With some songs, it’s hard to even imagine them without the bridge.
That contrasting part that can add so much emotional impact or excitement, and then sends us joyfully into the last chorus.
-Btw, just to make sure we are on the same page – the bridge we’re talking about is the part that comes usually right before the last chorus, for example:
Verse 1 | pre-chorus 1 | chorus 1 | verse 2 | pre-chorus 2 | chorus 2 | bridge | chorus 3
Step 1 – does your song even need a bridge?
When you are “behind the wheel” as a songwriter and you reach the point where you think whether your song needs a bridge…
I think there is one main question that would tell you whether or not your song needs a bridge:
“Have I said everything that I can say in order to let the listener feel the main feeling that’s behind the song? Or can I actually tastefully increase the song’s emotional impact by adding this bridge?”
Remember that sometimes less is more and there’s really no need for it, but if you do feel like a bridge is going to be a good call – let’s see how we can create the best bridge that we can.
Also, remember that sometimes when you want to add an extra section or “let the song breathe”, perhaps an instrumental solo could serve this puspose better than a lyrical bridge. (And even if you’re performing the song with just your voice and an acoustic guitar, you can still sing / whistle a solo)
“Contrast” is the key word here
If you pay attention to it, you would see that the main element that makes the bridge “the bridge” is the fact that you immediately feel that it’s here once it happens.
It shakes up your ears.
And it does that using contrast from the rest of the song.
This contrast can come in several different ways all at once, so let’s have a look at some different options to create it, so you can pick what you think might suit your song.
Musical Contrast vs. Lyrical Contrast in a Bridge
Let’s divide the ways that we can add the contrast into the “music-based” ones (those that happen in the chords or the melody) and the lyric-based ones.
8 Ways to Create Musical Contrast
1 – Start the bridge on a different chord than the “I” chord
Most verses and choruses would have their first chord as the I chord. (For example the C major chord in the key of C major)
The I is the tonic chord, the one that feels the most like “home”.
But when you choose a different chord as the first chord of a section – the whole feeling changes, and you can add some tension this way.
A very common chord to use as the chord that opens up the bridge would be for example the IV chord or the V chord.
So for example, if we are in the key of C and your verse and chorus were C-Am-F-G (I-iv-IV-V), try something like an F-G-C-F-G-C (VI-V-I) for the bridge as a starting point, and see where it takes you.
A great example of this is “All I Have to Do Is Dream” by The Everly Brothers. The bridge starts at 0:49, (“I can make you mine, taste your lips of wine”) and the whole song follows the exact chord structure from the previous paragraph.
Notice the different feeling that the chord progression of the bridge gives it.
2 – Move from major to minor or vice versa, creating a “happy / sad” contrast
If you start the bridge on the vi chord (for example, in the key of C major that would be Am) – you just got yourself a whole new section in a minor feel.
It’s as simple as that.
An example of such a thing is in the bridge of “Take Me Home, Country Roads” by John Denver.
The song is in the key of A major, and in the verses and the choruses, (which start on an A major chord) we have a happy, energetic major feel.
Then in the bridge (“I hear her voice in the morning hour she calls me”), it starts on an F#m chord (which is the vi chord in the key of A major) and you can easily tell how that new, slightly melancholic feeling, also works well with the lyrics that have now also become more about “longing for West Virginia” than about “celebrating West Virginia”.
3 – Changing the rhythm
This would be a kind of contrast that would immediately “shake up” the listener’s ears, where for example you can go from a more “straight” rhythm into a groovier rhythmthat makes people literally dance and move their bodies. (or the opposite – move from a very danceable song to a more relaxed bridge)
A great example of this is Hey Ya by Outkast (the bridge starts with “shake it, shake it” at 3:55). Try not to bob your head when that bridge comes around. It’s pretty hard…
The chords, by the way, stay exactly the same as the rest of the song, the only thing that changes is the rhythm.
A tip for doing it yourself: 2 cool and free apps that you can use for checking out interesting rhythm ideas are Drum Beats+ (iPhone) and Loopz (Android).
4 – Moving from a fast tempo to a slow one (or vice versa)
Changing the tempo of the song is a pretty bold and rare move.
One very notable example here, which not only show showcases a changing from a fast tempo to a slow one but also into a different rhythm & time signature (from 4:4 to 6:8), is “Suspicious Minds” by Elvis Presley.
The bridge (“Oh let our love survive”) starts at 1:45. You gotta check it out, it surely can give you a lot of inspiration.
It’s not easy to pull this one off and you probably need to have either a pretty fast / pretty slow song to create a notable tempo change, but this is definitely something to try.
5 – Moving to a different key
This is probably the most “intense” one. (definitely “up there” with changing the tempo)
For example, Under the Bridge by Red Hot Chili Peppers is in the key of E major, but then at 2:52 it moves into the key of A major / A minor (kind of a mix of both) – a very drastic move. Check it out before I’ll give you some ideas on how to try it yourself:
How to try it yourself? It’s almost like you’re trying to fit something that might sound like a completely different song – into the song that you already have.
