Guitar, Pencil & Paper

Would a Bridge Add Something Important to Your Song?

A bridge section, in a verse-chorus song, is the section that happens usually after the second chorus:

Verse 1 – Chorus – Verse 2 – Chorus – Bridge…

You also get bridge sections in songs that use one of the designs that don’t use a chorus, or perhaps use a short refrain instead of a full chorus, like Lennon & McCartney’s “I Want to Hold Your Hand”, for example, which is the section that starts with the lyric, “And when I touch you/ I feel happy inside…”

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In early rock & roll days, the bridge was typically eight bars long, and its use was pretty standardized for length. Through the seventies, and definitely the eighties, however, a bridge assumed a more nebulous definition, in which any section that happened halfway or more through a song, and differed from whatever came before it, could be labeled a bridge. It might have been purely instrumental, involving solos, like “Jump” (Van Halen) or Toto’s “Africa.”

How do you know if a bridge is necessary for a song? Would a bridge always add something important to your song, or is there some special way of knowing?

It’s one of those weird circumstances in songwriting — you know a song needs a bridge if it sounds like the melodies you’ve been using run the risk of sounding overused or a bit tiresome if you went on to a third verse without a break from those melodies.

So if you listen to a song like John Lennon’s “Cry Baby Cry“, from The Beatles White Album, you’ll see it uses five choruses before the chorus repeats near the end, with no bridge at all. And it of course sounds just fine as a simple alternation between verses and choruses.

But in a song like Toto’s “Africa”, adding the instrumental bridge deepens the power of the song. The mood suddenly shifts to something lighter, and allows the eventual return of the chorus to sound deeper and more effective.

In your own songwriting, bridges, (the ones that incorporate lyrics) allow for a more complete lyric, as most of the time — unless you follow the bridge with a new verse — the bridge will offer the final opportunity for new lyrics. In other words, for whatever you’re singing about in your song, the bridge is your last chance to complete your lyric.

And most of the time you can really use the old adage, “If it sounds like it needs a bridge, that’s your best indicator that it could benefit from one.”

Because a bridge might make a song sound cluttered, the best troubleshooting advice regarding whether that bridge you wrote really needs to be there is to edit it out of your recording of your song and assess what you hear. You’ll know right away if a bridge is necessary or detrimental.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.  Hooks & Riffs“Hooks and Riffs: How They Grab Attention, Make Songs Memorable, and Build Your Fan Base” shows you how a good hook can make the difference between songwriting success and failure. With great examples from pop music history.Use Your Words! Developing a Lyrics-First Songwriting ProcessThousands of songwriters are using “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting 10-eBook Bundle” to polish their songwriting technique. Discover the secrets to writing great melodies, lyrics, chords, and more. And get a FREE copy of “Use Your Words! Developing a Lyrics-First Songwriting Process.

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