At a songwriting conference I attended, GRAMMY winning singer/songwriter Colbie Caillat shared some comments that her father, record producer and engineer Ken Caillat (Fleetwood Mac, Frank Sinatra, the Beach Boys) had made regarding bridges in songs. He had stated that bridges are crucial elements because they are typically the final new component introduced in a song. They are the last chance to convince a listener that they are hearing something exceptional—the last chance to take a song to the next level and seal the deal.
To begin our examination of this vital building block let’s look at the two types of popular song forms that contain bridges.
Song Structures That Include Bridges
Bridges are found in songs that include choruses—and in those that do not. In songs that include verses and choruses, bridges are optional. Although we don’t know the exact percentage of songs that include bridges, it has been estimated that bridges can be found in almost fifty percent of songs that are built with verses and choruses. If a bridge is included in a Verse-Chorus song, it almost always connects the second and third choruses. This form is typically expressed:
- V-C-V-C-B-C (or A-B-A-B-C-B)
Songs that do not include choruses are most often constructed with two verses (with each verse having the same melody, but different lyrics) followed by a bridge and a final verse (that has the same melody as the previous verses, but new lyrics). This form is typically expressed:
- V-V-B-V (or A-A-B-A)
A common variation of this structure repeats the bridge and ends with a final verse.
- V-V-B-V-B-V (or A-A-B-A-B-A)
Songs crafted without choruses usually include the title at either the beginning of every verse—or the end of every verse. However, there are no rules in songwriting, and there are many notable exceptions.
It is far more common to find the title at the end of each verse in songs with V-V-B-V structures than at the beginning. An excellent example of a song with the title at the end of each verse is “Saving All My Love for You” (recorded by Whitney Houston, written by Gerry Goffin and Michael Masser).
Quite a few of the Beatles’ classic songs used a V-V-B-V structure with the title appearing at the beginning of each verse in many of their hits, including “Michelle” and “Hey Jude.” Listen to an example of this song form in the Beatles’ “Oh, Darlin.”
When examining songs with V-V-B-V-B-V I am sometimes asked to explain, since the bridge is repeated, why it isn’t considered a chorus.
- A chorus almost always includes the song’s title, sometimes multiple times. Bridges typically do not include the title, although there are notable exceptions such as “When A Man Loves a Woman” (written by Calvin Lewis and Andrew Wright, recorded by artists including Percy Sledge and Michael Bolton) which begins each verse—and the bridge—with the title.
- Chorus lyrics are crafted to summarize the essence and emotion of the song—not to bring in new detailed information. As Toby Keith said, “The chorus is the gist of the song; that’s where the idea is delivered.” Bridges are designed to introduce a new element to the lyric—not to recap or encapsulate the song’s meaning.
- Chorus melodies are intended to be the catchiest part of the song—the part the listener sings along with and can’t get out of his or her head. Bridge melodies, while vitally important, are not necessarily the most memorable.
From the 1960s through the 1990s, V-V-B-V and V-V-B-V-B-V structures were quite popular and many songs that incorporated these song forms became standards. But the fact that this structure has fallen out of favor is evident in the fact that only a handful of recent and current hits use structures that do not include choruses.
The Function of Bridges
Similar to bridges constructed with concrete and steel, bridges made of melodies and lyrics are links intended to connect one element to another. Referred to outside the U.S. as “the middle 8” (although they are not in the middle of the song and might not contain 8 musical bars), bridges are often described as a “departure” or a “release.” They provide contrast, typically introducing new lyric and melodic elements.
In V-C-V-C-B-C songs the bridge delivers listeners back to the chorus from a fresh angle, allowing the title to pay off one last time. Ideally, a bridge will seem to connect seamlessly, both melodically and lyrically, to the verse or chorus that preceded it and then back into the verse or chorus that follows it.
The following tools can help differentiate your bridge lyrically from the rest of the song:
- Introduce an added element to the story—a surprise or a payoff that ties it all together. The writers of “There is No Arizona” (written by Shaye Smith, Lisa Drew and Jamie O’Neal and recorded by Jamie O’Neal) accomplished this beautifully in one of my all-time favorite bridges.
