Bridges of Los Angeles County

This column idea was submitted by H. Wayne Bice. Thank you, Wayne. If anyone else has a suggestion for a future column, please let me know. Thanks.

There is no songwriter I ever met who didn't have trouble with a bridge now and then. And there is no songwriter among my clients who doesn't try to negotiate his/her way out of writing a bridge every time out.

My friend, birthday twin and client, Konosuke Komiya, in Japan, is a killer songwriter - every melody is a work of genius - many of his songs have been published and recorded. But every time he finishes a verse and chorus he asks me the same question: "Do I need a bridge?". And he always groans when I say yes. So if you're having construction problems with the third section of your songs, you're in good company.

Since bridges are an ongoing problem for so many of us, I thought it would be helpful to share what I know about them, in the hope that your next one will come easier, and with fewer cases of peanut M & M's.

I think of a contemporary song as having three main sections - a verse, a chorus and a bridge. Ideally, for each section, the melody line, the chords, the rhythm and the lyrics are different. Whatever you've done in the verse, don't do it in the chorus or the bridge, and whatever you do in the chorus, don't do it in the verse or the bridge. If you find you overlap or borrow, rewrite so you don't.

My clients are constantly calling and asking how they can tell if their songs actually need bridges. I used to say if they had already written two verses and two choruses and the length of their song was under the two minute mark, they needed a bridge. Now, with competition for records being so lethal, I say include a bridge in every song. The worst that can happen is, if a producer doesn't like it, it'll get edited out. Better to have it to take out than need it and not be able to create it.

For my clients who come to me with construction problems, I ask them to consider their song sections as having shapes. Let's say the verse is a triangle, the chorus is a square and the bridge is a circle. That is NOT a square, a circle and another circle pretending to be a square. That is three distinct shapes.

Let's further consider the verse is blue, the chorus is red and the bridge is green. If your songs don't change colors as dramatically as this, perhaps rewriting them with colors that are more distinct from each other solve your problem.

Many of my lyricist clients are often so relieved to finish a lyric they have themselves convinced that the bridges of the songs they co-write should be instrumentals. Oh really? I try to tell them as gently as I can, that with just a verse/chorus format, their songs probably aren't finished. I suggest they try writing the song's story in prose, so there's no meter to worry about, no rhythm to wrestle with. The chances are, if it's a good story, it won't have all been told in just two verses and two choruses, and will still have something left to be said in the bridge.

Here are some questions to ask yourselves to see if your bridges work. Are the melody line, lyric, rhythm and chords different in the verse, chorus and bridge? If not, change them so they are. Are the shapes - ie - circle, square, triangle - of your verse, chorus and bridge different from each other? If not, rewrite them so they are. Are the colors of your verse, chorus and bridge different from each other? If not, make them different.

While it's usually a good idea to go up into the chorus from the verse, and often a major third is a strong interval to use, that isn't necessarily true with the transition from the bridge back into the last choorus. What I do, and what I suggest my clients do, is write the last line of the bridge first, to make sure it has a dramatic re-entry into the chorus. You don't want to write a great bridge and have the song wimp out when you head back into the chorus.

Listening to the top forty for half an hour will show you that bridges in contemporary songs are often longer than they ever used to be, and play a much more important role than ever before. So by creating a great bridge, your song has a better shot than it would have without one. The chorus is still the most important section of the song, and the verse has to be strong enough to hold our attention long enough to get us into the chorus. But once we've heard two verses and two choruses, we need to hear something new - and that's where your bridge goes to work.

Let me know how you do.

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