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A bridge is the optional section of a song that usually happens after the second chorus. Its main purpose is to take the song in a new direction, at least melodically/harmonically, and to complete a lyric. But since it’s an option – not every song uses a bridge – it’s important to know exactly why we ever use one in the first place.
Of the several to many reasons one might compose a bridge, the top three reasons are:
- Incomplete lyric. A bridge lyric will often finish the story, or otherwise bring the song topic to a satisfying conclusion.
- Verse and chorus similarity. If the verse and chorus melodies reside within the same basic vocal range, using many of the same notes, a bridge can provide needed variety.
- The song is too short. A bridge section, even if it’s just instrumental, can offer a bit of mileage to a song that just feels a bit too short.
So those are reasons why a bridge can be a good idea for your song, but doest necessarily tell us how to compose one. Here are some tips that can help you create something that’s musically satisfying and powerful:
- Melody: Bridge melodies represent the third main melody that the listener will hear. Structurally, it will resemble a verse melody in the sense that it can benefit from having a “wandering” quality. Bridge melodies usually work their way upward, and some of the highest notes in a song will occur in the bridge.
- Chords: Bridge chord progressions should start on a non-tonic (i.e., non-original-key) chord, and usually opposite to the mode of the chorus. In other words, if your song chorus is in a major key, bridges often start on a minor chord, and focus on that minor chord as a kind of temporary tonic. The second half of a bridge section should see the chords moving from that minor centre back to the original key of the song.
- Length: In some circles the bridge is also called the “middle 8”, referring to the number of bars in a typical bridge section. But that nickname came into common usage when song forms were more classically structured and predictable. A bridge doesn’t have to be eight bars long. But having said that, keep in mind that a bridge that’s too long will bore and confuse an audience. Keeping it to eight is a great idea, and you should have a good reason for extending it longer than that.
- Hook: If your song is based on a strong chorus hook, use the bridge to let that hook disappear for a while. That makes the return of the hook, once the chorus returns, even more welcome.
- Motif: Similar to a hook, a motif is a melodic/rhythmic idea that gets used over and over again. But unlike a hook, a motif will change and develop as a song advances. For that reason, strong motifs are often only noticed subconsciously by the listener, but can be powerful musical elements. In a bridge, a motif can help a section that sounds completely different sound pleasantly related to everything else in the song. The bridge in Elton John’s “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” is a great example of this; compare the similarity of the basic rhythms of the verse andthe chorus, and then the bridge section.
- Lyrics: A bridge lyric generally will allow the song’s story to feel completed. If anything is left unanswered by the second chorus, use the lyric of the bridge to finish it. So bridge sections will often explain the deeper emotional reasons for whatever is going on in the rest of the song.
- Momentum: More often than not, a bridge will build energy, even if it starts with an energy dip. It’s a chance for a song to catch its second wind, making the return of the chorus even more poignant.
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