What Should Chords in a Song’s Bridge Do?

If songs are a musical journey, the most interesting part of the trip is often in the bridge.


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Band rehearsalThe contrast principle is a large part of what makes music successful. That principle simply says that good music is a back-and-forth between contrasting (sometimes even opposite) ideas. Contrast needs to be done in a somewhat subtle way, though. For example, you may introduce new instruments in your mix for a chorus, but you likely won’t change the entire sound of your song just to get contrast.

We know that the chorus is where song elements usually become simplified and straight-forward. A verse melody may interestingly wander, exploring different areas of the song’s key. But by the time the chorus happens, melodies become simpler, comprised often of short phrases that get repeated, and built around something that serves as a solid hook.

The same thing happens with chords. Verse progressions can be longish, with several different tonal focus points. But in a chorus, the progressions often become simpler and stronger, serving as a strong foundation for the chorus melody.

But what about a bridge? The bridge usually happens after the second chorus. And because the contrast principle is still in play, you’ll want to construct your bridge to serve as a good balance for your chorus. Since the chorus is strong and tonally simplified, your song’s bridge is going to use melodies that are new to the song, with chords that often take the song in a different tonal direction.

Here are some basic tips for creating chord progressions that work well in a song’s bridge section:

  1. Start on a non-tonic chord. The tonic chord is the one that represents your song’s key. Because verse chords are often tonally ambiguous, the tonic chord may not become obvious until the chorus. So if your chorus is in G major, you’ll want to start your bridge on some chord other than G. See the next point..
  2. Explore the opposite mode from what the chorus gives you. If your song is in a major key, allow the bridge to move into the minor. In that case, you may want to start your bridge in E minor, if your song is in G major. That relative minor relationship works really well.
  3. Use the second half of a bridge to find a way back to your song’s original key. In the example of a song in G major with a bridge in E minor, you’ll want to use the second half of the bridge to find your way from E minor back to G. The best way to do this is to use a chord that’s in common to both keys as a “pivot chord”. Once you play that chord, start thinking in G major again, and your transition is complete.

In songwriting, nothing happens in a vacuum. One element affects another. Chords and melody always go hand in hand. Like bridge chords, a bridge melody will wander a bit, and you’ll need to use your melodies to help guide your progressions.

A bridge can often be one of the most interesting sections of a song. A good verse points to the chorus that’s about to happen. But with a bridge, you can move in a new direction and explore a completely new area, almost as if you’re starting a new, but shorter, song.

But by the time you’re past that halfway point, you need to be thinking about how to connect what you’re doing back to your chorus or verse. In that sense, the bridge offers the listener a diversion from the verse and chorus melodies that they’ve heard twice already.


Written by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website.
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