Songwriting basics and tips 12: Bridging the Gap …

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Bob Leslie is an Independent Scottish Songwriter, Singer, and Recording Artist

Take me to the bridge!bridge.gif

What is a bridge? It’s a point where the song changes to a different melody before coming back to the original one. Sometimes there’s a key change at the end of the bridge. This is all part of making the song more interesting. Sometimes, it’s called a middle eight – that’s because, for some reason, many bridges end up being 8 bars long.

A chorus does the same sort of thing, but repeatedly throughout the song, whereas a bridge usually only occurs once, sometimes twice if the song is extended. Not all songs have, or need, bridges, but they can really help a song punch above its weight.

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Can’t you see it my way?

beatles.gifA classic example of a bridge occurs in The Beatles’ song We Can Work It Out.

The verses are in D major, with a kind of cheerful “rumpty-tum” feeling that mirrors the positivity of the title/hookline – a kind of “no worries, no hurry” feeling that it’ll all turn out OK in the end.

The bridge, on the other hand, is choppy, urgent, stressing every beat, and in B minor – reflecting a more negative “you’d better get it sorted out quickly!” viewpoint.

The contrasts are very effective in adding interest to the song itself, but also intriguing from a historical and personal angle since the verse was written by Paul McCartney, and the bridge by John Lennon. We Can Work It Out gives us a real insight into the two different personalities behind the song.

“Paul did the first half, I did the middle eight. But you’ve got Paul writing, ‘We can work it out, we can work it out’ – real optimistic, y’know, and me impatient, ‘Life is very short and there’s no time for fussing and fighting my friend'” John Lennon

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Key to the highway …highway.gif

Well, as we saw with The Beatles’ song, a key change helps. Something as simple as changing to the relative minor changed the whole feel of the song. Just a reminder:  that’s the key based on the Lah note of the scale – Doh, Ti, Lah in D major is D, C#, B, so Bm is the relative minor of D major.

The key change aspect is an easy one to explore. Common changes are, as above, from major to minor (or vice versa), or from the verse key to the 2nd, 4th or 5th of that key. So, starting with verses in D, that would give us the options of EmG, or A.

If we move to Em, then the three main chords available to us there are EmAm, and B7 – that’s not to say you shouldn’t feel free to use any of the other chords in that key, I’m just trying to keep it simple (and most pop/rock songs do in fact keep it that simple!).

In the key of G, the equivalent chords would be GC, and D7. In A, they would be AD, and E7.

Remember, you also have to think about getting back to the original verse key, so, bearing in mind the previous posts on key changes, you should aim at finishing your bridge either with a chord that belongs to both keys (The Beatles used Bm), or modulating back to the key by, perhaps, using the cycle of fifths.

Of course, you additionally have the option of just crashing back to the original key, without “smoothing the way”, to give a more dramatic effect – it all depends on what kind of song you’re trying to write.

No matter what anyone may tell you, there are no rules as such in music, but there are, rather, lots of tried-and-tested formulae that will get you a nice result.

Sheer experimentation can also yield satisfactory (and original) results – if you want to just jump between, say, D major and Eb minor, and you like the way that sounds, then be my guest!

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Striking a chord …

Many bridges, rather than go for a full key change, simply move the starting point of the bridge to another chord in the same key.

d.gif

James Brown, in I Feel Good, sings the song in the key of D throughout, but makes the starting chord of the bridge a Gg.gifbut it’s not a key change. There are no C chords as you’d expect if he’d changed to the key of G, the other bridge chords are simply D and – so he’s still in the key of D.

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The beat goes on … or not?

You should also think about introducing rhythmic changes.

We Can Work It Out went from a verse where the instrumental emphasis was on beat 1 of the bar, with the vocal coming in half-a-beat later, to a bridge where both vocal and instruments marched along  with 4 stressed beats to the bar.beat.gif

Then it transitioned back to the original rhythm via a series of triplets (3 notes played over 2 beats – rah-tah-tah, rah-tah-tah etc.). This has the effect of slowing the rhythm down and reducing the sense of urgency before the verse starts up again with its smoother beat.

I Feel Good went from a funky, choppy-rhythmed 12-bar verse to a straight-ahead rocking 8-bar bridge which drops out completely under the vocal on the last bar before the original choppy beat came back in.

You could try to do something similar, or perhaps hold some long chords as a contrast, or play a repeated riff under the bridge, or bring in more instruments playing counter melodies … the musical world is your oyster, experiment!

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Next time, we’ll examine a few famous hooklines, and see what can be learned from them!

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Bob Leslie – Scottish – Traditional – Songwriter

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