Does Your Song Need A Bridge?

So you’ve reached that point in the song; you’ve written two verses and a chorus, and that little voice in your head says “I need to write a bridge.”

But do you really??? When do you know if a song truly needs a bridge?

I’ve heard publishers say things to their writers like, “You must write bridges because the last three hits on radio had a bridge.” Personally I have reached the top of the top 40 charts both with and without bridges. Here are a few guidelines I’ve used over the years.

Have you said everything in your song you need to say? If you have already said everything you wanted to say in the verses and chorus then there is no real need to write more words, you will simply bore the listener. Bridges need to take you to a new place and offer additional insight. If you feel you’ve covered everything in the meat of the song then don’t clutter your song with more lyrics because you feel you have to have a bridge.

If you decide you don’t need a lyrical bridge then consider other options.

Perhaps a musical bridge will serve the song better. Taking the song to a new harmonic or rhythmic place can keep the listener engaged without boring them with unnecessary lyrics. Consider a guitar or instrumental solo over verse chord changes.

If your song is already fairly complex harmonically then adding an additional harmonic section could sound like overkill and you could be asking too much of the listener to follow what feels like meandering. So consider an instrumental solo over a previous harmonic section of your song. Such as the verse or pre-chorus section of your song.

And finally if you decide your song could benefit from new words and music, then write a great bridge!

So these are a few of the guidelines I use when face with the question “to bridge or not to bridge.” Remember a forced bridge will sound just that..forced. But there’s nothing better than a really well written bridge that takes you somewhere both lyrically and musically, if it has a reason and purpose for being in your song.

Write On! ~Clay

clay-mills-songtown

Clay Mills is a 11-time ASCAP hit songwriter, producer, and performer. His songs have been recorded by such artist as Lady Antebellum, Darius Rucker, Babyface, Reba McEnti
re, and Kimberly Locke. He has 2 Grammy nominations for “Beautiful Mess” by Diamond Rio and “Heaven Heartache” by Trisha Yearwood. Follow him here: www.facebook.com/songtownusa, at www.claymills.com, and at www.facebook.com/claymillsii or visit Twiiter@SongTownUSA

23 thoughts on “Does Your Song Need A Bridge?

  1. “Why wait any longer for the world to begin?” – Bob Dylan Lay Lady Lay –
    Starting a bridge with a question seems like a good idea.
    Thanks Clay this post – got me thinking.
    By the way, Dylan’s Knocking on Heaven’s Door has no bridge, clocks in at only 2minutes 30 seconds and yet sports a huge 30 second intro – crazy!
    Cheers!

  2. Like in all writing does it feel right have you told your story and made your point..? but if not then write a bridge.. thanks Marty

  3. I’ve been studying a few artists lately and find that some consistently do not use Bridges or even Pre Choruses. Just a few days ago studying Darius Rucker lyric sheets he only used two Verses and a Chorus for his biggest hits. I struggle with this, as the artsy side of my spirit wants to set up my Choruses with Pre Choruses and provide listeners with that cool interlude a Bridge can bring…but my commercial editor half tells me to keep it simple, stupid. Haha, story of my life.
    Thanks Clay.

    1. Yes, 2 of my hits with Darius had a very short one line prechorus that could be seen as part of the verse but they are really very short pres.

      Clay

  4. Great advice! Seems like the norm nowadays for popular Country songs if there is a Bridge is basically two lyric lines with some different music/rhythm and then straight back into the Chorus.

  5. Instrumental portions – bridges, intros… I am never comfortable writing that. I only write melody and chord progressions. I expect any instrumental part would be different based on the instruments in the performing group. Would you expect the exact same melody or accompaniment in a musical bridge from a country band as a full orchestra or a Hip Hop group? Many songs can be played with different styles to suit the performer though most songs are heard only in their popularized version/style.

  6. Like Bob Dylan everyone should write what sounds good and feels good to them. If not it comes across as artificial anyway. Besides 99.9% of what I write is for me and probably will never make it past my living room walls but if I love it that’s all that matters.

  7. Wawooo!!nice advice and a trick. I’ve been using bridges for every song of mine but now I get to know the real reason why it’s needed or not

  8. Yes Clay, I have written a lot of “bridges to nowhere”. Good information in your blog and recent comments as well. Thanks guys

  9. A Bridge, like the other Structural Components, Introductory Movement, Verse, Chorus, Coda (final Musical Movement), serves a ‘function’.

    The function of a Bridge is to break the Repetition of Verse/Chorus, Verse/Chorus. Having repeated the Melody of the Verse twice, and the Melody of the Chorus, twice, a Song runs the risk of losing listeners’ attention. A third repeat might bore them, letting them drift off to their own thoughts instead of listening to your Song.

    It is a Songwriter’s judgment as to how much Repetition is ‘enough’ or ‘not enough’, and how much is ‘too much’. It has to be balanced against how much Change is ‘enough’, and how much is ‘too much’.

