To bridge or not to bridge?

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I'm about to record a guitar/banjo/vocal song that is short intro, 3 vocal verses, 1 instrumental verse, 1 vocal verse, short instrumental end. That's one of a handful of typical folk/bluegrass structures. As you can see, the song does not have a bridge.
Yesterday, I was listening to "West LA Fadeway" by the Grateful Dead, which is verse/chorus, with a couple of guitar solos replacing vocal verses. Again, no bridge. And I got to thinking about how many of my favorite songs - "Gotta Serve Somebody" by Bob Dylan, the old bluegrass song "Darlin' Corey," "Powderfinger" by Neil Young - don't have bridges. They follow a folk tradition that come from, I think, storytelling through song. "Hallelujah" by Leonard Cohen is another example.
Sometimes I put bridges in my songs, sometimes I don't. Now, sometimes when I don't have a bridge, I'll have a key change for dramatic effect or just to make the song more interesting. But I don't really have any rule or guideline for when to include a bridge.
I haven't gotten one this 50/90, but I know this past FAWM (and 50/90s and FAWMs past) I'll get an occasional "Good song - could use a bridge" sort of comment. I appreciate the well-meaningness of the comment and have added a bridge to some songs. In fact, on my own without a prompting comment, I've done that.
But my general thinking is that if I'd wanted a bridge I would have gone ahead and done one. And sometimes, writing a worthwhile bridge is just to challenging, so I skip it.
How about you? What's your approach to the bridge?

Good question. Answer depends in part on, of course, 'what you want'. and yeah, the older folk forms didn't use bridges very much, while lots of older pop did. Contrast, say, the Beatles (even as far back as their second album 'With the Beatles', the opening song 'It won't be long' has not one but two musically different bridges!) with, say, Bob Dylan, who didn't use a bridge on any of his songs until the song 'Ballad of a Thin Man on his 6th album "Highway 61'.

Funny you mention this subject, too- I just posted a song (Irving, Sam and Dave) with a very 'narrative folk' feel, that has no bridge or chorus, really, just six verses. Was thinking 'should i vary the music' but in the service of the lyric, I think 'as uncluttered as possible' might be the way to go.

I almost always write a bridge. Songs without it seem too simple unless I'm going for a retro Dylan-esque effect.

Regarding comments, I also don't care for comments that suggest I write a different song! I agree with @Chip Withrow..."if I'd wanted a bridge I would have gone ahead and done one" Biggrin

This is a really interesting question, even if I suspect there can't be a definitive answer beyond "do what feels right for the song." I don't use them often enough, but when I do I love how they open up the space and structure of the song. And, of course, they're a great way to build up to the guitar solo Wink

I write lots of bridges. For me, they're good way to break up a song. It keeps it from getting stale while still being able to wrap up the story. But they can be unnecessary. Honestly, a lot of the times when I don't put in a bridge, it's because I want to keep the song short.

i am often lazy at writing bridges, and when i do i far too often go to the IV key like an habitual tic. i should put more into bridge writing. they are quite often fun when i do.

I think a bridge is wonderful is used correctly, and it can seem shoved in there like a wedge when used incorrectly. Most of my songs this year don't have bridges, but I've been doing a lot of song forms that would seem weird with a bridge. Longer story telling ballad style songs and waltzes and rounds and things. I've written pop style and jazz style songs with bridges but no chorus, and I've written them with bridges and choruses. Whatever tells your story. Whatever gets your point across.

For me, if I want a different perspective in the song I'll use a bridge. It allows me to keep the verses consistent while adding information. For instance, If I'm writing from my perspective in the verses then I can have a bridge that starts with "She says...." to give her side. Or if I'm talking about the past in the verses I can use a present or future view point in the bridge.

And like others have mentioned, if I'm V/Ch V/Ch V/Ch I'll use a bridge or middle 8 (instrumental bridge) to break up the monotony (or add something interesting.)

I try to take comments as intended... if someone tells me "it could use a bridge" then I hear it isn't as interesting as it could be. Now it's up to me too change it up or not as I see fit, but I welcome the feedback.