So put on your adventures hat and try some chord progressions from totally different keys, and see if you can find something that feels like it might be a good fit.
Also, it might be challenging to “survive” another key change, so you don’t have to go back to another chorus in the original key like how bridges often do. (this is also what’s happening in Under the Bridge, the bridge serves as a kind of an outro actually, there’s nothing after it)
Another example of something similar is the bridge in “Something” by the Beatles, which moves from the key of C major into the key of A major. (at 1:15)
However, this key change doesn’t sound as intense as the one in Under the Bridge, and I believe it is because C major and A major share a lot more notes than the key of E “vs” the key of A minor. (Btw, an extra nugget – you can “physically” see that by seeing how far these two are on the circle of fifths)
6 – Melody-wise: Changing the structure and note lengths
One of the biggest hits of 2021 was “Driver’s License” by Olivia Rodrigo.
The bridge, which starts at 2:30, is an extremely powerful example of leveraging a different melodic structure than the rest of the song to establish drama. (It is short and rhythmic, and mostly moves back and forth just between two notes)
How to do it yourself? I believe that the idea is not to get bogged down into thinking about it in terms of complex sheet music, but just go by ear and by feel. We can all tell the difference between singing a loooong note and between shorter ones (also often called staccato) – so using a different kind of them than the ones you were mostly using previously could go a long way in adding contrast to the bridge.
Have a listen here, starting from 2:30, to the increased use of short, staccato notes:
7 – Melody-Wise – moving to a different register (for example – moving to singing mostly high notes)
Higher-pitched notes are naturally associated with more energy and more “drama”, hence they can be a great fit for many of the bridges.
So if during the other parts of the song you weren’t necessarily going that high, the bridge can be an ideal place to do so.
An excellent example of this would be the bridge in “Fix You” by Coldplay, especially during the last part of the bridge– where they bring it to the top of their energyby reaching to the highest notes.
(The bridge starts at 3:22 with “tears stream”, and the peak of it with the highest notes happens at 4:05-4:22)
8 – Singing energy & volume – moving from low/medium energy to high energy or vice versa
Two of my personal favorite bridges ever are “Breakaway” by Kelly Clarkson, and also “Don’t Speak” by No Doubt.
Both of them are pop songs, and a common thing you’ll see in bridges in pop songs is that the singer would really raise the energy and the volume while singing it.
This naturally serves to increase the emotional impact and launch us into the final chorus at a climactic emotional point.
Obviously, this isn’t for everyone, and if you try it at home it might feel too “dramatic” or out of your style, (also, singing on pitch while increasing the volume might be more challenging for many) but remember that it’s one of the tools at your disposal.
Kelly Clarkson – Breakaway. The bridge starts at 2:45 (“buildings with a hundred floors”…)
No Doubt – Don’t Speak. The bridge starts at 2:31 (“it’s all ending”…)
What About Lyrical Contrast?
This post focuses mostly on the musical aspect of composing the bridge, but the idea of contrast also applies directly to the lyrics.
Two great examples of different types of contrast in the lyrics, are first of all the song “Perfectly Lonely” by John Mayer.
It is one of the less known songs by him, but the reason I chose it is that the contrast here is extremely obvious, which makes it a great example.
The contrast is that while the song is called “Perfectly Lonely”, and he spends most of it lamenting how happy he is that he is single and can do whatever he wants…
I’m perfectly lonelyI’m perfectly lonely I’m perfectly lonely Yeah Cause I don’t belong to anyone And nobody belongs to meI see my friends around from time to timeWhen the ladies let us slip away And when they ask me how I’m doing with mine This is always what I sayNothing to doNowhere to be A simple little kind of free Nothing to do No one to be Is it really hard to see?
And this is not to sayThere never comes a day I’ll take my chances and start again And when I look behind On all my younger times I have to thank the wrongs That led me to a love so strong
The 2nd example I want to highlight on the lyrics side is a simpler one: Ain’t No Sunshine
While the verses go mostly around the theme of…
“Ain’t no sunshine when she’s goneIt’s not warm when she’s away”
The bridge simply revolves just around “I know”, and he repeats it no less than 26 times.
Definitely a sound way to create contrast between the song parts.
And I know, I know, I know, I knowI know, I know, I know, I know, I know I know, I know, I know, I know, I know I know, I know, I know, I know, I know I know, I know, I know, I know, I know I know, I know Hey I oughta leave young thing alone But ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone, woh woh
This is it! I hope the post has been helpful to you!
I’d be happy to hear in the comments about your perspective on composing a bridge, about your favorite bridges, (what are they?)and your favorite way to create a bridge.
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