher energy as the final chorus repeats.
Not all songs include a bridge, but if you’re looking for an opportunity to take the energy of your song, at least temporarily, in a new direction, the bridge is the logical place to do it.
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