Here’s how you know that a pre-chorus or bridge will help your song’s structure.
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The verse-chorus form is probably the most common in pop song genres, songs in the 3-6 minute time frame. Of those, many use bridge sections – that shortish part that usually comes after the second chorus. A certain percentage also use a pre-chorus – the bit that follows the verse, leading up to the chorus. None of these sections are compulsory, as you know. Songs can exist quite nicely in a simple verse-chorus-repeat format. So how do you know if your song needs, or could benefit from, a pre-chorus or bridge?
The short answer (which I’m willing to admit also sounds a bit sarcastic) is: if it sounds like it needs a pre-chorus or bridge. But to be specific, there are things to look for in basic song structure that will help you decide if you should be considering adding a pre-chorus or bridge. Here are some ideas:
When a Pre-Chorus Is a Good Idea:
- If your song’s verse is very short.
- If your song’s verse uses a similar short motif over and over.
- If your verse’s chord progression is unadventurous, moving back and forth from the tonic to one other chord.
- If the end of your verse melody is quite far away (an octave, let’s say) than the start of your chorus melody.
- If your verse lyric describes a situation or people, and needs more description before the chorus more emotional lyric.
- If the verse energy is significantly less than the chorus energy.
In essence, a pre-chorus will allow your verse to connect more sensibly to the chorus. How you know that you need one can be summed up by saying: My verse just seems too short.
By adding a pre-chorus you extend the time between the start of a song and the start of a chorus. You allow for more descriptive lyrics that will allow for a more intense emotional response in the chorus. In that sense, a pre-chorus can be a real game-changer, changing a nondescript song into a more intense musical experience.
For a good example of a short pre-chorus that helps build energy and connects a verse to a chorus nicely, listen to Stone Sour’s “Say You’ll Haunt Me“.
A bridge usually comes after the second chorus. It’s main purpose is to provide a diversion from the verse and chorus melodies that have each happened twice. After a second chorus, your choices are usually to either end the song (i.e., repeat final choruses), or do something different. If your song simply isn’t long enough to end at that point, a bridge is a good idea.
When a Bridge Is a Good Idea:
- Your song needs a new melody with a new chord progression and a new lyric. In other words, if your song feels too short with a simple verse-chorus design.The new chord progression should ideally not be the same as what’s happened so far in the song. And if possible, the bridge should venture out into a new aspect of the song’s tonality. In other words, if your song is in a major key, try a bridge that focuses more on the minor. A bridge’s lyric should simply build on the story, offering new information for the listener.
- If you want an instrumental solo.
- If you need to build energy after a second chorus. Allow this new section to take the energy level to new heights.
- As an opposite effect to point #3 above, if you need energy to dissipate.
There are a few options to consider for getting out of a bridge. Most commonly, you’ll go immediately back to the chorus, with a few repeats before ending. But you can also return to the verse. That option lengthens your song even more, so be sure that it doesn’t make your song too long.
No matter what sections you add to your song, keep in mind an important songwriting principle: the energy level of your song should basically increase as the song proceeds. A pre-chorus will allow you to build energy easily. A bridge can either build it or allow it to decrease, whichever you need to have happen before those final chorus repeats.
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