How to Write Better Bridges to Create a More Interesting Song
It’s Monday, and you know what that means! Ed Elefterion is back with another part of his One Man Production Machine column. Today’s well be talking about one of his favorite parts of the arrangement. What is it? Keep reading to find out.
If you missed the previous columns, check them out below:
- One Man Production Machine Introduction
- Part 2 – Capture the Audience With Your Songwriting
- Part 3 – How to Write Lyrics
- Part 4 – Writing Memorable Melodies and Killer Chords
- Part 5 – Verse vs. Chorus
Last time, we took a good look at verses and choruses, the strengths of each, and simple ways to differentiate them. Today, we look at my personal favorite part of songwriting: the Bridge.
Why do I love writing bridges? I think it’s because they give me a chance to really depart from the structure of the song in just about every way. I can change the tonal center, the time signature, the rhythm, the melody (lyrics or not), the orchestration. I feel like a kid in a candy shop invited to mix up tastes, find something new, and arrive somewhere very different than where I started.
And that is really the key: this simple question…
Where Does The Bridge Go?
They’re called “bridges” for a reason. They connect one place to another. These places should be different. Sometimes they’re wildly different. Sometimes they’re mildly different. Sometimes the two sides of a bridge aren’t different at all to listen to but the journey while crossing the bridge is the point.
To Bridge Or Not To Bridge
Alas…just because I love writing them doesn’t mean I always use them. Many famous songs don’t need a bridge and don’t have a bridge.
Decades ago, songs without bridges were rare. Today, the opposite is true: most pop and top-40 songs don’t have a bridge. Seems that young audiences (where the money is) prefer repetition and variation of the chorus (hook) than the more divergent musical and lyrical depth of a bridge.
In case you haven’t noticed…I’m not interested in pop charts. But when I’m writing, I always – every time – ask myself:
Does this song need a bridge at all?
If it doesn’t need to go anywhere that it isn’t already at…the answer is no, and I focus instead on the relationship between the verse and the chorus. (We’ll get to intros and outros later…another favorite subject of mine.)
Back in the day (and mostly in England) bridges were referred to as the Middle 8. Why? They usually happened in the middle of the song (after 2 verses and at least 1 chorus) and lasted 8 measures. The Middle. 8.
Since I Gave Up Hope (I Feel Much Better) uses a very unorthodox bridge. It’s 20 measures and has two distinct sections. It’s almost another song entirely but…the lyrical content, the development of the orchestration over time (something I began from the first note of the intro), the build of energy and momentum (I bet you didn’t notice the tempo increasing subtly throughout the entire bridge)…all made it necessary for the song to arrive at the final chorus and outro, which really swings with a quicker tempo, a full band with horns, high energy vocals and an entirely new melody that busts out as the song fades.
The ending doesn’t make sense without the bridge. Believe me, I tried it.
I tried it with the bridge repeating (with different lyrics the second time around) because I thought I needed two to get the engine hot enough to justify the final chorus/outro. It turned out that less was more (it almost always is) and that repeating the bridge had the opposite effect: it made the section too long and the listener kind of got ahead of the emotional build. As soon as I cut the second bridge – which I resisted because I really liked the lyrics (and I worked so hard on the thing) – but the moment I cut it I knew it worked. From there, I never looked back and focused only on shaping what remained.
Namely: getting the timing and tempo right to launch into the final chorus.
Bridges are fun for me. Maybe they are for you, too. But maybe not.
If you want to get more familiar with building them or strengthen your bridge-building-muscles…
Here are some tips.
Build It Somewhere Else
Build it on a different chord than the ones you build the verse and chorus on. If your verse starts on an A and your chorus starts on an E (the 5th), pick a different place to build your bridge. Try D (the 4th) or F# minor (the 6th) or even B minor (the 2nd). Why? It will change the tonal center of your song while keeping it relative to the place you’ll eventually return to: your chorus (or your verse).
A Different Perspective
Invite the listener to consider the subject of your song in a new way. If the verse is about all the ways my life sucks because you’re gone and the chorus sums it up with a refrain of “Please come back”, the bridge might be about an old letter I found from when our love was young, or how I’m going to make it up to you, or the way you promised we’d be together forever. I’m just riffing here but I bet you get the idea.
Keep It Short & New
The idea of Middle 8 comes in handy when building bridges. Think of it as 8 measures of totally new territory: new melody, new chords, new lyrics with a new take on the subject, new orchestration, new drum pattern. For 32 beats the sky’s the limit. (If you’re in 4/4, that’s all 8 measures can contain: 32 beats.)
Keep It Simple
If we’re in 4/4 and you’re aiming for 8 measures: try creating a bridge with just 4 chord changes. I didn’t say just 4 chords. You can move between the same two chords if you like, I’m only saying to change chords 4 times.
Of course, you can expand (or shrink) this number once you get into developing whatever you come up. The idea here is to keep it simple early on and find some melody/chords you like. Then once you’ve got something basic, you can get more sophisticated with color tones or adding chords in between the 2 (or more) that you use as the main structure of the bridge.
But I’m getting into arranging again.
Have you noticed how often I drift into arranging whenever I start to develop some ideas? The secret is…
I’m arranging the whole time I’m writing.
And so are you.
I turn the focus from songwriting to Arranging (with a capital “A”).
I’ve got a few days’ worth of techniques to share. We’ll look at tempo, time and key signatures, intros, outros, orchestration, and specialty instruments.
I hope you’re enjoying the series and getting some use out of it.
(If you’ve been following the series you’re sick of seeing this section. I kind of am too. But I tack it on the end for those who are just dipping in here and there so I can get the word out to as many folks as possible. Thanks for putting up with it. And everyone else who’s confused by that last paragraph…you’re missing out. Go back through the previous posts and dig up some nuggets for yourself.)
If you’re overwhelmed, you’re not alone. Shoot me an email and I’ll help you out with a…
I’ll listen to your demo, we’ll Skype for 15 min and I’ll tell you what I’d do. You can take my ideas (or not) and execute them yourself.
Or, if you want more direct help, we can talk about how much (or how little) you want me to be involved.
We’ll work out a fair price…I’m not in this for the money. I’m an artist, too, and I won’t exploit other artists. But more on this later.