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For years, I have been understanding the bridge as the part leading into the last chorus, and pre-chorus as the part leading into the choruses before last. But recently I found out my understanding might be incorrect after learning of the term "middle 8". What I have been calling the "bridge" might be the "middle 8", and what I have been calling the "pre-chorus" might be the "bridge", but then where would the "pre-chorus" be?

I have been reading a lot of results on Google but none succeeded to provide a satisfactory answer to my question; and a lot of them just outright have conflicting opinions, so I think it's best to bring the question here. If it helps, the context here would be about pop music in general.

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4 Answers 4

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A bridge is a section of music that provides contrast to the verse (and chorus, if present). Wikipedia provides a concise definition:

a bridge is a contrasting section that prepares for the return of the original material section.

Middle 8 is just a term for a bridge that's eight bars long.

A classical example of a bridge/middle 8 comes in Gershwin's "I Got Rhythm". It's a standard 32-bar AABA song form: two verses (8 bars each), a bridge (8 bars), and a final verse.

Pre-chorus refers to a section that introduces a chorus, unlike a bridge, which leads back into the verse.

A pre-chorus can be heard in Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit". In the below video, it's the repetitive section from [0:42] to [0:59] ("Hello, hello, hello, how low?") which is lyrically and musically distinct from both the preceding verse and the subsequent chorus.

None of these musical sections are defined by leading into a final verse or chorus, though one can often find them there.

See also Wikipedia: Song Structure.

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    One thing to be aware of is that these terms change a bit over time. They are flexible anyway.
    – ttw
    Jan 19, 2021 at 20:31
  • "unlike a bridge, which leads back into the verse." The wikipedia page you linked goes against the idea that a bridge necessarily comes before a verse.
    – Edward
    Jan 20, 2021 at 2:50
  • Middle 8, to me, has always been the 'different bit before the finale' no matter how many bars it actually is. A bit late for xmas, but I'd assume everybody would recognise "What would your daddy do when he sees your mama kissing santa claus? aaahhhh ah"
    – Tetsujin
    Jan 20, 2021 at 7:58
  • Ever played 'middle 8s' that were not actually 8 bars? I have, plenty!
    – Tim
    Jan 20, 2021 at 8:36
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The term "pre chorus" is unambiguous - it's a section between a verse and a chorus that gets you from one to the other - the "hello hello hello" section in smells like teen spirit, or "You were Romeo, you were throwin' pebbles..." in "love story" by Taylor Swift.

The term "bridge" is used by different people to mean different things. Sometimes it is used to mean the same thing as "pre chorus." Other times it is used to refer to a section in the middle of the song that contrasts with both the verse and chorus. In rock songs (like smells like teen spirit) this is usually where the solo goes. This section is usually followed by either a final verse+chorus or just a final chorus. In modern pop this section is often called a "breakdown" - but in my experience "bridge" usually implies that the section has new/different chord progression (like the "I got tired of waiting" section in "Love story"), while a "breakdown" often uses the same chord progression as the chorus or verse, but with a different arrangement (like in basically any Katy Perry song - teenage dream, tgif, wide awake etc.).

"middle 8" refers to a "bridge" (in the NON pre-chorus sense) that is 8 bars long. But it is a (to me) fairly "old fashioned" term that doesn't get used much any more.

In other words, if you think of the structure of a pop song (like smells like teen spirit) as this:

ABCABCDABC

then the letters are as follows:

A - verse

B - pre chorus (or "bridge")

C- chorus

D - bridge/middle 8/breakdown/solo

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All the terms are about a section that connects two other sections with the difference being whether the terms specifies where the connection occurs within the overall structure.

"Bridge" is a general term for a section meant act as a connection between two other sections. This doesn't tell use where it happens.

"Pre-chorus" would be a type of bridge, but is specifically a section preceding a chorus. We now have at least a relative position: before a chorus, but a chorus could appear in several places.

"Middle 8" can be described as a bridge, but the notion of "middle" is probably best understood in terms of a 32 bar song form. The form is divided into two main sections A and B. Both sections are generated from 8 bars of initial material which is extended with repetition and variation to make each of the two sections 16 bars.

The song Polka Dots and Moonbeams is a good 32 bar song model. The first 8 bar idea is repeated but with alternate endings. The 8 bar idea is played the first time with a half cadence and then the second time for a full cadence. That provides 16 bars total and is labelled section A. The next 8 bar idea is new material contrasting with the A section. The contrast is often in both melodic and harmonic material. It will digress from the opening tonality and then return to it. The return to the opening tonality is achieved with a half cadence. After the contrasting 8 bars the 8 bar idea of the opening A section is repeated for the final end.

The whole structure, using lower case a and b for the intial 8 bar ideas and prime mark ' to indicate variation, is this...

Section A:

a'  8 bars, 1st ending
a'' 8 bars, 2nd ending

Section B:

b   8 bars, return to a'' ... these 8 bars are the "middle 8"
a'' 8 bars, 2nd ending

The initial 8 bar idea of the contrasting B section starts at the middle of the whole 32 bar structure and so got the nickname "middle 8." In general use people will probably use it as a generic "bridge" term. If it's being applied with some sense of the original meaning, it will be a bridge, 8 bars, leading to a concluding section repeated from earlier material.

I have been reading a lot of results on Google but none succeeded to provide a satisfactory answer to my question; and a lot of them just outright have conflicting opinions...

Just consider the speaker. Do they show knowledge of the terminology of musical form? The they write or speak in a way that clearly explains the technical jargon they use? If not, don't put much stock in what they say.

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Wikipedia is ok as a guide but is not, much as it would like to be, a definitive source of truth--we must all have seen stuff there that's just plain wrong. The terms actually seem to be used interchangeably in practice to mean simply what the word "bridge" means in its more common usage (e.g., road or rail bridge), i.e., "A connecting or transitional passage" in music. "And early morning when I wake up/ I look like Kiss but without the makeup/ And that's a good line to take it to the bridge"--which comes next and is, in this case, a contrasting section that prepares for the chorus.

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