The Bridge – Somewhere Between Here and There

There are plenty of songs out there without a bridge that survive quite well, thank you very much.  However, let’s look at this special part of the song form and get an idea of how to make the best use of it in your songwriting.

First of all we need to identify what a bridge actually is, and one of the best ways to do that is by pointing out some more “famous” bridges in popular songs.  Think about the song from The Wizard of Oz called “If I Only Had a Brain”.

Dorothy and Friends
Dorothy and Friends (Photo credit: drurydrama (Len Radin))

I could wile away the hours
Conferring with the flowers
Consulting with the rain
And my head I’d be scratchin’
While my thoughts were busy hatchin’
If I only had a brain

There are three couplets or rhymes in the verses:  hours/flowers, scratchin’/hatchin’ and rain/brain, and six lines in the verses, with shorter, more punctuated notes.

In the bridge, the notes are longer and the chord structure changes, even including a slight modulation or key change before going back to the original key:

Oh I-I-I could tell you why-y-y-y
The ocean’s near the sho-o-o-re
I could think of things I’d never thunk befo-o-ore
And then I’d stop and think some mo-o-ore

Although not as significant in this particular song, quite often the bridge creates a whole different perspective or “step back” from the rest of the song.

Let’s take a look at a more contemporary song;  Sheryl Crow‘s “My Favourite Mistake“.

This is a typical “break up” song:

I woke up and called this morning
The tone of your voice was a warning
That you don’t care for me anymore

Most of the verses detail the events that are taking place, the singer pointing out the evidence of an impending break up.  The bridge, in contrast, is more philosophical.

Well maybe nothing lasts forever
Even when you stay together
I don’t need forever after
But it’s your laughter won’t let me go
So I’m holding on this way

In this particular bridge, not only is it quite distinctive musically, but it’s a great example of how the lyrics take a step back and give a over all view of the rest of the song.  However, bridges don’t have to have lyrics either.  Sometimes a musical bridge that takes off in a new direction has the same effect as a lyrical bridge.  One example of a music-only bridge is in Coldplay‘s song “Viva La Vida“.  It changes chord progressions and then the only vocal you hear is “oh, oh, oh, oh, oh”.  (Well, they’re NOT lyrics :-)).  Then it comes back to the last chorus.  And the famous song “Dust In The Wind” has a musical bridge featuring a string section!

So the main purpose of a bridge is to provide musical and lyrical contrast, and sometimes to set things up lyrically for the end of the song.

Years ago I took a weekend songwriting workshop through The Songwriter’s Association of Canada where one of the workshop leaders, a songwriter who had had success on his own and with a band, said he hated bridges and didn’t see the point of using them.  Many songs do just fine by having a middle-eight or musical break using the same chord progression as the verses or chorus. And while many famous bands and artists over the years have only rarely used bridges in their songwriting, I think they can be quite effective in the right song.

If your song is feeling a little repetitive after a couple of verse and choruses, try to experiment with a change in chord progressions and lyrics (if you like!) and see if you can come up with your own bridge.

Songs That Break The Rules

As soon as we start using the word “rules”, a lot of songwriters coil in disgust at the thought of having to conform to anything.  So actually, I wrote that title to grab your attention in a negative way, but at least I know I’ve probably got your attention :-).

New Discovery!  Silicone Molds...I'm hooked!
Image by HA! Designs – Artbyheather via Flickr

The examples of songs I’m going to present in this article simply jump out of the mold, so to speak, and do things that aren’t conventional, but still work.  In some cases, they are subtle, in others, not so.

My first example is of a song that breaks out of the song form mold.  It’s a song by Sheryl Crow called Soak Up The Sun.  Here is a rather standard song form, where “A” is the verse, “B” is the chorus and “C” is the bridge:


There are many variations of course,  but while Sheryl’s song starts out pretty standard, with an intro, verse, chorus and then another verse, but she changes it around and instead of repeating the chorus, she throws in a bridge first.   She goes back to the chorus and then another verse, but throws in the bridge again before the next chorus.  So her song form looks something like this:


Below this article is a player where you can have a listen, it’s a great song worth listening to anyway.

The Beatles were notorious for breaking all kinds of “rules” and still having huge hits.  They loved to throw in an odd chord change or time signature change, and their lyrics were often off the beaten track.  I’m sure the haze of drugs had something to do with that :-).  As an example, here is All You Need Is Love.  Have a listen below and just try counting the time signature and you’ll see what I mean.

Also below is what some might consider a “novelty” song, but it was written by a prolific songwriter named Harry Nilsson.  This song was #8 on the Billboard Charts in 1971 and what makes it unique is the fact that it has only one chord.  The bass alternates, but essentially it sits on the same chord for the entire song, letting the story in the lyrics take the main stage.  It’s called “Coconut“:

These are only three examples where breaking out of the mold works very successfully, and I’m sure you can think of some others on your own.  If you do, post them here!

