If you’ve been writing songs for a while, you’ll know that lyrics change in character as a song progresses. To generalize, you’ll notice the following:
Verse lyrics set the stage, recount details of a story, describe characters, etc. It lays out the narrative, the storyline or general song topic.
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Chorus lyrics describe an emotional reaction to the story. Chorus lyrics usually don’t add much in terms of the details of the story, but they certainly make it clear what the singer’s reaction to the story might be.
And then we get to the bridge. As you likely know, a bridge section will take a song a bit further afield by bringing in new melodies built upon new chords (and generally, chords that take the song in a new direction). As an audience hears the bridge, they are usually aware that this new section is temporary; they expect to hear a return to the chorus, or a third verse (particularly for songs in verse-bridge format).
With regard to lyrics, for songs that follow the bridge with the final chorus repeats, it’s important to note that the bridge offers the final chance to introduce new lyrics. In that sense, the bridge must finish the story. For whatever you might be singing about, the bridge is usually where all questions are answered, all personalities fully described, and all situations resolved.
Ramping Up the Emotion
A bridge lyric usually raises the emotional level of a song, such that it tends to present a song’s most poignant moments. If you think of a song as a kind of musical “pump”, where emotions are lower in a verse, then higher in a chorus, a bridge offers a unique approach: moving quickly back and forth between low and high emotion.
When talking about this issue, I often point to the bridge of a Taylor Swift song, “You Belong With Me”, as being a perfect demonstrator of this characteristic, only because that feature of a short, narrative line being followed quickly by an emotional outpouring, is so clear:
Oh, I remember you driving to my house
In the middle of the night.
I’m the one who makes you laugh
When you know you’re ’bout to cry.
I know your favorite songs,
And you tell me about your dreams.
Think I know where you belong,
Think I know it’s with me.
As you can see, the bridge gives us new information – (“driving to my house…”), but offers lines of high emotive value: “I’m the one who makes you laugh…” “When you know you’re ’bout to cry…”, etc.)
And the final line or two of the bridge should sum up what the song has been about, and this is where the emotional value is laid out for all to hear: “Think I know where you belong,/ Think I know it’s with me.”
For most songs, the bridge offers the true climactic moment, the spot where we feel the most intense emotions. If a song has been high energy all the way from the start to the end of the chorus, the bridge will often bring energy levels lower, but you will still have the same quality from the lyric: the intensifying of lyrical emotion.
If you choose to include a bridge in your songs, the lyrics are but one element that plays an important role. Once you’ve finished your song, go back and take a look at how you’ve handled the following:
- Has your bridge moved off the tonic chord, and focused on some new chord as being more important? This might be the IV-chord, or perhaps the V-chord, but it’s most common to move into an opposite mode. In other words, if you’ve written a song in C major, moving temporarily to the relative minor – A minor – works nicely.
- Has your bridge changed the intensity of the music from what was experienced in the chorus? If your chorus and the verse that precedes it are intense, you might use the bridge to bring things down a bit. But if you’ve got a low-intensity verse, you might use the bridge to take things to an even higher level than what’s experienced with the chorus.
- Does your bridge move strongly back to the key of the chorus? Look at your bridge’s final chords, and make sure that those final chords represent a strong and clear move to the original key.
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter