Song Anatomy 101: The Bridge

By Holly Watson

A song can be written and survive quite well without a bridge. It's an optional part, like an appendix. There are plenty of popular songs out there, living perfectly healthy lives and getting lots of airplay, that are bridge-less. Unlike your expendable appendix, however, a bridge can be a very useful and desirable, even powerful, part of your song.

The bridge, also called the "break" or "release," usually occurs about two-thirds of the way into the song. It should offer a melodic as well as a lyrical contrast to the other parts of the song. Between verses, as in the case of a verse-verse-bridge-verse arrangement (also stated AABA), the bridge is often lengthier than when used as a contrasting "C section" in a song with both a verse and chorus (stated ABABCB). (Note that each letter represents a melodic change in song parts; "B" does not mean "bridge.") When an instrumental interlude or solo is used in a verse-chorus (ABAB) song, it is not considered a true bridge.

When building your bridge it's important to keep in mind that it should make such a smooth transition from one song part to another that it feels like it truly belongs there. Stay on the subject of our song. You want your listener to be carried "across," not "away."

Your melody should sound appreciably different from those of the verse and chorus. (The melodic range is generally higher in the bridge, though there are always exceptions to the rule.) The idea is to go to a new place in the bridge, both melodically and lyrically, providing a release from previously heard material as well as some new information that keeps your audience interested in the song.

The bridge is the perfect place to heighten the dramatic content of your song. If, in your verses, the pronoun "you" predominates, switch to the more intimate "I" in your bridge, where the singer can personalize, philosophize, or reveal a new emotional viewpoint as yet unheard, up to that point, in the song. The bridge could serve as a flashback, temporarily interrupting the chronology, giving the listener the opportunity to know the whole story. Still another technique for holding your listener's attention to introduce opposites in the bridge. If you're dealing with leaving in your verses, talk about staying in the bridge. Similarly, offer some hope as contrast to verses that portray a character in a melancholic state of mind.

The best way to learn the craft of bridge building is to listen to popular songs, writing down the lyrics, and labeling the song parts. Notice where the bridge occurs, what its function s in the song, how the melody moves with momentum through the bridge toward that final chorus. Learning to make your song as memorable and exciting as it can be is your job as a successful songwriter. So take your song where it's never gone before — build a bridge!

Examples of AABA:

Over the Rainbow

Hey, Jude

We've Only Just Begun

Saving All My Love for You

Examples of ABABCB:

Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay

I Don't Have the Heart"

The River