Published on August 20th, 2012 | by Tom0
5 tips to Improve your bridges
A bridge is there to join two sections of music together – in the pop song this is most commonly the second chorus and the ending of the song.
It’s there to provide a contrast to the rest of the song by giving us a change in mood, tempo, dynamics, rhythm or harmony.
One way to think of it is as a moment of uncertainty – we know the rest of the song is say an uptempo major key rocker, so suddenly having a slow minor bridge makes us uncertain – and gives us a moment of emotional climax as we return to the uptempo rock for the final chorus.
5 tips to make your bridge work:
1. Change Pace – this is simple but can be really effective. Nirvana had several songs for example that had a bridge that was just a third verse – but with the pace much slower and some of the instruments taken out.
2. Reach a climax/high point – if you’ve got a great singer, here’s where you make them work – give them their highest pitched note in the bridge. Think of all those Mariah Carey songs where the higest note happens in the bridge, before taking us back down to the chorus.
3. Make the rhythm uncertain – by uncertain I just mean different to the main beat of the song. If you’ve a simple 4/4 beat with kick and snare for most of the song, maybe we need something based on the toms for the bridge? If the song is mostly syncopated grooves, maybe some dead simple stabs will make a good bridge? If the the song is mostly swung, maybe the bridge has a straight feel, or maybe there are all sorts of drum fills to take us completely away from a groove at all – only to return to the main groove for the final chorus.
4. Make the harmony uncertain – in the same way you can play with the listener’s expectations of harmony. Go to the relative minor in a major key song for example. Or change key a few times, making us uncertain of what key we’re actually in – this can give you that moment of realise when we hit harmonic certainty when returning to the chorus.
5. Say something different – lyrically the bridge can be the time you give us a new perspective. It’s a break-up song? Tell us how good the relationship could have been. It’s a narrative song? Here’s where the story takes a twist.
One of my favourite bridges ever is ‘Alive’ by Pearl Jam
Despite the uplifting chorus, Alive is a pretty bleak song – It tells the story of a young man who first discovers the man he thought was his father isn’t, before having an incestuous relationshp with his mother. Eddie Vedder has said that the fans’ reaction to the song has turned it into something hopeful nonetheless and it’s become a song about overcoming adversity.
It also has a great bridge just before the last chorus.
It’s quieter than the rest of the song, the lyrics give us a new perspective as the main character tries to figure out how he feels. The verses tell the story, so this bridge is the first time the character asks questions and thinks about the main theme of the song.
My favourite detail is its harmonic ‘uncertain’, changing key by a tone halfway through, ending up on a B, which leads nicely into the last chorus in E.
I am biased – Ten was my favourite album when I was a teenager and I’ll always have a soft spot for it, but I do think this is one of the best bridges in songwriting.
For the comments – what else makes a good bridge? Any examples?