@wobbie wobbit - That's what I do too often, too. Going to to the IV chord for the bridge is a standard folk/rock/country/blues move. It's easy and effective. I'll probably write a bunch more songs that do it this 50/90.
A couple of you, and I, mentioned Bob Dylan - when the Byrds took "Mr. Tambourine Man" (no bridge) and turned it to a massive pop/rock hit, they shortened it from Dylan's four or five verses (short by his standards) to two. And the most recent well-known Dylan remake I can think of is Adele's "Make You Feel My Love," which has the same bridge twice. One of my favorite rambling Dylan songs is "Political World" from the late 80s - 11 verses, I think - and one chord. When I worked up a cover version of it to perform, I turned a couple of verses into bridges.
And @mike skliar mentioned the Beatles (and Dylan) - I was listening to "Ticket to Ride" the other day, and that's a cool bridge! And I don't know if the middle part of "A Day in the Life" (Woke up, got out of bed ...) even qualifies as a bridge - it's so dramatically different from what come before and after that it's almost its own song.
Bruce Springsteen writes good bridges - "Girls in Their Summer Clothes," "Tunnel of Love," "Human Touch," "Backstreets." A word that comes to mind when I think of his longer songs is "cinematic." Also, I wonder if he writes a lot of his songs on piano - I recall in an interview he said he wrote his first album and lots of Born to Run that way.
I just have trouble coming up with interesting beyond-the-usual bridges - so after I started this thread I sat down with a guitar and tried to do something out of my ordinary.

It seems to me, and i think its what most people are saying, a bridge is just one of a number of structural alternatives in a song. Sometimes they are needed other times not. Like any alternative, when they work well they can give a song a huge lift, if used poorly they can feel like an awkward interlude that breaks the songs flow. I find people that have a more defined style tend to be more consistent in their use of bridges. Personally i tend to write songs as a vehicle to deliver a message and therefore in each individual song a bridge is just one of a number of considerations.

One thing that got mentioned in this thread is the use of two bridges. That's something I'd really like to try.

I haven't done a statistical analysis but I think my songs have bridges more often than not. It's a good mid song change of pace. Sometimes a change from major to minor and/or a change in the rhythm structure. It's also a common way to kick off a solo. In electronic music there is often a breakdown somewhere followed by a "drop" returning to the main theme.

Other than that, I've always liked them so I'll probably keep on. In fact, I'm working on one right now!

the bridge must be a departure both musically and lyrically, from the verse and chorus. mike skliars citing of ballad of a thi man is a prime example of both. the lyric departs from the sequence of circus encounters mr jones is having and the music, although beginning on the same A minor as the verses but he resolves on a Dm to G..which gives the effect of a key change when returning to the Am of the verse, although no modulation has taken pace. As Mike said, this was his first song with a bridge. He quickly became a master of its use on Blonde on Blonde, Nashville Skyline and New Morning,,and throughout his career. I never use a bridge unless it is neccessary If i am writing a straight ballad narrative and i want to write something that istepsoutside of the narrative, I wil use a bridge. or if i am using a refrain instead of a chorus, I will add a bridge after the second verse. it all depends on what your song needs. Jus make sure it is a break away from your verse chorus and when you return to your verse or chorus, that your return has been made stronger by the diversion of the bridge.

I have been accused of writing art songs and I realize most probably mean it as a compliment. My approach is select the structure (bridge(s) or not for this discussion) based on whatever serves the song, or as Stephen Sondheim said (which resonated with me), content dictates form. Some of my songs have bridges, a few have more than one bridge, or whatever you want to call the multiple distinct song parts between verses and choruses, in my version of art songs.

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I would only put a bridge in if I can justify doing it, like if it adds to the song. If it's going to be an annoying detour, I won't do it.

My natural instinct with any new song I write seems to be to structure it as follows -

Intro, Verse 1, Pre Chorus, Verse 2, Pre Chorus, Chorus, Instrumental Section or Bridge, Verse 3, Chorus, Outro

This can raise the objections that it makes no sense to only have the chorus twice in a song (counter: rhcp under the bridge), or to have the chorus not appear until half way through (counter: crowded house weather with you). But regardless I always like the fact that I have like my own blueprint that deviates slightly from the normal verse chorus verse chorus bridge chorus thing. I'd encourage everybody to sorta play around with this and find their own too.

Sometimes I write a song which just goes verse verse verse verse. Sometimes it's some other thing. As long as you know what your reason is for doing it, you are free to structure however you like.

I've read somewhere in the songwriting blogs that a song is not a fully finished song without a bridge. But I don't think so. I'd first put in an intro and outro and even a solo or repeat the intro instead of a bridge. Good guitar riff or instrumental melody section can spice up a song very nicely.

If you have good interesting verses and a solid chorus you don't need a bridge. If you feel the need to add one because it feels boring without it maybe you should rewrite the other parts first, not add a bridge.