- Switch from telling a story to more general or philosophical statements—or vice versa. For an example listen to “Live Like You Were Dying” (Written by Tim Nichols and Craig Wiseman and recorded by Tim McGraw)
- Change the timeframe, for example, looking back on the past or imagining what the future might hold, as my co-writer Karen Taylor-Good and I did in our song “On Angels’ Wings” (recorded by Karen Taylor-Good and recorded by Collin Raye, retitled as “She’s Gonna Fly.”)
Musically, you can add an element of contrast by using one or more of these tools:
- Use rhythms that are different from those heard in the verses or choruses as the writers did in “You Lie” (written by Aaron, Brian and Clara Henningsen and performed by The Band Perry)
- Introduce one or more chords that have not been used elsewhere in the song. For an exceptional example of a song with a bridge that brings in new chords listen to GRAMMY winner, “Every Breath You Take” (written by Sting and recorded by the Police)
- Incorporate notes that are either higher or lower than those used in the other sections. In “The Song Remembers When” (written by Hugh Prestwood and recorded by Trisha Yearwood), the lowest note in the song is found in the bridge.
- Use a rap or a spoken section as in Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off” (written by Taylor Swift, Shellback and Max Martin)
Bridges are most often 4 or 8 musical bars and 2 or 4 lines of lyrics. It is rare for a bridge to exceed 8 musical bars or to contain an odd number of bars.
Bridges can be instrumental, but more often, they contain lyrics.
Pre-Choruses as Bridges
A pre-chorus, sometimes referred to as “a lift” or “a climb,” is a section of a song included at the end of each verse, immediately preceding the chorus. Like bridges, most pre-choruses are 4 or 8 musical bars and include 2 or 4 lines of lyric. The pre-chorus’s function is to connect the verse to the chorus.
Sometimes, in songs with verse-chorus structures that include a pre-chorus, the pre-chorus is repeated between the second and third chorus, essentially serving the function of a bridge.
Whether or Not to Include a Bridge
The decision whether to include a bridge will likely be based on several factors:
- Is there additional information or a different perspective you want to add to your lyric?
- Do you feel like your song might go to a next level if you were to include new chords or additional melodies?
- How long is your song? With popular songs usually ranging from approximately three to four minutes in length, if your song is considerably shorter than three minutes, you might want to consider adding a bridge. Conversely, if, after your second chorus, your song is significantly longer than three minutes, adding a bridge and an additional chorus might have a negative impact if you are hoping for radio airplay.
A bridge is not just some lines and musical bars that are tacked on as an afterthought. An exceptional bridge can propel your song from “good” to “WOW.” Remember… your bridge is your final chance to make your listener love your song––so make it powerful.
Jason Blume is the author of 6 Steps to Songwriting Success, This Business of Songwriting, and Inside Songwriting (Billboard Books). His songs are on three Grammy-nominated albums and have sold more than 50,000,000 copies. One of only a few writers to ever have singles on the pop, country, and R&B charts, all at the same time—his songs have been recorded by artists including Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys, the Gipsy Kings, Jesse McCartney, and country stars including Collin Raye (6 cuts), the Oak Ridge Boys, Steve Azar, and John Berry (“Change My Mind,” a top 5 single that earned a BMI “Million-Aire” Award for garnering more than one million airplays). Jason’s song “Can’t Take Back the Bullet” is on Hey Violet’s recent EP that debuted in the top-10 in twenty-two countries and reached #1 throughout Scandinavia and Asia. He’s had three recent top-10 singles and a “Gold” record in Europe by Dutch star, BYentl, including a #1 on the Dutch R&B iTunes chart, and most recently ventured into the world of EDM with the international release of “Higher Than Heaven” by Xavi & Gi (featuring Adara).
Jason’s songs have been included in films and TV shows including “Scrubs,” “Friday Night Lights,” “Assassination Games,” “Black or White,” Disney’s “Kim Possible” “Dangerous Minds,” “Kickin’ It Old Skool,” “The Guiding Light,” “The Miss America Pageant,” and many more. Jason is in his twentieth year of teaching the BMI Nashville Songwriters workshops. A regular contributor to BMI’s Music World magazine, he presented a master class at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (founded by Sir Paul McCartney), served as a consultant on the state of the music business for CNN International, and teaches songwriting throughout the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Ireland, the U.K., Canada, Bermuda, and Jamaica.
After twelve years as a staff-writer for Zomba Music, Blume now runs Moondream Music Group. For additional information about Jason’s online interactive critiques and webinars, latest books, instructional audio recordings, and workshops, visit www.jasonblume.com.