And, remember, you don’t have to write like anybody else 🙂

More On Magical Melodies

“If It Makes You Happy” cover
Image via Wikipedia

© I.Woloshen

I went to a Songshop recently, put on by the Songwriters Association of Canada where there were a number of songwriters baring their souls and their songs all in the hopes of improving their craft. Sometimes as an observer it is much more obvious where the problems lie within a song…but when you’re the writer you can’t see the forest for the trees (ugh! sorry, little cliché there 🙂 One of the workshop leaders talked about hearing someone, who wasn’t a songwriter by the way, say that the highest note of the song had to be in the chorus! Is that true? Of course not…but he’d obviously made that decision after hearing songs for years and years. Defining a melody and how a great one works, will NEVER be that simple!

We get caught up sometimes in finding a neat little groove and getting those lyrics perfect, or having that lead guitar pop in at just the right moment…that we often neglect what may be the one thing that we might want people to most remember about the song! Think about all of those “great” songs that you listened to growing up…how often is the lead guitar riff the only thing you remember? While a memorable guitar riff such as Eric Clapton‘s first version of “Layla” (Derek and the Dominos) can stand out from everything else…for the most part, it isn’t going to carry the whole song!

The most difficult part, I think, about writing a melody, is keeping it simple AND unique at the same time! Why is simplicity important? Because MOST listeners out there will probably only remember the song in bits and pieces after the first listen. Test this out on somebody…play them a song of yours they’ve never heard before, and then afterwards, ask them to repeat something about it. Don’t tell them you’re going to do this beforehand, that would be cheating! What do they come up with? Melody? A line? A guitar riff? What a cool test, eh?

Let’s take a look at a couple of contemporary hit songs…I’m going to focus on Pop/Rock for the time being. Joan Osborne had a hit with the song “One Of Us”. Think about the first line of the chorus…”What if God was one of us?” The first three notes are about as simple as you can get…(F#, G#, A in the actual key) same length, major scale…you could find that same set of three notes in a thousand other songs somewhere. On their own, what they do is ascend (rise) to the most central theme of the song…God. And the word “God” is the highest note (okay, maybe that non-songwriter had a point!) But the next four notes really help to reinforce that melodic hook…C# C# D E. So simple and powerful. Now look at the whole chorus…that series of 7 notes is repeated all the way through except for the last line. So the melody is not only simple, it is repeated and reinforced throughout the chorus. And of course, lyrically, it has a powerful message!

Let’s take a look at another contemporary song…”If It Makes You Happy” by Sheryl Crowe. This is another example of a very simple melodic line in the chorus, but sung with such power! I teach this song to some of my guitar students…as soon as I sing that line, they know the song! When she goes from the first D up a whole octave in the first line, there’s the whole song right there! And look at the notes, very simple and straightforward (If D it D Makes D*octave You B Hap A py B!).

Let me tell you a little secret…your listeners, unless they are musical masters or jazz enthusiasts, do not have complex listening skills! As I said earlier, they will collect bits and pieces of a song, but won’t grasp the whole thing on the first listen. So it’s important for you to get their attention with shorter, simpler lines of melody, reinforced with great lyrics of course! If you look at Sheryl Crowes’ song again…the first melodic part is repeated…so it’s broken down into four lines in the chorus:

If it makes you happy D D D* B A B *up an octave
It can’t be that bad D G G G B A G A
If it makes you happy D D D B A B
Why the hell are you so sad? G E G E G G B

And although she doesn’t do it the first time it’s sung…the chorus is repeated twice after every verse! Again, she really reinforces that musical hook. Her performance is another very important element…think about how she sings it…it’s balsy, not pretty, which is her style certainly. But it makes you want to shout it, rather than sing it!

In listening to some demos recently, another point came to mind. There’s a real need for “flow” in your melody…it has to move seamlessly and effortlessly from one line to the next. One demo especially stood out as having far too many “blank” spaces or pauses…it lost something and had little impact as a result. This does not mean that your melody shouldn’t have any pauses in it at all…you’ve gotta breathe! But if you ARE running out of breath when you sing it, that’s a pretty good sign that it’s much too full. And if it feels like it’s dragging, the opposite is probably true…you’re not doing enough!

So now it sounds like I’ve told you two contradictory things…keep the lines shorter and simpler, and make sure there’s a flow…well, they really do compliment each other. Look at the two examples I’ve shown you again…and then examine your own!

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Copyright © 2019 IJ's Songwriting Tips Blog.

Powered by WordPress. | Theme: Accent.