Not all songs use a bridge — that short section that typically follows the second run-through of the chorus. In the earlier days of rock & roll, it was normal for that section (if it existed at all) to be 8 bars in length, hence the alternate term “middle 8.”
These days, a bridge need not be restricted to 8 bars. It could be double that length, and could also include instrumental solos.
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Since many songs do just fine without one, the question is, how do you know if your song could benefit from including a bridge? What circumstances should songwriters notice that would make a bridge section a welcome addition?
Here are 5 songwriting situations that would make a bridge a good idea, one that could mean the difference between success and failure for a song.
- The verse-chorus combination feels too short. There’s no rule in place that a song needs to be any particular length at all, so a short song isn’t necessarily a bad thing. “Sister Golden Hair” (America), and “Dreamboat Annie” (Heart) are great examples of huge hits that come in considerably under 3 minutes. But the more important issue of too much verse-chorus repetition may be the indictor that you need something different. And since song bridges usually use a unique melody, chord progression and lyric, a bridge can be the solution.
- The lyric isn’t finished by a verse-chorus combination. You may think the no-brainer solution with this problem is to simply include an extra verse. But a bridge can do more; it can provide a new lyric with a fresh melody-chord combination that sets that lyric apart from everything else that’s happened in the song.
- The verse-chorus chords are very similar. These days, it’s becoming more common to have a verse and chorus that use the same, or almost the same, chord progression. If that’s the case, you can take your song in a new and interesting direction by adding a bridge that starts in the opposite mode. For example, if your song is in G major, try starting your verse on an E minor chord. If it’s an 8-bar bridge, think of that as a 4-bar journey in E minor, and then a 4-bar journey back to G major. (See example below).
- The intensity (energy) of the song needs some variation. If you’ve got a song that feels very powerful, always in the listener’s face, you might use a bridge to bring energy down, just enough to provide some well-needed contrast. John Newman’s “Losing Sleep” is a great example of a bridge that makes all the difference.
- The song needs a melody with a higher moment. If your song’s melodies sound fine, but just lack a bit of “pop”, you may find that a bridge section gives you that opportunity.
A typical bridge will do one of three things:
- Stay in the key of the song, and simply offer a new melody and lyric. Example: “I Feel Fine” (Lennon & McCartney)
- Stay in the key of the song, but start on a minor chord. (Example: for a song that’s in G major, start on Em and make Em sound like an important point of focus for the first half of the bridge. Then move back to G major for the second half: Em D Bm___ Em D Bm___ | Am Bm C___ Am Bm C D7
- Move into a minor key. This means more than focusing on a minor chord, like the point above. Move into the key, and stay there until it’s time to return to G major. Example: Em C B7 C Am B7 |Em C B7 Am C Dsus4 D
In any case, a bridge’s best use is to complete your musical journey. Not all songs need them, but if you find that your verse and chorus combination sound a bit repetitious, or if you feel that you simply need to break out a bit and offer more, the bridge is the ticket.
I’ve recently completed a video that describes these and other ideas related to why you might include a bridge in your song:
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter
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