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What Is a Bridge In a Song?
A bridge is a section of a song that’s intended to provide contrast to the rest of the composition. From The Beatles to Coldplay to Iron Maiden, songwriters use bridges to change moods and keep audiences on their toes. Typically, a bridge will follow a chorus section and present something different—whether it’s a different chord progression, a new key, a faster or slower tempo, or a meter change. A song doesn’t end on its bridge, so there will always be an opportunity to steer the composition back to its main themes once the bridge has concluded.
What Is the Purpose of the Bridge?
The bridge of a song performs two principal functions:
- To provide variety. A song that simply toggles back and forth between verse and chorus can become a bit predictable. Inserting a bridge can mix things up and keep the audience from falling into a lull. Often, the best way to do this is to assign a new key, tempo, or meter to the bridge to make it stand out from the rest of the song.
- To connect sections of a song. Think of the word “bridge” in its primary, most literal meaning. Just as a physical bridge is used to connect two places together, so too can a musical bridge connect two sections of a song. In this use, a bridge often comes before or after an instrumental solo. A bridge can connect that instrumental solo to a primary section of the song—which, in the vast majority of cases, is a chorus.
How Is a Bridge Used in the AABA Song Form?
Many of the earliest pop songs were written in what’s known in music theory as an AABA format. These tunes begin with an A section (commonly referred to as a chorus), repeat that A section, and then shift to a B section, which is frequently the bridge. The B section then gives way to one final A section, which wraps up the song form.
AABA songs are typically 32 bars long, with both the A section and the B section consisting of 8 bars each. As such, three 8-bar A sections plus one 8-bar B section totals 32 bars of music. Some songwriters call the B section the “middle eight” because it’s eight bars of music placed in the relative middle of the song form.
The Billy Strayhorn composition “Take the A Train,” made famous by the Duke Ellington Orchestra, is a classic example of AABA songwriting.
- The tune starts with a brief introduction that isn’t technically part of its “song form.”
- Following the intro, the song form begins with an A section chorus. It’s only two lines of lyrics (“You must take the "A" train / To go to Sugar Hill way up in Harlem”) but those two lines comprise eight bars of music.
- The A section then repeats with different lyrics.
- We then hear the B section, or bridge, replete with new chords and a new lyrical passage: “Hurry, get on, now it’s coming / Listen to those rails a-thrumming.” Once again these two lines of lyrics comprise eight bars of music.
- The A section returns and its eight bars conclude the song form.
AABA songwriting still exists in today’s pop music, although it’s less common than it once was.
- SONGWRITING TIP: Modulating by a minor third, as Johnny Nash does in “I Can See Clearly Now,” is a great way to brighten up a bridge. So if you’re writing a song in the key of A major, try composing an 8-bar bridge in C major to get that “lift.”
How Is a Bridge Used in the Verse/Chorus/Bridge Song Form?
Another popular songwriting format is the ABABCB form. In this style of composition, the A section is a verse, the B section is a chorus, and the C section is the bridge. In this arrangement, the bridge is the part of the song that connects one chorus to another.
One particularly successful song in the ABABCB format is “Blame” by Calvin Harris feat. John Newman. This 2014 hit uses a very minimal bridge, which is representative of a larger trend in contemporary pop music. Most of Harris’s tune features a propulsive club beat and layers of synth, bass, and drums. The bridge, however, distinguishes itself by cutting the drums and adding a counterpoint vocal line. Drums creep back in at the end of the section. They build in intensity over a filter sweep—all staples of today’s dance-pop scene—and then give way to a high energy beat that endures for the rest of the song.
3 Ways to Use Bridges in Songs
Not every bridge follows a conventional format. Here are a few examples of bridges that make a more sophisticated use of the bridge, which elevate their respective songs to new levels.
- Build tension. The power ballad “I Remember You” by Skid Row is built around an anthemic, cigarette-lighter-in-the-air chorus, but its emotional peak is actually a guitar solo that comes 80% of the way through the song. A well-placed bridge after the song’s second chorus builds up emotional tension before releasing into that guitar solo (played over the verse chord progression). This leads into a cathartic final chorus that had big-haired glam metal audiences singing along with every word.
- Connect a chorus to a pre-chorus. In “You Oughta Know” by Alanis Morissette (written with Glen Ballard), the bridge connects a chorus to a pre-chorus. This section would be considered a subtle bridge because it’s not notably different from the rest of the song. However, it contains a wordless vocal melody that’s different from any other section.
- Create a layered composition. High-concept British heavy metal band Iron Maiden inserts a bridge into its poppy hit “Can I Play With Madness?” that makes the song more challenging and sophisticated. The bridge, interpolated between two choruses, marks a shift in tone, tempo, and rhythmic pattern and includes a stop-and-start pattern that seizes focus and leads to an anthemic final chorus that feels well earned.