In music, the bridge is a standard section that you can hear in almost every style of song. Starting from pop songs to jazz—and even way back to the classical era—the bridge plays an important role.
Its function, however, differs from one music style to another. Some songwriters even used it unconventionally and experimentally. But whatever its use is, one thing is certain; and that is the popularity of bridges in music.
The Role of Bridge in Songs
The bridge, in terms of music theory, is a musical shift that connects two verses or sections of a song. It is a musical material that prepares transitions for the original material or to return to. In application, you will find this section after a chorus and introduces a change in the chord progression, a new key, shift in tempo’s speed, or a meter change.
In essence, the bridge presents a different light or color contrasting the overall mood of a song or a piece.
Here’s a video explaining what is a bridge in a song:
Where Did It Originate?
The use of bridges in songs and musical pieces originated from German medieval music. It was first introduced in the 15th century and was sung by the Meistersingers. It was originally called “Steg” as well, which basically means bridge in German.
Before and during World War II, however, German composers fled to America. And with their knowledge of what and how to use the bridge, the musical material eventually spread and was used by songwriters across the country.
How Long Should Bridges Be?
While musical bridges’ length may vary from one songwriter to another, its length is usually four to eight bars. In fact, music enthusiasts often refer to it as the “middle eight” because it is typically placed in the middle of a song on a time scale of eight bars.
Why Do Songwriters Add Bridge?
There are various reasons as to why a songwriter adds a bridge (or bridges) to a song aside from it does, by definition, connect two verses in a song. Essentially, the common reason is that it improves the song’s entire mood or color.
But oftentimes, bridges are used to provide variety.
A song that contains a variety of music materials and spreads throughout the whole song makes it more interesting and exciting. On the contrary, a song that toggles back and forth between two or three verses with the same tempo and key could sound boring and may fall the audience into a lull.
You can add variety to a song by introducing a new key, a change in pace or meter, or a shift in the chord progression. And all these can be done by integrating a bridge or bridges.
Apart from that, another common—and perhaps noticeable—purpose of adding a bridge is to build tension. Skid Row’s ballad song “I Remember You,” for example, uses a bridge to introduce a guitar solo, before it goes back again to the original material or the chorus.
But not only that. Here are a few more roles the bridge plays in a song:
- Builds anticipation and energy
- Provides contrast to the entire song’s mood
- Divides repetitive sections
- Introduces new instrument or key
- Creates dynamic shift
Bridges In Different Style of Music
The bridge—while it shares the same purposes no matter the song’s genre—is used differently or follows a different format for every music style. In music theory, you will learn various formats that are commonly used in every music genre. The AABA format, for instance, is typically applied in pop songs.
That being said, I will discuss below how the bridge is used in some of the major music styles.
Almost all pop songs today come with a bridge. From singers such as Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, and the infamous band The Beatles, the presence of the musical material in such a specific genre has proven that it makes the song more interesting and exciting.
That said, pop music has a standard song structure and placement of the bridge. Typically, it follows a format like this:
Verse 1 – Chorus – Verse 2 – Chorus – Bridge – Chorus
As you can see, the bridge is placed near the end which is often used to build tension and give away an emotional ending. In terms of melody and chord progression, some bridges have the same sound like the chorus or verses. Some, on the other hand, have an entirely different melody and chord.
The AABA Song Format
In the earliest year of the pop song era, a majority of the songs were written in a song structure called AABA format. The song’s format is 32 bars long with both A and B sections having 8 bars. It is also where the term “middle eight” for the bridge has originated, as you can find it at the middle with 8 bars long.
That being said, if compared to what pop composers use today, the AABA format follows like this:
Chorus (A) – Chorus (A) – Bridge (B) – Chorus (A)
As you can see, the song’s format is completely different from what the majority of pop songs are. Still, the bridge can be found near the end of the song. One of the many popular songs that used this type of format is “Take the A Train” by Billy Strayhorn.
The ABABCB Format
Another infamous song structure pop composers use is the ABABCB.
In this format, the B is the chorus, the A is the verse, and the C is the bridge. And in essence, the function of the bridge here is to connect two choruses.
One of the popular songs that have this type of song structure is Calvin Harris’ “Blame.”
Here’s how the ABABCB format looks like:
Verse 1 (A) – Chorus (B) – Verse 2 (A) – Chorus (B) – Bridge (C) – Chorus (B)
Bridges are not only used in pop songs; you can also find it in jazz music. But unlike in pop songs, it follows a different song format. And it is called AABA.
AABA is a 32-bars long song structure and is typically used in swing pieces and jazz standards. Among the popular jazz songs that have the same format are Irving Berlin’s “What Will I Do,” and Jerry Lee Lewis “Great Balls of Fire.”
On the other hand, a song format called “turnaround” can also be found in jazz music. But unlike the standard bridge, the turnaround is played at the end of a verse after a sequential chord progression.
Essentially, the bridge here serves as a channel to lead back to the beginning of the section.
Lastly, bridges can be found in classical pieces too. It was called a “bridge-passage” or “transition” before and was commonly found in Sonata Form. Typically, it is placed in the opening “exposition” section and serves as a transition between two primary themes of the piece.
Some examples of bridges in classical pieces are Bach’s Fugue in G Major (BWV 860) and Mozart’s Sonata in F Major (K. 332).
With its wide array of functions, the integration of bridge in songs has indeed become popular—if not a standard. As such, if you are a songwriter and are planning to write a song, a bridge would be a wise musical element to add.
Eduardo Perez is a multi-instrumentalist with over 20 years of experience playing instruments such as piano, guitar, ukulele, and bass. Having arranged songs and produced music in a recording studio, he has a wealth of knowledge to share about analyzing songs, composing, and producing. Currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Musical Studies at Berklee College School of Music. Featured on Entrepreneur.com. Subscribe to his YouTube channel, or follow him on Instagram.