What is a bridge in a song?

What Is a Bridge in a Song?

Whoever named the parts of modern songs knew what they were doing. Verses, choruses, and bridges all have names that relate to their role in a song.

Verse comes from the Latin word “vertere,” which means “to turn,” as in turn a page in a story. Verses should tell the story[1]. Chorus means a large group of people singing together[2], which is typically what a chorus feels like.

So what is a bridge in a song? Think of it along the lines of its real-world association.

To become familiar with what a song’s bridge does in modern music, we’ll go over:

  1. What a bridge is
  2. What a bridge does
  3. Using a bridge in verse/refrain songs
  4. Using a bridge in verse/chorus/verse/chorus songs
  5. Tips for writing a bridge in your song

What Is a Bridge?

A song’s bridge is a section that’s meant to feel different from the other parts. It’s supposed to be a contrasting part yet one that still fits within the context of the song. A lot of times, bridges use a new chord progression, a new time signature, even a new key.

A bridge is never the very end of a song. If a new section ends a song, that’s usually called an outro or tag. A bridge is meant to take us back into the song, back into the chorus most of the time.

What Does a Bridge Do?

Imagine a real bridge — it connects two sections of land, allowing you to walk across the body of water or crevice in the earth. It’s also new terrain and makes the whole horizon just look cool.

That’s what a song’s bridge does.

Bridges vary quite a lot, but they all basically do the same things. And these are the main things a good bridge attempts to do.

Add Variety

A bridge gives people a new thing to experience, strengthening the overall song, and it connects the song to itself in some way. You should never just slap on a bridge for the sake of it. There should be a good reason, whether to move the story along or to add a new musical part to a repetitive song.

If your song just shuffles between a verse and a chorus, it can easily get boring (not always, but sometimes). A bridge adds variety to your song, which is a good way to make people’s ears perk up.

Surprise is a powerful tool in your Songwriter’s toolbelt — use it in the bridge.

Create Tension

Tension and release are key elements in any well-written song. If a song is all release, it becomes predictable and boring. If a song is all tension, no one will want to listen to it. But when you have a nice balance of both, that’s when people are sucked into the song.

A bridge is the perfect place to build tension. You introduce a new part of the song that feels tense, then release the listener into a guitar solo over the verse chords or right back into the epic chorus.

Connect Two Parts of Song

Let’s say your song has a pre-chorus, chorus, and a bridge. But to go from the chorus to a repeat pre-chorus would sound awkward. That’s where the bridge comes in — you can use it to help connect the chorus to the pre-chorus so you can repeat that killer chorus. A bridge can make a song flow smoothly.

Using a Bridge in Verse/Refrain Songs

Many songs — often in Singer-songwriter and folk circles — have a Verse-Refrain structure or an AABA structure. This is when there are at least three verses with a short refrain, usually just a line, at the end of each verse. Storytelling songwriters (Bob Dylan, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen) like to use this a lot.

Using a bridge in these songs almost always works because these songs tend to be a bit repetitive. A bridge is the thing that breaks that repetitiveness and can also provide a bit of lift to the song.

A great example of this is The Beatles’ “We Can Work It Out.” The verses start with either “Try to see it my way” or “Think of what you’re saying.” One person is begging the other in the relationship to see the other side of things, to work with them to find a middle ground. The whole song is hopeful that everything will be okay, seen best in the refrain at the end of each verse: “We can work it out.”

Then there’s the bridge[3]:

Life is very short, and there’s no time
For fussing and fighting, my friend.
I have always thought that it’s a crime,
So I will ask you once again.

The lyrics are taking a different angle than the earlier “please see my side so we can work this out.” In the bridge, the lyrics have an attitude that’s more “c’mon we can’t keep going on like this — life is too short to be bickering all the time!”

The song actually goes Bridge-Refrain-Bridge, then back into two more Verse-Refrain sections, which is a variation on the typical Verse-Refrain-Bridge structure.

But you can see how the bridge added something to the song — musically and to the story. It doesn’t feel like an obligatory addition. It’s an important part of the song.

Imagine a real bridge — it connects two sections of land, allowing you to walk across the body of water or crevice in the earth. It’s also new terrain and makes the whole horizon just look cool. That’s what a song’s bridge does.

