Song Bridges Part 5 — Building A Bridge

(The San Francisco Bay Bridge via )

(The San Francisco Bay Bridge via

The last few posts have been discussing the element of songwriting known as a bridge.  In “Song Bridges” and “Song Bridges Part 2 — Middle Eights,” I explored the function of the bridge, and in “Song Bridges Part 3 — Film” and “Song Bridges Part 4 — Fiction,” I suggested that analogs to this songwriting move can be found in other mediums.  Indeed, I stumbled onto that idea as I wrote my memoir.  I came to a point in one of the later chapters and thought, “It needs a bridge right here!”

 If one were to add a bridge to a song, a story, a memoir, a film, how might one go about it?

 One might begin by asking if the work in question actually needs a bridge.  I once heard Paul Westerberg say, “The best bridge is no bridge at all.”  Indeed.

Sometimes, however, one has finished a song, a story, or a script and can’t shake the feeling that the work is incomplete, though the beginning feels like the beginning and the end feels like the end.  Somehow the work did not reach the depths necessary to evoke the intended emotional response.  In that case, a bridge may be in order.  How might one add one?

  • Let the work’s main idea establish itself before starting a bridge.  (A likely point for a bridge will be after the halfway point.)
  • Let the bridge introduce material that challenges the rest of the work.

    Challenge the work’s established ideas.  (If the song has been about loss, here is where it might reach for hope.  If the film has followed a protagonist's quest for a goal, here is where she might question that goal.)

    Highlight that challenge by shifting to new formal landscape. (In music, change keys, or meter, or ambience, or instrumentation.  In writing or film, make a dramatic change of scene, tense, timeframe, mood, voice, and so forth.)
  • When you are done, ask yourself if it deepens the piece? Or does it simply add material and thus add to your audience’s cognitive workload?

My band mate, Dan Wilson, (whose advice on songwriting is brilliantly captured in a vine series called “words and music in six seconds”) quoted another wise man, producer Rick Rubin, on the subject of bridges.  Rick said words to this effect: "If you want to add a bridge, it has to be the best part of the song."  (Note the resonance of this insight with Paul Westerberg's.)

I like Rick's test.  Though I can’t say the bridge is always the best section in a favorite song or movie or book, I often feel it’s the most necessary.

 Thank you for reading.