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For a bridge, I would like to know if there are any rules regarding which keys you should utilize...
By Bill Pere - 09/18/2010 - 08:39 AM EDT

Question: For a bridge, I would like to know if there are any rules regarding which keys you should utilize. i.e., , would one modulate to the relative minor or major of the main key of the song? Also, what exactly is a pre-chorus and how is it different from the bridge and/or chorus.

The bridge needs to have an identity that is clearly distinct from verses and chorus. This means both musically, and also in the cadence of the lyric.  A key change and a change in the primary rhythm figure usually provides enough musical distinction.

There is no exact "rule" for how change key to get into a bridge, but some of the common conventions are to go to the relative minor, or a fifth in either direction. If these are the most common, then sometimes you might want to do something less common to really grab a listener's ear. Depending on the rest of the song, you can modulate up a minor third (if you're playing in the key of E, go to G) or a major third (E to G#). You could also go from the tonic (E) to the ii or iii chord (F#m or G#m).

A more advanced technique would be to find the first vocal note of the bridge, and go to a chord which contains that note, but which is totally unrelated to the original key.  Example - If you're in the key of E, and the first vocal note of the bridge is "b", try Cmaj7, or Db7 or F#sus, or G9 or Aadd9, all of which contain the note "b", along with some internal tension. The degree to which this works depends on the overall melody, and your skill at getting to and from unusual changes.

Another great technique for getting into a bridge (or making any kind of key change) is to make the change on the last chord of the previous section, instead of on the first chord of the new section. It will make for a much more interesting transition.     For Example: The usual way would be,  if the last line of chorus is G-D-A , singing the note 'e' on the A chord, then bridge would be in Bm (relative minor of the original tonic key, D).  However, for a more interesting way: last line of chorus is G-D-C , still singing the note 'e' but now on a C chord), then bridge is in Dm (the relative minor of the new tonic key, F) ; Here, the key change occurred on the last line of the section before the bridge, on the "C" chord. The melody note was unchanged. An E-chord could have been used as well which would then put the new key in A, with the relative minor being F#m. It's up to your ear to choose a chord substitution that you like, as long as the sung melody note is present.

In addition to getting into a bridge, consider how to get out of the bridge and back to your next verse or chorus. You can exit with an unusual change, OR you can exit into a completely new key, so that your final verse and/or chorus is in a new tonal center. You can use a transition chord to get into and out of a bridge, but try to keep it to just one measure.

Regarding your 'pre-chorus' question:  A pre-chorus, also called a "climb" is a transition between the verse and the start of the chorus, which, as the name implies, serves to lift the overall level of the energy so that the song 'climbs' from the verse into a higher energy state in the chorus. If you have a 4 line verse, a climb might be an extra 1-2 lines which connect the verse and chorus and provide the 'lift'. Or, in a 4-line verse, a well constructed final line can serve to make this transition. It requires musical differentiation from what the verse is providing, and from what the chorus will provide, like a ramp connecting two levels of a structure.

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