When writing your next song, don’t underestimate the impact of a great bridge. It can add a new exciting tone and feel to your song, tell a new chapter to your song’s story, and, most importantly, keep your listeners interested.
Not every song needs a bridge – there are plenty of hit songs out there that consist of only verses and choruses – but there are often times when a well-written bridge changes a song from good to great.
Writing an effective bridge for your next song is easier than you may think. With these songwriting tactics, you can develop a bridge that will help keep your listeners engaged all the way through your song.
What is a bridge?
The bridge is a section that adds a new and musically different section to the song and usually serves as a necessary shift or development for the listener.
There are no rules as to where you have to place the bridge in terms of the structure of the song, but in pop music, it is most commonly placed after the second chorus. The listener has already had a chance to hear and get accustomed to the verses and choruses, and they are ready for something new.
A bridge should contrast from the other sections of the songs – this contrast can come from a dynamic shift, melodic shift, tonal shift, or even a key change. This section of the song should be able to tie (or “bridge”) your song’s story together while adding new feeling to it.
How you write and employ your bridge is up to you and your own creativity – and once you have these tips and tricks in your toolbox, you can use them to your advantage!
1. Introduce a new melodic hook (or multiple melodic hooks)
We all know that some of the best pop songs are known for their undeniably catchy hooks that get stuck in your head and keep you coming back for more. Most of the time, the main hook is found in the chorus or first introduced as an instrumental or lyric-less hook in the intro section. But you can also use hooks as a great way to make your bridge more interesting.
One of the best pop songs (in my opinion) to come out this past summer is Katy Perry’s ‘Never Really Over.’ This song hits you with hook after hook, the most prominent being in the chorus. When the song gets to the bridge, the chords and dynamics don’t change at all, but she introduces yet another hook that keeps us engaged.
The first significant shift in this bridge hook is the rhythms. Perry shifts from the tongue-twisting 16th-note rhythm of the chorus hook to a rhythm that has more of a quarter-note triplet feel, allowing the lyrics to breathe more and let the emotion of the song sink in more (“thought we kissed goodbye, thought we meant this time was the last”).
The hook is also followed by a repetition of a lyric from the pre-chorus (“I guess it’s never really over”), but the lyrics now have a new melody attached. This ties this section together nicely with the other sections and brings back a familiar lyric, while providing just enough of a shift to keep things interesting.
Finally, to tie it all together, she brings back the bridge hook one last time after the final chorus to conclude the song. Writing bridges like this is very effective, because you’re not just looking at the bridge as a one-off component of the song, but as an integral hook that helps make the song what it is.
2. Make a dynamic shift
Any song, regardless of whether it has a bridge or not, should include shifts in dynamics. The word dynamics refers to the volume of sections, phrases, and notes in a piece of music. A dynamic shift in a section of a song can make it louder or softer than the previous or following section. This creates an arc for your song and helps convey the emotions you want to express to your listener. A dynamic shift or multiple dynamic shifts can be placed anywhere in your song, depending on where you as a writer feel it makes sense, but if you’re looking for a way to develop your bridge, this is a great place to start.
If you have a high-energy song with layers of synths and pulsing drum beats, try letting your bridge come down dynamically with just piano and vocal or more subdued production. If you have a soft piano ballad, try taking things up a notch in the bridge with driving rhythms and powerful vocals.
A great example of a dynamically shifting bridge can be found in Fifth Harmony’s ‘Sledgehammer’ (co-written by superstar artist and songwriter Meghan Trainor). The chorus explodes with the power of all five vocalists singing at once, along with heavy synths and EDM-inspired drum beats. By the time we’ve reached the end of the second chorus, we need some sort of shift to give the listener a break from the intense high energy of the first 2 minutes and 30 seconds. The songwriters address this by executing a superb dynamic shift for the bridge.
3. Insert a good ol’ key change
Let’s be honest – everyone loves a good key change. Yes, they can be overdone, but when you execute them correctly you can literally lift your song up and get your listeners excited! Key changes in pop music most commonly shift upwards a half or a whole step – but, again, there are no rules. Pop legend Whitney Houston broke the norm by modulating 3 half-steps down from Gb to Eb in her hit song, ‘How Will I Know.’ And there are plenty of songs that shift to the relative major or relative minor, or take a left turn to a completely unrelated key.
An excellent modulating bridge to listen to for inspiration is Taylor Swift’s ‘Getaway Car.’ The song starts in the key of C Major and stays there for the first 2 verses and choruses, but then modulates up a whole step in the bridge to D Major. This makes for an exciting surprise for the listener – not only are we hearing a new key, but we are also hearing new melodies and lyrics. The bridge perfectly introduces the plot twist of the song that sets the scene for the final chorus, which is also in this new key.
What’s great about this key change is that it’s new for the listener, but also carried out in a somewhat subtle way. You can tell that something is different, but it’s not immediately obvious that there was a modulation. Swift doesn’t use the key change as a last-resort effort because she has no other way to make things interesting – she uses it only to serve the song in the way that it needs. This is a good rule of thumb not only for bridges and key changes but for any song element in general. Don’t just insert something weird/cool/different just for the heck of it – add it because it will actually make your song better.
Writing your next bridge
Writing a bridge can be intimidating, but the more you practice, the better you will get! When you get frustrated or reach writer’s block while writing a bridge, just take a step back and remember that your bridge doesn’t have to have four key changes and a zillion new hooks to be great. Even the most simple bridges can be the best. Some songs don’t even have a bridge – and that is perfectly okay, too.
Keep working on your songwriting and bridge-writing with these tactics, and you’ll take your songwriting to a whole new level!
Kira Morrison is an LA-based vocalist, songwriter, and arranger