Why a Middle 8 isn’t a Bridge.

I was working on a mix recently, and exchanging with the artist by email. All was going well, but we hit a bit of a snag when his references to tracks that needed modification didn’t match what I was seeing in the session. Eventually we sorted it out: what he meant by the Bridge wasn’t what I understood by the Bridge.

When it comes to talking about music, it’s important that we all use the same terminology, and nowhere moreso than in regards to the sections of a song. And here, there’s one section that constantly causes confusion: the Middle 8.

The Middle 8 is the section which comes between the second Chorus and the third and final Chorus in verse-chorus form. There might be something else in there as well, perhaps a return to a part of a Verse before the last Chorus, or a repeat of the introduction. But basically, what we’re talking about is the part of the song around 2/3 of the way in that isn’t a solo, but where the song launches out into a new direction. An actual Middle 8 isn’t just an instrumental section over a Verse, it’s a new, separate section with different chords and arrangement, and can be either sung or instrumental. Often there’s a modulation, perhaps to the sub-dominant, plus other changes which I’ll be looking at elsewhere on these pages … eventually. But today, I just want to talk about names and nomenclature.

Before launching into this, we should acknowledge that there is of course a slight misnomer here, as a) the Middle 8 doesn’t quite come in the middle, it generally comes a little later and b) it’s not necessarily 8 bars long. But calling it the two-thirds 12 was never going to catch on!

There are plenty of examples of great Middle 8’s: Otis Redding, Sittin’ On The Dock Of The Bay: “… Looks like, nothing’s gonna change …”. Beach Boys, Good Vibrations: “… Gotta keep those love good, vibrations …”  Bruce Springsteen, Born to Run: “ …. Beyond the palace, hemi-powered drones …”.

These and others are covered here as well as other places around the net, most notably this one, which has a great introduction summing up the confusion around Middle 8’s:

Putting aside discussion as to what a Middle 8 is, we’d probably all agree on what it sounds like as it’s something we’ve grown up with as musicians and listeners. But I have a real problem with calling this section a Bridge. Not only is it confusing, it’s unhelpful to us as musicians.

In the non-musical world, a bridge is what we use to get over a river, or a road, or even in the case of those multi-way flyovers, another bridge. It can be high or low, long or short, built-up or suspended down etc. We all know what a bridge is. It gets us from A to B, usually when there’s some kind of obstacle stopping us from doing so.

And this is my issue with using “Bridge” for the Middle 8. The Middle 8 invariably comes between two Choruses, so it doesn’t get us from A to B at all. It gets us from A back to A again. It’s the link between two identical sections, not between two different sections. (note here that these letters could be anything you choose. If you think of your Choruses as the B section, then a Middle 8 goes from B back to B.)

Starting from one point, going somewhere for a short while, then returning to the point of origin is NOT what a bridge does.

And that’s my problem with the nomenclature. The Middle 8 does not function like a (real) bridge as it’s not a transition, it’s an interlude, a “hang on a minute” moment. Why use the word “bridge” when the section we’re referring to is not functioning as a bridge?

This is not just nit-picking. If we agreed on the terminology, I wouldn’t have wasted an hour trying to make corrections to a Bridge when I needed to be looking elsewhere. But more importantly, it’s important that when we’re working on a song, whether it’s as composers, arrangers, musicians, or even as engineers, we have a sense of what each part of the song is doing and what role it plays. If you think of a Middle 8 as a kind of “going nowhere” section, you’re not going to be using guitar lines that drive the song forward, as that’s not what we need the Middle 8 to do. Same with the other elements. A Middle 8 is perfect for a moment of reflection or digression in the lyrics, and it’s the place in the song where the arrangement can be more atmospheric or textural. A Bridge does pretty much the opposite: it’s the moment to be looking for ideas that will move us forward. A to B as opposed to A to A.

Not all songs have or need an actual sung Middle 8, though historically they generally include a lead vocal. These days, it’s common to find a Middle 8 as a contrasting, mainly instrumental section, often a kind of breakdown, perhaps with some vocals thrown in. This might be a slower or more open section, or it might recycle earlier material in a more stripped-down or even “spaced-out” variation: big reverbs and delays to the rescue!

A good example of this kind of approach is Korn’s “Never Never”. Their (mainly) instrumental Middle 8 starts at 2:11 with a short interlude, then hits the Middle section proper at 2:22. It’s actually 13 bars long in total, which might seem a bit odd, but it’s because it’s a very logical and readable, 4 + 12 bars, and they then throw in a 1 bar suspension before hitting the last Chorus – a not uncommon device in a Middle 8, and a great trick to build tension and get more impact going into the final Chorus. (see my analysis of Highway to Hell to see how AC/DC use a similar trick.)

