A bridge’s most important quality – contrast – can be achieved in a number of different ways.
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It used to be that “middle 8” was an accurate description of what a song’s bridge was. In the early days of rock & roll, a bridge was typically 8 bars long, because that fit in nicely with the rest of the song, which often featured a double-8 for the verse, and 8 (or double-8) for the chorus.
These days, however, song form is a much more fluid thing. Phrases within any one section can be lengthened or shortened as the mood of the song dictates, and so ensuring a bridge is restricted to 8 bars isn’t often done anymore.
Also, while it was common to feature a bridge that moved into a new key area (often the relative major or minor of the song’s chorus), that also may or may not happen in 21st century song design.
So just what can you do with a song bridge that makes its existence beneficial to the rest of your song? What follows is a list of ideas. Of course, you won’t do all the ideas in any one song, but you might find one that’s just right for the one you’re currently working on.
- Go traditional: Create an 8-bar bridge with a newly composed melody, where the first 4 bars represent a move away from the chorus’s key, followed by 4 bars which bring the music back.
- Don’t bother with a melody. Example: “Help Me, Rhonda” (The Beach Boys). It may work OK to simply work through the chord progression of the chorus.
- Instrumental solo: Example: “Real Love” (The Beatles). In this example, the song is mainly in E major, with the bridge moving uncharacteristically to the ii-chord as a new key centre and George Harrison playing a great guitar solo.
- Instrumental (not necessarily solo): Example: “Games People Play” (Alan Parson’s Project), “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” (Green Day). In “Games People Play”, there’s a lengthy chord progression meant to enhance a new, more subdued mood. It then transitions to a standard instrumental (guitar) solo. In “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”, there’s an instrumental rendition of the chorus where you’d expect the bridge.
- Insert a new section, with new tempo: (Examples: “Suspicious Minds” (Mark James, most famously recorded by Elvis Presley), “Say You Say Me” (Lionel Ritchie). By using a different tempo, you really get the impression that the song has gone in a completely new direction, and in that regard serves the same function as changing key.
When all’s said and done, a bridge fulfills the needs of the contrast principle, providing opposite-sounding musical ideas within one musical journey. For most bridges, that contrast is provided by a change in key. But any kind of contrast will do, including repeating the chorus or verse without including the melody.
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter. “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle looks at songwriting from every angle, and has been used by thousands of songwriters. How to use chords, write melodies, and craft winning lyrics. (And you’ll receive a FREE copy of “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro.“)