The fall and the rise, contrast, fragmentation, recycling, and more: everything you need to know about how to write and produce a pop bridge
I’m not sure why, but I rarely hear pop creators talk about the bridge. Verses and choruses come up regularly, but the bridge seems to be an afterthought for many. I, on the other hand, get unreasonably excited on the rare occasion that it does come up because the bridge is possibly my favorite section. It’s where the twist in the musical plot happens, which is interesting enough, but what’s even more interesting to me is how the approach to creating this twist has changed over the years.
Songwriters and producers usually create the bridge with two functional goals in mind: providing contrast and generating tension. Until a decade or two ago, the norm was to create contrast by introducing a new melody and chord progression, and tension by ending the chord progression on a dominant chord (V), or at times a different chord that could have a similar effect, like bVII or IV.
In recent years, though, as pop has become more and more influenced by EDM, the role of functional harmony has been weakened to make way for sound production magic. Producers generate tension and release through risers, drum acceleration, strategic filtering, and various other techniques. There is no need for harmonic progressions to define sections in the song, and in fact it's very common to maintain the same chord loop throughout a song, including in the bridge.
This isn’t to say that modern songs never change the chord progression or melody in the bridge, just that doing these things is no longer “obligatory” like it used to be. The sonic traits that I describe below are much stronger indicators of a bridge when it comes to pop songs in the 2010s.
Related: The Postchorus-Bridge Switcheroo
The Fall and Rise
The sound-production-driven bridge has two functional stages, which I call the fall and rise. Here’s what they do:
Here are some examples of how the fall and rise can be organized:
Demi Lovato – Sorry Not Sorry
Fall (2:28-2:41): The heavy low end (kick and 808) from the chorus drops out, leaving a much thinner texture made up of mostly piano and vocals.
Rise (2:41-2:55): Claps are added to add rhythmic energy, as well as a layer of white noise to fill up the higher part of the frequency spectrum. Demi contributes to the buildup by going higher and higher in her vocal range, and a very high adlib/shout (2:54) gives the final accent before the final chorus drops.
Asaf Peres is a music theory Ph.D. who researches and writes about pop music.
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