While we don’t always use Middle 8’s, many songs use Bridges, sections that function like real-life bridges in getting us from A to B. You most often find Bridges as a transition between the Verse (A) and the Chorus (B). If this is the case, it’s because going straight from a Verse to a Chorus doesn’t work. Usually that’s either because the two sections are too similar, especially harmonically, or because the material in the Verse won’t sustain for the 16+ bars we need between Choruses, so we introduce another section. If you read through my “Definition of a Chorus” entry, you’ll see that generally we’ll need a Bridge when our Verse isn’t “anti-chorus” enough and doesn’t fulfil enough of the difference criteria we need moving into a Chorus. A Bridge can help address a lot of these problems, especially as a Bridge usually shifts the tonal centre, which gives us the contrasting material to make it all work.

An example of great use of a Bridge is Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone”, covered elsewhere on this site. Bob doesn’t use a Middle 8, or even a solo. Though heh, with lyrics like his, who needs one! However, he does have a little instrumental passage after each Chorus to help break things up, but apart from that, the song just repeats the same structural sequence throughout.

In reality, about the only place you’ll find a Bridge is between the Verse and the Chorus. Any later and it’s more likely that what you needed was a Middle 8. The only other possible place for a bridge, between a Chorus and a Verse, risks becoming unnecessary padding – you generally need to return to the Verse as directly as possible after a Chorus.

Songs can also contain both Bridges and Middle 8’s. But they’re rare. That’s because by the time you get a Verse plus a Bridge plus a Chorus, adding a Middle 8 starts to make for a lot of different ideas, and the song can collapse under its own weight. Having so many different sections can also get complicated and confusing. One example that does work well is Lenny Kravitz’ “I’ll be Waiting”, where the Middle 8 comes in with the strings on “You are the only one” at 2:52. He needs that fourth section, the Middle 8, because the other elements, are fairly simple, even minimal, which means that there’s not quite enough material to sustain the song with just Verse, Bridge, Chorus. He could have used a solo, but soloing over this kind of backing, at this tempo, isn’t really his bag. Also, as the song is fairly slow, it’s harder to get a contrasting breakdown section to work, as to some extent we’re already there: the whole song is open and textural, and you can’t really pull back from what’s already pulled back.

So, to conclude: The Middle 8 is the bit in the middle of the song, after the second Chorus in verse-chorus form. It’s not a bridge, and doesn’t work like a bridge, it’s a kind of interlude, often with a key change. On the other hand, a Bridge is the bit in the song that works like a real-life bridge, “bridging” between different sections and moving the song forwards. It usually comes between the Verse and Chorus.

Try thinking about these sections like that, and see what happens to your writing and arrangements. It all helps.

And, just a small postlude if you want to explore this further: The Middle 8 in Verse/Chorus form functions almost identically to the B section of AABA form, which is sometimes even referred to as the Middle 8 in those songs. So if you’re looking for some more on the what/why/how of Middle 8’s, check out my AABA entry.

© Peter Crosbie 2016. All rights reserved.

Published by

Peter Crosbie

Musician, Producer, Mix and Recording Engineer

28 thoughts on “Why a Middle 8 isn’t a Bridge.”

      1. Loved the post! I totally get it! Have called my middle 8’s by the wrong name all these years!

        I have used a short, 2 bars often, “lifts” to bridge from Verse to Chorus…..might I call my lifts “Bridges“ then?



      2. Hi David. Well, call the sections what you want! But … if you want to communicate with other musicians, better to have a language in common that’s universally understood. Also, the terms you use will have an impact on how you see/understand these sections, so worth thinking about that as well. I always call the bit between the verse and the chorus a bridge – unless it’s an extension of the verse. But “lift” is a nice term if that’s how you feel it, though equally, not all bridges “lift”. Peter


    1. To my ears, the term “pre-chorus” sounds pretty dumb; especially since there is a so much more appropriate word, “bridging” the listener from verse to chorus. “Pre-chorus”, ts! That sounds just like “pre-cum”! ^^


  1. This makes sense to me but it’s frustrating because whenever I get into a discussion about it, search results say that song structure goes verse prechorus chorus verse prechorus chorus bridge chorus or something like that. How can we achieve universally agreed on vocabulary?


    1. Yes, hard to know! Language is always evolving, so all we can do is try to be clear and consistent, at least within our own circles. But for me, as I say, the issue is not the term per se, but what it represents, and a Middle 8 can never be a “bridge” between anything, it’s neither its role or the way it functions. Anyway, thanks for commenting.


    2. Well, to argue for the correct vocabulary in forums and the like, supported by this here post (and maybe some of its comments) would make a good start, I guess!


  2. Great, thanks for explaining this. I was always curious. Starting to write songs these days and getting help from a friend who has mixing programmes. So wanted to ensure I knew the difference in those two terms. I guessed there had to be a difference! Thanks.


