Build-A-Song Part VIII: Finishing Touches

by Mary Dawson

This is the eighth and last in a series of articles called Build-A-Song which present a step-by-step method for creating a song. By no means is this "the only" method for writing songs. In fact, the approaches to songwriting are as many as the writers themselves. But our Build-A-Song series offers a sequential template for covering the basics of successful songwriting. I hope you will follow along and perhaps even try this method as you create your own. If you missed the other articles in the series, you may find them in the articles archive.

Part VIII -- Finishing Touches

If we were building a house instead of a song, we would be almost ready to move in by now! We've been careful to lay a strong foundation comprised of our Great Idea and the Hook. We have carefully planned and constructed the framework of the Lyrics and the Melody. We have used crafting tools like Cadence and Rhyme to make the rooms fresh and interesting without sacrificing comfort and familiarity. It's time now for the wallpaper and the curtains. This is the fun stuff ... so read on!

A Bridge -- Yes or No?

The song we have been constructing in this series is a Verse-Chorus song -- probably the most dominant song form in contemporary hit music. Most Verse-Chorus songs have two verses with two repetitions of the chorus (once after each verse) -- sometimes a third chorus concludes the song. There is, however, an additional section that may be added to the song between the second and third's called the Bridge.

The Bridge of a song functions much like any other bridge. It is a transitional feature that moves a person from one place to another. In this case, the Bridge moves the listener from the second to the third chorus, providing contrast and building toward the grand finale -- that last repetition of your unforgettable hook and chorus. The Bridge can also be called a release or a break because it provides relief from the repetition of the verse and chorus melodies and helps to hold the listeners' attention all the way to the end of the song.

A Bridge differs from a chorus in that: Perhaps the most distinguishing feature of an effective Bridge is that it departs from the rest of the song -- both musically and lyrically -- to provide contrast. It is a great place to really "make a point" in the lyric and to provide a completely different perspective which will once more conclude with the powerful hook and chorus. The lyrical cadence and even the rhyme pattern can and should change at the Bridge. Musically, also, the Bridge should move to a new place by using a different melody, different harmonies and perhaps even different rhythms. Often, composers choose to use a key change either going into the Bridge or at the end of the Bridge as a powerful transition into the last chorus. You may even decide to make your Bridge an instrumental-only section, providing you as a musician or a member of your band an opportunity for an instrumental solo. But whatever musical or lyrical departures you decide to take in the Bridge to provide contrast, you must be careful not to get so "far afield" that you do not arrive back at the last chorus. REMEMBER: The purpose of the Bridge is to provide a new and fresh approach to the repeated and now familiar chorus which contains the "1-2 Punch" of the hook and the Great Idea.

Since the Bridge is an optional feature (much like crown molding or wallpaper in a house), aspiring songwriters often puzzle over the question of whether or not their song really needs one. Here are some considerations:
  1. Is the song too short? Does it go by too quickly? -- Most commercial songs should be at least 2 1/2 to 3 minutes in length. If the song is uptempo, two verses and three choruses may simply not be quite enough to make the song a standard length. A Bridge can be an ideal "song stretcher" to add a few seconds. On the other side of the coin, if your song is already almost 4 minutes long, you may decide not to include a Bridge.
  2. Is the Bridge saying something new? -- If the Bridge is simply re-stating something that has been said before in the verses, it is probably best to omit it. Remember…the Bridge must contrast with the rest of the song and bring your "Songwriter's Camera" to a new angle on the Great Idea of the song that is stated in the hook. (In my opinion, one of the most beautiful Bridges ever "built" occurs in the wonderful Gerry House/Don Schlitz song, The River and the Highway, recorded by Pam Tillis. It is worth the price of the CD to study this stellar example of what a great Bridge can do!)
  3. What is your "gut" telling you? -- It has been my experience that almost every song I have ever written takes on a "life of its own" as I write it. Most songwriters will simply begin to sense intuitively if the song really needs a Bridge or not. If you are collaborating with another writer, this decision would be one you would want to discuss as the song takes shape both musically and lyrically.
Secondary Hooks -- otherwise known as "Ear Candy"

In earlier Build-A-Song articles we spent a great deal of time developing the concept of the song's main hook as the most unforgettable musical and lyrical line. It's that one line that the listener cannot forget even long after the song is over. It's the line that usually contains the title and that "grabs the listeners by the ears" -- catching, holding, and sustaining their interest to the end of the song and pulling their emotions into the experience. ( Build-A-Song/Part 2)

There are some other techniques, however, that can effectively assist the main hook in its task of engaging and maintaining listener attention. Secondary Hooks are simply supplementary and often unexpected auditory "treats" that delight the ear and keep the listener tuned into the song. Here are some to consider: And that brings us to the end of our Build-A-Song Series. It's time now to just enjoy the results of your artistry and diligent crafting. Move in -- get comfortable with your new song. If you see some areas that need a little rearrangement, it's not too late to shift the furnishings a little bit and try some different ideas. When your song is finished, you will know it and it will be time to invite the world in to enjoy your song with you.

Just a word of warning, though. Before you know it, you will pass a billboard…hear a phrase….or get an idea that will start the process all over again. That's the life of a Song Builder!

**From her earliest childhood years writing simple songs and poems with her father, through her twelve years as an overseas missionary, to her present, multi-faceted career as an author, lyricist/songwriter and conference speaker, Mary has always been adept at using words to communicate her heart to others. She is the President of CQK Records & Music of Dallas, Texas, a company which creates and produces songs in a panorama of musical styles for a variety of audiences, She is also the host of "I Write the Songs," a nationally syndicated radio talk show, especially created to inspire and instruct the more than 25 million aspiring songwriters in the U.S. "I Write the Songs" is broadcast over the Internet. Mary is a frequent public speaker and seminar lecturer on songwriting. She is a regular columnist for Independent Songwriter Web Magazine. Mary's commitment to discovering and mentoring talented new songwriters has given her extensive experience in song analysis through adjudicating songwriting competitions and conducting songwriting workshops across the country and around the world. Because of her role as president of an independent music company, she is also well qualified to instruct aspiring songwriters on the various business aspects of the music industry. She is married and a mother of four. She resides in the Dallas area.

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