Writing a Bridge

Posted by Andrew DuBrock

What makes a great song? A catchy melody? Memorable lyrics? All of the above? A great song can be simple or complicated, but one thing all songs (good or bad) have in common is some kind of form. If you’re interested in writing your own songs, it’s a good idea to get familiar with the traditional building blocks that make up a song’s foundation. One of those blocks is the bridge, an element that might not get as much attention as verses and choruses but can nonetheless end up making a song truly great.

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Once they’ve cycled through a combination of verses and choruses, some songwriters like to include a bridge, which momentarily takes a song in a new direction (and then leads back to the verse and/or chorus for a big finish). Bridges usually appear after several verse-chorus combinations, like ABABCB or ABABCAB, where the verses are A, the choruses are B, and the bridges are C. A good example is the Beatles’ “With a Little Help from My Friends,” which has a verse, chorus, verse, and chorus before its first bridge (the whole song is ABABCABCB).

Some songs are built only from verses and bridges, like the Tin Pan Alley AABA form. (Note that without a chorus to call letter B, the bridge is labeled B in this context.) Many jazz and pop tunes use this form; a great example from the Beatles’ catalog is “Yesterday,” which starts with an AABA form. The bridge repeats later in the song, just before the song ends on a verse, so the whole song is AABABA. Example 3 shows a progression similar to the one in “Yesterday.” Play through the two parts to hear the difference between the verse and bridge sections.

You may wonder why the B section in “Yesterday” isn’t called a chorus—the difference can be subtle! In this case, the AABA format is one clue, but another is that the B section in “Yesterday” acts as a contrast to the verses. The memorable melody of this song is in the verse, and on most songs with choruses, the defining melody happens in the chorus.

Excerpted from Acoustic Guitar U: Songwriting and Arranging: Song Forms

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