Music TheoryForm

What Is A Bridge In Music?

Written by Samuel Chase

Last updated

In music, a bridge is a very common section found in many different styles of music. It is found in almost every pop song nowadays, and its roots go back to the classical era and even before.

You’ve probably heard it used like the terms verse or chorus as another section in basic song structure. In this post, we’ll look at exactly what the term bridge means in music with examples.

The Definition Of Bridge In Music

The most comprehensive definition of the term bridge is that it’s a section of contrasting musical material that then prepares for, and returns to, the original material section.

The original use of the word bridge comes from German medieval music, sung by Meistersingers starting in the 15th century.

It used to be called steg (the German word for “bridge”) and would describe a transitional section of the music as it moved from one phrase or passage to another.

As German composers fled to America before and during World War II, they brought the term with them, translating it to bridge in English. 

How Bridges Are Used In Different Styles Of Music

There are many different styles of music, like pop music, jazz, and classical, and the bridge section is different in all three styles.

Let’s look at how it is used in all three, starting with pop music.

Use In Pop Music

You have most likely heard the term bridge with regard to pop music.

It has by far the most popular use of bridges — almost every song heard on the radio nowadays has one.

Here’s the bridge to “Blank Space” by Taylor Swift to give you an example: 

“Blank Space” by Taylor Swift

In pop music, songs can often be broken up into distinct sections, and the three main ones are the verses, the chorus, and the bridge.

Most songs follow a similar form: Verse 1 → Chorus → Verse 2 → Chorus (repeated) → Bridge → Chorus (last time).

So most of the time, if you want to hear the bridge of a song, listen through it until the second chorus and the bridge should come up next.

Some bridges sound similar to the verses or chorus, with the same chord progressions and rhythms used. For example, in “Castle on the Hill” by Ed Sheeran, the bridge could just be another verse.

“Castle on the Hill” by Ed Sheeran

However, the bridge can also be a totally different feel from the verses and the chorus, and therefore stand out more in its own right. Listen to this bridge from “Fat Lip” by Sum 41 as an example.

This clip starts at the chorus to give you an idea of how the song sounds and how the bridge at 1:42 sounds very different.

“Fat Lip” by Sum 41

Bridges have been staples of pop songs for decades.

The Beatles are probably the band that has the most famous and written-about bridges.

Their songs “Here Comes the Sun,” “We Can Work it Out,” and “A Hard Day’s Night” are all great examples of their unique and interesting bridges. 

Here is “Something” by The Beatles, as probably their most revered bridge. 

“Something” by The Beatles

Use In Classical Music

In the Classical era, a bridge is called a transition or bridge-passage.

It is commonly found in sonata form in the opening “Exposition” section as a transition between the two main themes.

Listen to this Mozart Sonata in F Major, K.332, which has the transition section starting around 0:30.

In another example, here is a short (three-bar) bridge in Bach’s Fugue in G Major, BWV 860. The bridge starts around 1:25.

Bach’s Fugue in G Major, BWV 860

Use In Jazz Music

There are a few different ways bridges are used in jazz music.

In 32-bar AABA form, which a lot of jazz standards and swing pieces are written in, the B section is often considered as the bridge.

Pieces like “I Got Rhythm” by George Gershwin or “What’ll I Do” by Irving Berlin are classic examples, as well as “Great Balls of Fire” by Jerry Lee Lewis, the bridge of which is below.

“Great Balls of Fire” by Jerry Lee Lewis

The other bridge in jazz is more of a turnaround, which is when a sequential chord progression is played at the end of a verse or section in order to lead back to the beginning of the section.

For example, in C major, there would be a progression of seventh chords that lead around the circle of fifths (E-A-D-G-C) to point back to C and the beginning of the piece again.

Turnaround bridge

Summing Up Bridges

There are many different uses of the word bridge in music.

You’ll most likely hear it regarding pop songs and the little section following the second chorus, but really it just means any section of contrasting musical material that then points to and leads back to the main material of the song.

We hope that this post has helped figure out exactly what a bridge is and how it’s used.

Photo of author

Samuel Chase has been playing music since he was 5 years old, and teaching music since he was 13. He has a PhD in Music from the University of Surrey, and he has composed music that has been played in three different countries. He is currently working as a film composer and writing a book on film music.