Lennon and McCartney called the bridge section of a song, “the middle eight”. Although there is no rule as to the length and location of your bridge, typically a bridge will be about eight bars and will be located near the middle or last third of your song, usually immediately following the second chorus. (Personally, I prefer a shorter bridge, if well written. Some of the best bridges I’ve heard are only a couple of lines.) But what is the purpose of a bridge?
In short, the bridge is an optional transitional section. Unlike your verses, pre-choruses, and choruses, your bridge should only occur once in any given song, and should be musically and lyrically different from the rest of your song. A bridge prepares your listener for the return of the original material section.
In classical music the bridge is often a musical passage from one portion of an extended work into another, or serves to smooth what might otherwise be an abrupt modulation. In popular music however, the bridge lyric is as important as the bridge music.
Lyrically, the bridge is typically used to pause and reflect on the earlier portions of your song, to sum up the main idea in broad terms, or to prepare your listener for the climax. It can sometimes be an “ah-ha” moment, adding words to expand upon the main theme or helping to finally clarify the previous words or phrases in your song, that may have intentionally had a double meaning.
Back to Lennon and McCartney … some say they wrote the book on great bridges. They would often supply each other with bridges for their songs. The brilliant idea of shifting from one writer to the other for the bridge, only added to the desired contrast that the bridge section was to bring. Take for example Lennon’s addition of the “life is very short” bridge to the otherwise hopeful song, “We Can Work It Out”.
Another thing to consider when writing your bridge is that, by the end of the second chorus of your song, the listener has often had a lot of information to process. A well-crafted bridge will often be used to change the pace of your song, both lyrically and musically, becoming a short respite or oasis from the intensity of the rest of the composition. You’ll note this use of the bridge if you study a variety of popular songs of today.
Adding a bridge to every song is not necessary, but this section can be an important element of your song, when used properly.
Check out our Lyric Writing category for help as you develop that next great bridge!