Using a Bridge in Verse/Chorus/Verse/Chorus Songs

One of the most famous song structures is the Verse-Chorus framework, also called ABAB (A = verse, B = chorus). And oftentimes, bridges work really well in this structure, making it ABABCB (C = bridge). So in this situation, the bridge connects the last two choruses together.

This helps keep the song from getting too repetitive. But like I mentioned earlier, you shouldn’t write a bridge just because. The bridge should add to the song and make it stronger.
A good example of an ABABCB song structure is Coldplay’s “Fix You.” It actually goes Verse-Verse-Chorus-Verse-Bridge-Chorus. The bridge in this song serves as the climax, the epitome of the song’s epicness.

Through the verses and into the chorus, the song is building, instruments slowing joining the fray. The bridge — a new part musically and lyrically — explodes before calming to a quiet final chorus[4]:

Tears come streaming down your face
When you lose something you cannot replace
oh and tears come streaming down your face
And I

Tears streaming down your face
I promise you I will learn from all my mistakes
oh and the tears streaming down your face
And I

If there’s no bridge, the song wouldn’t really have gone anywhere. It wouldn’t require that huge build, or the build would’ve felt forced.

My point here is that Coldplay effectively used a bridge, just like The Beatles did in “We Can Work It Out” and so many other Songwriters have done. And we can all learn from these songs.

Tips for Writing a Bridge in Your Song

Now let’s cover some tips for writing a bridge in your own songs. Keep in mind, these are suggestions, not rules. Great bridges may or may not follow these elements, even though most great bridges do.

Put the Bridge After the Second Chorus

Bridges work really well after the second chorus of your song. So in the ABAB song structure, it would go Verse 1 → Chorus → Verse 2 → Chorus → Bridge → Chorus. When people hear a bridge, they expect the end of the song to be coming pretty soon. Just the feel of a bridge makes it sound as if there’s closure on the horizon.

Use a New Chord Progression

Nearly any bridge you hear is going to have a different chord progression than the other parts of the song. Songs in a major key will often focus on minor keys in the bridge and vice versa.

Sometimes what makes a bridge powerful is its fragility. The keyword here is “contrast.” If you can create a contrast between a gentle bridge and an upbeat or epic chorus, that makes the bridge serve its purpose perfectly.

Write a New Melody

Bridges almost always introduce a new melody. If you’re trying to add variety and use tension, a new melody is needed. You can’t just recycle the verse or chorus melody — that, to me, doesn’t make any sense. It should have a new feel, one that fits the new chord progression.

Try Making the Bridge Subtle

Sometimes what makes a bridge powerful is its fragility. The keyword here is “contrast.” If you can create a contrast between a gentle bridge and an upbeat or epic chorus, that makes the bridge serve its purpose perfectly.

One way to do this is to shift the progression to an altered chord — one that typically shows up in other keys than the one your song is in. In other words, use an unexpected chord.

Use Lyrics That Deepen the Meaning

Like I said before, you shouldn’t just slap on a bridge and call it a day. A bridge should add to the song, and one way to do that is through the lyrics. Typically, verse lyrics describe with details, chorus lyrics tap into an emotional response, and bridge lyrics sort of combine the elements. A good bridge both describes details while using emotional language.

Follow the Bridge

One thing Paul Simon talks about is following your song rather than trying to force it somewhere it doesn’t want to go[5]. And that’s very true for the bridge. If you feel your song needs a third verse, make the bridge flow smoothly into it. If the bridge adds closure and feels more like an ending, write it to transition into one more chorus.

To do this, you’ll want to consider the chord progression and melody going into the final section of the song. This can mean ending the bridge with a “connecting” chord rather than a “home” chord to create a sense of “this song isn’t over yet.” It helps create a smoother transition into the next part of the song.

References

  1. “Verse.” Merriam-Webster. Retrieved 17 September 2019.
  2. “Chorus.” Merriam-Webster. Retrieved 17 September 2019.
  3. “We Can Work It Out.” The Beatles on Spotify. Retrieved 17 September 2019.
  4. “Fix You.” Coldplay on Spotify. Retrieved 17 September 2019.
  5. Zollo, Paul (1 September 2011) “Paul Simon On Songwriting: I Know What I Know.” American Songwriter. Retrieved 17 September 2019.
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