The bridge is arguably one of the most effective but commonly overlooked elements by budding songwriters.
Many musicians and songwriters create a bridge without realizing it—which is fine if it's functional. But, by brushing over the bridge without studying it further, you're missing key opportunities to make your good songs sound great.
To help you “take it to the bridge,” here we explore three essential tips for developing a solid bridge for your songs.
However, before we go any further, consider this:
What is a bridge in songwriting?
On a fundamental level, a songwriting bridge is a lot like a literal bridge in that it bridges the gap between two sections of a song. For example, a bridge can connect a verse and a chorus (this is also referred to as the pre-chorus or link), a verse and a “middle 8” (a version of a bridge that’s eight bars long), or connect two verses to add diversity, tension, or variety to the arrangement.
A bridge is a standalone part of a song. It can be repeated, or it can be utilized just once for impact. The bridge can be reflective, it can build up a song, raising in dynamics (volume and velocity) from the verse or chorus, and it can do the opposite, diminishing in volume to create a more moody, reflective, or understated section of a song.
Some songwriters use a bridge conservatively, others make them into an entire phrase, or even two. But, like all things in music, there are no hard and fast rules—as long as you understand the basics, you can let your creativity be your guide.
1. Explore new chord structures
Whether you’re looking to develop a bridge as an enhanced pre-chorus (bridging the gap between your verse and chorus in a more meaningful way), or you’re looking to repeat it twice within the music, one of the best ways to make it inspiring is to introduce new chords.
It doesn’t have to be a radical key change. By rearranging elements of your verse or chorus and adding one or two fresh chords to formulate your bridge, your song will gain new direction, providing opportunities for new lyrics or instrumental parts or hooks.
An excellent example of this comes in the form of Ryan Adams’ “To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is To Be High).” Written in G major, this infectious track uses most of the chords within the key to create a fluid, almost honky-tonk country feel to the verse, pre-chorus and chorus.
When the bridge arrives (starting with the lyrics ‘oh the days…), the song becomes quieter, and the substitution of G major for a Gmaj7 in addition to the arrangement’s sole use of the Bm chord takes the song to a new dimension, benefiting from reflective, emotional lyrics that are augmented by warm harmonies.
This particular bridge goes to show that with slight by intentive chordal tweaks, you can add a whole new layer of depth to the song with less than 20 seconds of music.