So your songwriting is going well. You’re comfortable with constructing verses and you’re just getting the hang of coming up with choruses a hook and a memorable melody. But now you want to take your song to the next level. The next song component you should consider is the “bridge”.
What is a bridge in a song? Why is it named that? The bridge of a song functions as a point of departure. A pallet cleanser of sorts. After you have exhausted the sounds of your verse and chorus, due to repeating them two or three times each, it is nice to transition into a third, sonically different, part to recapture the attention of the listener. The same way a bridge is a point of departure from one side of a river to the other, the bridge of a song functions as a point of departure that usually launches us toward the final portion of the song.
TAKE IT TO THE BRIDGE
Bridges can take many forms and are not limited to just one type. Fans of James Brown will recognize the phrase “Take it to the bridge!” from a few of his recordings and many of his live performances. For James Brown, the bridge is an instrumental section that features a new melody and rhythmic line, such as in “Sex Machine”. It creates a break for the listeners’ ears, a new context that freshens up the original riff when the band returns to it, and sometimes makes space for James Brown to dance.
He verbally asks the band if he can take it to the bridge, to which they yell in agreement. He then signals to the band the moment he wants the bridge to begin and the new part commences. It is a testament to James Brown’s innovation and showmanship style. Example:
MORE COMMON BRIDGE TECHNIQUES
In popular music, most bridges have lyrics and serve to either step away from the main motif of the song for a moment or to create a climax or moment of perspective change in the story the lyrics are telling. Here are a few ways to make your bridge different enough to stand out and function well.
1.) New chord change: The number one way to ensure your bridge sounds and feels different enough from the rest of the song is changing up the chords. If your song mostly uses major chords such as C-G-F-G, the bridge can be varied by borrowing some of the minors chords in the key to make a chord progression such as Am-G-Em-F.
The opposite principle also has musical and emotional implications. A song mostly using Am-G-F over and over can be freshened up by a portion using C, hinting at another feeling before returning to the original chorus chords.
2.) Mix up the beat pattern: Other than introducing new chords, the second-best way to ensure your bridge doesn’t sound like another verse or instrumental section is to change the drumbeat. Common techniques include but are not limited to: putting the beat in half-time, changing the hi-hat pattern to twice the speed, or changing the pieces of the kit the drummer plays.
For example, if the drummer is using the snare, hi-hat, and kick during the verse and chorus, see what changes if he just uses the toms and kick for the bridge, saving the cymbal crash for the epic return of the hook in the chorus.
3.) Make a dynamic shift: If the song is quiet the bridge can erupt into a louder portion, or if the song is a loud rocker you can use your bridge to draw the audience in by quieting down. These techniques help sculpt the arc of the song if you are writing in a genre that values peaks and valleys.
4.) Modulate with a Key Change: For an even more dramatic and ear-catching bridge, some writers go into a new key in the bridge. Although it takes practice messing around with which keys transition nicely into each other, modulating through a bridge and then modulating again into the last choruses is a great way to take a song to dramatic and emotional heights.
A FINAL WORD ON BRIDGES
Not every song has a bridge and some don’t need them. Listening to your favorite songs, as well as purposely listening to songs you usually wouldn’t, is the best way to get this sense of when a song “wants” a bridge or not. An eight verse folk song that tells an ancient story may not need a bridge if the story’s arc doesn’t need it. An example of that is “The Wreck of The Edmund Fitzgerald” by Gordon Lightfoot. No bridge necessary, and that’s ok!
Conversely, some rock and punk songs don’t have a chorus, but instead, repeat a line at the end of every verse. We call that a “tag”. A song that uses a tag instead of a chorus may be a great candidate for a song with a bridge. An example of that is The Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop”.
Either way, listen back, take note, and see how bridges work for your favorite writers/singers. You’ll be on your way to writing more fully realized songs.
Great Bridges For Consideration:
James Brown – “Sex Machine” (instrumental bridge)
The Beatles – “We Can Work It Out” (melodic, rhythmic, key change, and time signature change!)
The Police – “Every Breath You Take” (this song actually has TWO different bridges!)
We hope that learning about bridges and other techniques can take your songwriting to the next level! When your new songs are finished Planetary Group is available to help musicians share their work with the rest of the world. To hear more about the full array of radio promotions services Planetary Group can offer to musicians, call (323) 952-5050 today.