Comparing Verses and Bridges in Pop Songwriting

When you take a cursory glance at verses and bridges in most pop songs, you see certain similarities:

  1. Verse and bridge melodies often display a more wandering quality than a chorus melody. Chorus melodies tend to be rather “hooky” in quality, repeating a concise idea rather than going on a musical journey. Verses and bridges tend to be more elaborate, exploring the low to high range of the singer’s voice.
  2. Verse and bridge chords often use longer, more adventurous chord progressions, while chorus progressions are shorter and tonally stronger, targeting one chord as the tonic.
  3. Both verse and bridge lyrics spend a lot of time describing situations and people, while chorus lyrics spend a lot of time describing an emotional response.

But that’s not to say that a verse melody would make a good bridge melody, at least not necessarily. They share many similar characteristics, but there are some important differences.

So let’s take a closer look at those 3 basic characteristics I listed above, and see how verse and bridge, while sharing characteristics, also have some clear defining differences.

  1. Both verse and bridge melodies display a more wandering quality, BUT… Bridge melodies often approach that from a different angle. If the song has been energetic and loud, a bridge melody may work its way downward to help reduce musical energy for contrast. (Example: “Single Ladies“) Many bridges will work the melody upward as a way of increasing musical energy. (Example: “Every Breath You Take“)
  2. Chord Progressions for both a verse and a bridge are adventurous, BUT… A bridge progression tends to venture away from what’s been established in the chorus. The sense you get from a verse progression is that everything is moving toward the chorus’s obsession with the tonic chord. But bridge progressions often start somewhere other than the tonic, and then frequently move even further afield. You also get a sense of fragmenting in a bridge, where musical ideas are shorter, and follow each other with a greater sense of urgency than you might find in a verse. The vocal bridge following the instrumental break in Steely Dan’s “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” is a great example of this.
  3. Verse and bridge lyrics both describe situations and people, BUT… Bridge lyrics will often move quickly back and forth between describing something that adds to the story, and then immediately gives an emotional response. In general, the melody is higher, and the emotional content is more intense. This helps to heighten musical momentum and excitement, and its something you won’t typically find in a verse. (Example: “You Belong With Me” (Taylor Swift, Liz Rose); “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay” (Steve Cropper, Otis Redding)

No matter why you think your bridge makes a positive contribution to your song, one of its most important qualities is to pull the song away from the strong verse-chorus partnership (in verse-chorus songs), or to offer a simple diversion away from the verse (in verse-only, or verse-refrain songs).

Written by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter

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