Jack Johnson

One of the Best Reasons to Add a Bridge to Your Song

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A bridge is an optional section of a song that usually happens either:

  1. …after the second chorus in songs that use the verse-chorus format, or
  2. …after the second verse in songs that don’t use a chorus (verse only, or verse-refrain).

Jack Johnson’s song “Banana Pancakes” is a great example of use of a bridge in a verse-chorus song. After the second chorus (with a short extension), you’ll hear the bridge start at 1’43”. It begins on a ii-chord (Am) — a minor choice, which contrasts nicely with the original key of G major. The end of the bridge connects to a third verse at 2’16”.

Many of Lennon and McCartney’s early songs use the verse-bridge form: “I Should Have Known Better“, “Love Me Do“, and “You Won’t See Me” (which uses a short refrain before the bridge”.)

There are several reasons that a song might use a bridge. In the case of these Beatles songs, the reason is that there’s no chorus to help provide a musical contrast. So the bridge keeps the verse from wearing out its welcome.

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 10-eBook BundleA bridge section is an important part of a song’s formal design, and form partners up with other aspects of good songwriting. That’s all dealt with in Chapter 3 of “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBook. Get it separately, or as part of the 10-eBook Bundle.

But one of the most common ways that a bridge can be helpful is if the verse and chorus are a bit too unadventurous: their melodies are either 1) somewhat restricted in range, or 2) repetitious.

Verses and (especially) choruses that feature a short, repeated hook, could very much benefit from adding a bridge. This is especially true if:

  1. the bridge takes the song in a new direction with regard to key or chord choice.
  2. the bridge offers a new sort of mood that contrasts with the mood generated by the verse and chorus.

A hook is essential in most pop songs, but there’s a danger of it becoming too repetitious, and listeners automatically look for something new and interesting, and that’s where a well-written bridge can be exactly what the song needs.

Remember that a bridge has an important role with regard to lyrics, and it’s this: a bridge lyric (especially if the bridge is followed by chorus repeats which ends the song) is the last new lyric listeners will hear, so you’ve got to craft your lyric in such a way that the bridge lyric finishes whatever you started in your verse and chorus.

If you want to know if your song would benefit from adding a bridge, try this: Let’s assume you’ve written a song in a major key. Find the vi-chord in your key. (For example, if your song is primarily built around the C chord, find the sixth note in C major — A — and play a minor chord.)

Now, sing your song, and after you’ve gotten through the second chorus (or second verse in verse-only formats), strum an Am chord. You’ll either find it to be a welcome chord, in which a bridge might be a good choice, or it will sound a bit intrusive, in which case a bridge may just make your song sound cluttered.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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