John Newman - Losing Sleep

Constructing the Bridge Section of Your Song

I’d be in favour of a name other than bridge to describe the optional song section that occurs after the second chorus. Maybe “section 3.” A bridge implies that its main job is to transition from one thing to another newer thing, and to make that a smooth connection. But a song’s bridge most often takes the listener from the chorus back to the chorus — a weird use for a bridge:

Verse – Chorus – Verse – Chorus – BRIDGE – Chorus

So the main purpose of a bridge is not actually to connect two things as much as it is to:

  1. Provide an opportunity to finish a lyric.
  2. Offer a new melody that contrasts with the two other melodies we’ve heard so far.
  3. Take the listener into new key areas as a variety for what we’ve been offered by the chord progressions up to this point.

In other words, the most important job a song’s bridge section does is to provide variety. Sometimes a new key, almost always a new melody and lyric.

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And because we’ve moved away from the verse and chorus melodies to provide something new in the bridge, audiences instinctively know and expect that we’re going to hear the chorus or verse again shortly. So a bridge, in that sense, can build suspense or forward motion by creating an important sense of musical expectation. It’s a great option for songs that need some energy.

And it is indeed an optional section. Not all songs need it, and not all songs will use a bridge. Adele’s “Rolling In the Deep” has no bridge, but uses subtle instrumental/production changes to provide the variety necessary to keep the energy up.

If you’re having trouble adding a bridge to your song, here are some tips to keep in mind:

  1. Take this new section into a new key area. Where to go is entirely up to you, but here are a couple of ideas that will always work: a) For songs (i.e., song choruses) in a major key, go to the relative minor key; or b) For songs in a minor key, go to the relative major.
  2. Begin the transition back to your original key once you’ve passed the halfway point of the bridge. Most song bridges won’t be very long, but however long you have it, the last few bars need to be transitioning back to the key of your song.
  3. Make a decision as to how energetic you want your chorus to be. Most of the time, a bridge will increase musical energy, building up to a climactic moment somewhere before returning to the chorus (or 3rd verse). But a quiet bridge can be a good way of providing contrast for a constantly higher-energy song. John Newman’s “Losing Sleep” (John Newman, Steve Booker, Benny Blanco) is a good example of this. The start of the bridge begins a transition to a quieter more introspective bridge section, before things power up again for a return to the chorus.
  4. Use a bridge instead of a chorus. A song without a chorus needs a verse that acts as a complete musical journey. In other words, you’ve written a verse that ends solidly on a tonic chord (and solidly enough that you could end the song with that section if you chose). You get the same possibilities for songs that sound like a chorus without a verse, and then adding a bridge. Lennon & McCartney’s “Nowhere Man” is a good example.
  5. Be sure your lyrics provide the necessary conclusion to whatever the verse and chorus has been talking about. And this is particularly true if the next section after the bridge is a chorus. If your bridge moves to a 3rd verse, use your bridge to answer whatever questions are posed (directly or indirectly) by the previous verses, and use your 3rd verse to provide the logical finisher for your lyric.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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