A song’s bridge gives you opportunities to explore further afield. Here are some tips for writing a bridge melody.
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Contrast is a crucial part of the strength of a song. Pitting one musical element against another is the basic idea behind the verse-chorus structure that’s so prevalent in most of today’s hit songs. A bridge usually occurs after the second chorus, and it’s main reason for existence is to provide yet another contrasting section for your song. But a bridge (or middle-8, as it’s often called) does more than provide a simple opportunity for a third melody. It’s a great place to allow you to introduce a bit of musical complexity before returning to the chorus or third verse. Here are some tips for how a bridge melody can be one of the most valuable parts of your song.
Bridges give the songwriter a chance to build even more energy for those final chorus repeats. And it can happen in several possible ways. One way is to start a bridge by dissipating song energy in preparation for the return of the more powerful chorus. Example: “Suspicious Minds” (written by Mark James, with the most notable performance by Elvis Presley).
Another is to take the energy of the chorus and keep it, even building on it. You can then do a more powerful chorus, or allow things to die down for a quiet rendition of the chorus. (An example of this would be Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me“).
In any case, bridge melodies can be an important part of the success of the song. Here are some ideas that relate specifically to the writing of a bridge melody:
- First and foremost, take the melody in a different direction. Every verse and chorus melody has a basic shape that’s distinctive. To create the proper kind of contrast that bridge melodies should provide, try to move your bridge into a new, unexplored region. Use your instincts: building energy is easier if the melody is pitched higher; dissipating energy is easier if the melody is lower.
- Don’t worry about “hookyness” for a bridge melody. A hook will likely play an important role in the chorus of many hit songs, so the bridge is a good place to allow a hook to disappear. You can bring it back when you return to the final chorus repeats.
- Explore the opposite mode. If your song is mainly in a major key, the bridge can be a good place to make more use of minor chords. Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” is a good example (the bridge begins at the 2-minute mark). Your melody’s structure is always going to be closely tied to the accompanying harmonies.
- Try shortening up the length of musical phrases. Since the lyrics of a bridge will often switch back and forth quickly between describing a situation and expressing an emotion, you can build energy by writing a bridge melody that presents itself in shorter, fragmented phrases.
- Think about how to connect your bridge melody to whatever follows. Whether you return to the chorus, or go to a 3rd verse, a bridge melody needs to “beg for” that return. In other words, you might want to consider a melody (and accompanying chords) that ends on a so-called open cadence. An open cadence means ending on a chord other than the tonic chord. This works particularly well if your chorus starts on the tonic chord. So try ending a bridge on a dominant (V-chord), or subdominant (IV), or even a flat-VII.
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What about the bridge naturally leading back to the chorus, only now a semitone/tone higher? In other words, the entire bridge melody was also a modulation?
Sure, that can work very well. A key change helps to build energy, and so can be a great way to get back to the chorus with an extra shot of energy.
Thanks for writing,