    Too much Change means the Song meanders without ‘enough’ Repetition to supply Structure the listener can relate to. They don’t recognize a repeat of Melody and cadence as a repeat of the Verse. The ear ‘welcomes back’ the repeat of the Verse Melody they ‘learned’ when they heard it the first time. It helps them pay attention to the ongoing story of the Lyric. They ‘welcome back’ the repeat of the Chorus, recognizing it from having heard it the first time.

    Now, depending on how those Verse/Chorus, Verse/Chorus repeats have worked, the listener will either ‘welcome’ back a third repeat, or, possibly, drift off to their own thoughts, and only realize they’re not listening to your Song because it bored them with ‘too much’ Repetition, when they realize the Song is over. If you’ve never noticed yourself having that realization while listening to the radio you probably will now. If it ‘hooked’ you at all, you became ‘unhooked’ at some point, for some reason.

    The Third Verse Curse is probably what makes Songwriters decide they ‘need’ a Bridge. It serves the ‘function’ of ‘renewing interest’ after the First Verse/Chorus, Second Verse/Chorus, have done all they can do, and the Songwriter cannot think of a ‘logical’ Third Verse to end the story. Often it appears to be because the Song Lyric has not TOLD a ‘story’ like a play in acts that progresses through time and events in the interactions of the Singer-Character, and the Love-Interest Character. Verses I and II are often repeats of the same Lyrical ‘example’ of a situation, or an exhaustive ‘laundry list’ of ‘this-is-country’ items. No logical progression in a storyline is possible in a Third Verse, and more laundry list risks boring the listener who drifts off to other thoughts instead of paying attention. Despairing of finding words for a logical Third Verse the Songwriter resorts to the device of a Bridge.

    A Bridge has a variant Melody, different from the Melody of either the Verse OR the Chorus. It ‘renews interest’. It should be brief. It does not need to be as long as a Verse or a Chorus. The information in the words of a Bridge can work best if it is pivotal information, something the whole ‘story’ pivots on. The function of the ‘Change’ is to renew interest. The function of the Lyrical content is to pivot the story and enable the final giving of the Chorus, and the Coda to end with a sense of completeness.

    An Instrumental Bridge can serve that function, depending on the Songwriter’s judgment as to whether the Song needs one, and what choices the Songwriter makes between Instrumental or Lyrical Bridge, and what effect words of a Lyrical Bridge have in the whole of the Lyric.

    Time becomes a major consideration. If you’ve already used up your ‘radio friendly’ time with the Intro., Verse/Chorus repeats, you may not have time for a Bridge and final Chorus pushing it long and almost guaranteeing radio won’t play it. Shorter Songs leave more time for the commercial ads that pay the bills. The Songs just keep you tuned in so they have a chance to run the commercials at you.

    Study the Songs you like. See if you can spot the Structure Repetition and Change, and the ones that use a Bridge. When you have a list of 3 or 4, or 10, you will probably know more about a Bridge than most Songwriters.

  10. Glad a pro said this because I wrestle with “to bridge or not to bridge” all of the time. I hate feeling like I “have” to if Im not feeling it.

  11. This applies just as well to any part of formulaic writing. I don’t write ‘professionally’ as such – I release the odd song I like or I think is fun, but that’s as far as it goes.

    But the exercise of putting a song together is interesting – for years I was stuck in the 2 versus chorus verse chorus (solo) bridge verse chorus repeats for end or fade thing. My head was really stuck in that – and I’d no idea why, when I actually thought about it!

    Latest one has 3 verses before it hits a chorus – and it me it sort of hangs the suspense in there before it resolves to the chorus – with a build up of new instruments entering and another leaving during the verses – and I really enjoyed that change!

    More coming, when I have a lyric half finished! Cheers for the blog – makes one think deeper.

    Best wishes!

  12. A great bridge works wonders, but a lousy unnecessary one can kill a song.

    IMHO, one of the best “bridges” in any song ever: “We can work it out … we can work it out … ”

    “Life is very short, and there’s no time for fussing and fighting my friend … I have always thought that it’s a crime, so I will ask you once again … ”

    “Try to see it my way … “

  13. Clay, I swear you are listening in my head sometimes.
    Bridges are my biggest pain in the fanny. I have heard… like you said….you gotta have a bridge…but I’m not very good and doing them so I have several songs I don’t feel are complete because of that missing piece. Now I did write a song last night…just sat down and wrote it, no bridge and I really like it. Likely it wouldn’t be a seller as its truly done in an old school country song feel…..but I like it and proud of it. No Bridge.

    Thanks as always Clay.

  14. Love this advise ..totally love it..our songs..some have them and some have music or no Bridges..you are amazing thankyou so much as always love and hugs Lisa and Pete

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