From the lyrics writing point of view, bridges are nice because they don't have to match the stresses with the other parts. On the other hand, it's difficult to say something else while still maintaining the coherence of the lyrics. Where do you draw the line? If you don't know what the idea of verses and chorus is how can you then write something else on the bridge?

Musically speaking I do like bridges. They give one more chance to add something catchy and melodic. But it's also a genre issue and in the hectic pace of the 50/90, it's very much a time issue too.

I think in Pop music, there are usually three distinct musical ideas/parts not including the intro (which is usually seems to be the hook, variation of the hook or part of the chorus.) That would roughly work out to be verse, chorus, bridge. That idea of the song not being complete without a bridge does not ring true for me, but it seems to apply to radio friendly Pop music more than other genres.

As someone who knows next to nothing about how songs are constructed, I really enjoyed this thread. I'm working my way through Klaus's multi-volume treatise on songwriting--a book both funny and wise--so maybe I'll have a clue before February. I'm not sure I always recognize a bridge when it hits me in the face. When I do notice them, I usually think, "Man, this sucks, what a relief it will be when we get back to the song." This thread got me thinking about Hang Me Oh Hang Me from the Inside Llewyn Davis sound track. What a beautiful song! Just verse/chorus/verse/chorus until the story has been told--and the verse and chorus have the same chord progression. I guess this just confirms what Master Klaus said above: "If you have good interesting verses and a solid chorus you don't need a bridge."

fresh spotless youth... a bridge is a booster. listen to just like a woman by bob dylan and check out how much stronger that last verse is as it comes out of the bridge.

I'm not a fan of a lyrical bridge - think instruments can do the job better - but every professional feedback group (NSAI, Songu, for example), I've been a part of asks, "Where's the bridge?" as if you MUST have a lyrical bridge adding to the story from a different perspective.

Ha...I really shouldn't venture into the songwriting forums. Thanks for the specific mention of a good bridge, Bill. It would be great if people would cite more examples of excellent bridges so I can go to school. I guess I was suggesting that I, as a mostly naive consumer of music, usually notice bridges (as such) only when they annoy me. I understand their importance, however. Vom Vorton has a good one here, I think: http://fiftyninety.fawmers.org/song/38548 (Also, let it be known that I have huge respect for Klaus as a scholar and a gentleman. I definitely wasn't taking the piss. I believe Klaus did offer some sort of musical treatise under a pseudonym in past years. Is that right?)

There's a great story behind the bridge in 'Always On My Mind'. The songwriter originally didn't write one because he didn't think it needed one. You can read about how and why the bridge was written in the studio here: https://parade.com/335638/viannguyen/songwriter-reveals-the-story-behind-always-on-my-mind-by-willie...

The Pet Shop Boys are at the top of their game here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5eTWWHGouSM

It's an interesting thread to read for me since don't adhere to any formulas, not even what key I'm in or stay in. I like what @billwhite51 comments to fresh youth since confirms the thought that formed while reading... -- it won't save a bad song or make an OK one better; if one has a great "song" and they just don't want it to end, bridge it, w/o beating it to death, so to speak. However, a short one that gets played over and over again is good too Smile "knocking on heaven's door", -- unfinished, yet finished so many times after the movie backing track as I understand it's history. (?)

For me all song "structure" and music "theory" -ism's have their place to learn from, -- but often seem from folks who tried to figure out what made a song great so may be remade, "great", -- which for me seems impossible since even an artist writes a song once, only.

I wonder what the origin of a bridge was... some guy got side tracked came back, finished his/her work and said, "well, look at that!"... happy accident. I look for them, the mistakes that when heard a week/month later are like, -- wow... look at that in this "context". It's kinda why I record while writing and playing, singing into the music... I then get to see what happened and extend, delete, repeat what I found I did.

I don't get -- "needs a bridge", -- kinda like saying, "hey needs a chorus"... Smile why? But, I would never not want the comment since feel it's that person working their stuff out and I have the honor of facilitating it with my work. I then -- go to their work and consider their feedback within their work to better understand it/theirs.

I love all feedback and learn through their journey, but only if communicated, -- always a good thing, imo/ime. What is music if not communication to, from, with others, before, during, after.

-- Or, did you mean Brigitte? I don't know her, then, disregard the above Smile Wink

I do enjoy a good bridge, as a well written one by definition is a surprise to the ear. But are they necessary? Nah. I have a bunch of songs that don't even have a chorus Biggrin

it all depends o what kind of song you are writing. i cannot imagine aint misbehavin, my one and only love, i threw it all away, just like a woman, into the mystic, the man in me, as time goes by, or town without pity without their bridges ridges are not just an arbitrary third part, they are an essential part of the construction of a certain format. if you are writing in that format, you will know how to write a bridge and when it is or is not neccessary. if you do not understand the use and function of a bridge, dont even think about writing one because it will probably be a extraneous diversion.

I for one actually love a good bridge, in so many songs is the most interesting part, mainly because it is new and expands upon the main ideas, so when possible I always try to make interesting bridges and leave the experimentation to it. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of incredible songs that have no bridge, I just don't really feel at home not making one.

I was always told when i was first studying songwriting in detail that one of the great bridges and in fact song structures is “Suspicious Minds” by Elvis Presley @fresh spotless youth It sure is interesting! After the bridge it never goes to chorus again or new material, just repeats of verse 1. And its a great bridge! Everytime i hear it i go yup thats a bridge!

The song I've just finished writing has a bridge, to introduce a new character. It's a short and silly song, and it's verse-bridge-verse. But it has a bridge.
@coolparadiso - "Suspicious Minds" is an amazing song in so many ways! A pulsing song (great drumming!) until the distinctive bridge, which is soulful and soul-searching. And then toward the end the song fades ... and comes back.
Another bridge I like is "Refugee" by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Crashes into the organ/guitar solos. Very effective.

suspicious mnds,,,the cocaine version https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wb0Jmy-JYbA

When I'm not just straight-up improvising, I usually think about the sheet music. Sheet music is simpler without a bridge. I want it easy to hold and read, so I want to fit on one or two pages. This means, I want to leverage the fact that verses and choruses are the same melody. Bridges screw with this.

That's really hilarious, @billwhite51.
Elvis at his best!! Sad

If you got a river going you might need a bridge to cross to the other side... and come back later with tidings of the life there Lol

When I get comments like, "could use a bridge", I'll almost always ask—"What makes you say that?" or "What problem are you hearing that you think a bridge could solve". You're always the solver of problems with your songs and you (a) might not feel a bridge is the right solution to the problem or (b) might not feel that the problem is one that needs a solution or (c) might disagree there's a problem at all. But as the writer, I always think it's more helpful to have someone identify a problem than offer me a solution without a reason. Usually people suggest a bridge because they got lost or felt too samey-same somewhere, and there are lots of other ways to address those issues if you want to address them but don't want a bridge.

im not sure that everyone here knows what a bridge is, as i hve seen plenty of lyric sheets that indicate bridge when what is offered is merely an instrumentl break.

To be fair, the bridge and middle 8 both serve a similar purpose musically... and judging from my own bridges sometimes, they can have the same value lyrically as well.

Interesting to see this thread got a kick-start! I think I just wrote what's defined as a bridge - most of the song is a fairly standard 3-chord funk/blues I-IV-I-V-I, and the bridge is V-I-II-V. The bridge keeps the groove of the song and alters the repetitive lyric structure.
The next song I will post has 9 verses and no bridge! But it's super-short, and the sameness helps to make it an easy sing-along. My goal is to perform it with audience participation sometime in the fall.

I should go to school on some actual songs to see how these things work. I really don't consider myself a songwriter, inasmuch as I don't know much about how songs are put together; I just kind of fly by the seat of my pants. I don't really want to do shameless self-promotion here, but I did draw inspiration from this thread for my most recent "song" (Born on the Bridge). It's just two chords, I and IV all the way through. It has a bridge to the extent that I sing about "going to the bridge," something I hear James Brown doing. I'm not sure that singing about a bridge is enough to create a bridge, but my "bridge" feels to me like something that does the spiritual work of a middle eight, even if I'm not entirely sure what that means. Smile It works for me, which is all I'm qualified to say. (Let it be known that I have tremendous respect for those who understand the craft of songwriting. I'm not trying to adopt a pose of punk rock counter-snobbery or anything. I actually hope to learn a thing or two one of these days.)

Bridges have always been optional for me. for a time I forced myself to write them, because I was told they were required...hogwash I say. I discovered that I can create changes either vocally, or musically within a verse or chorus, turnaround section or pre-chorus, but not necessarily a dedicated bridge. It's a very creative and freeing way of composing and leaves the process more open to the muses and my truest form of artistry.