    1. Glad it helped. For me, knowing what these different sections DO is more important than knowing what they’re called. Equally, not much of a downside to using names that reflect function. Good luck with the writing.


  3. “Take it to the middle 8!” just doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, though. 🙂

    Interesting, cogent piece. My experience isn’t encompassing, but while I see your reasoning — and it makes sense — usage seems to reflect that what you are calling a “bridge” is what most (in the US) call a “pre-chorus” (or something similar, depending on where it is in the song and its function) and what you call a “middle 8” is a “bridge” at least in American English (I am familiar with the term “middle 8,” but I hear that mostly from UK musicians, and I interpret that as a synonym for what I call a “bridge.”) If somebody referred to a pre-chorus as a bridge, I’d be confused as heck, much in the same way you were confused that the bridge wasn’t the pre-chorus.

    Even in the writings of pop musicologists (like, Alan W. Pollack’s wonderful “Notes On…” series about the Beatles) I see your middle eights labeled as bridges. Do you find many other musicians sharing your vocabulary for these terms? I’m curious as to how well-known those definitions are, or where these definitions were learned. I imagine there is some music pedagogy with these definitions, and I’d be curious to read them. I also wonder if this might be a difference of geography and where one picks up their musical terms. Musical vocabulary can definitely differ by region.

    I understand some of your frustration as, similarly, I make a distinction between “chorus” and “refrain” that many don’t, so I always have to disclaimer the use of the term “refrain” when I use it, because not everyone makes that distinction. (A “refrain,” to me, being a repeated part that’s usually at the end of a verse that is not long enough to be a chorus.)

    Oh, and one last note: what I call a bridge — what you call a middle 8 — isn’t in my experience invariably between two choruses. It’ll often turn back to the verse (the ABACAB structure), sometimes into the pre-chorus, and sometimes straight into the solo. Or maybe in those cases you wouldn’t call those middle 8s?


    1. Some good and valid points, and thanks for the comment. I suspect it’s probably a US/UK thing. There are plenty of links/explanations around the place re Middle 8’s, and it seems that most of them are British. e.g. https://www.theguardian.com/music/musicblog/2008/jul/08/schoolofrockletshearitfo, which makes a similar argument to mine, at least in regards to bridges.

      In Verse/Chorus form (what I’m discussing here) a Middle 8 can only come once (after the second chorus). As you say – and as I say in the post – it can indeed lead into a reprise of a verse before the last chorus, though it’s usually pretty clear by that stage of the song that all roads lead to the last chorus. I’ve never done a statistical analysis, but I would have thought though that most Middle 8’s lead straight into the last chorus, perhaps with an interlude of some sort which may or not be based on a verse. Could be wrong of course.

      As I say at the end of my post, I accept that some people use Middle 8 as a term for the B section of 32 bar/AABA, and the function/sound is very similar, but in what I’ve written here I’m only referring to verse/chorus form.


      1. I’ve seen two documentaries of British bands (Pink Floyd and The Beatles). The Pink Floyd documentary included audio recordings of band members talking about writing songs. The Beatles documentary was actually narrated by Paul McCartney and included a lot of video he recorded specifically to talk about writing songs. Both documentaries included band members referring to Middle 8s. They both had had similar definitions and neither was as you defined it so we can’t say it’s a U.S. versus U.K. thing. As they explained it, a Middle 8 is a section that plays the part of a chorus in a song that either only has one chorus or the lyrics to the chorus change each time. An example would be Billy Joel’s Shameless (made popular by Garth Brooks) which only has one section that an everyday listener would call a chorus. It may or may not have a similar rhythmic style that matches the verses. A bridge on the other hand, as explained in the documentaries, deviates from the rest of the song in rhythmic style and chords used. It “bridges” the chorus back to the verse. When I’m talking to other music professionals, when they use these terms they are using them the same way as the documentaries explained them. And just for good measure, I busted out my college textbooks from my music production and music theory classes and their definitions are pretty much what I already stated. Kinda hard to argue with what formal music education is stating.


      2. Yes, there are plenty of different opinions out there – which is one of the reasons why I put up the post in the first place. Here are a couple of descriptions from other sources, both of which align with mine.

        “it’s generally regarded as the bit after the second chorus in a verse-chorus-verse-chorus-middle-eight-chorus structure, although it’s sometimes referred to as the “bridge” which then confuses it with the bridging section often found between verse and chorus.”


        “In music theory, “middle eight” (a common type of bridge) refers to a section of a song with a significantly different melody and lyrics, which helps the song develop itself in a natural way by creating a contrast to the previously played, usually placed after the second chorus in a song.”



  4. It is kind of strange to use a pedantic argument for why Bridge is incorrect, while acknowledging that a Middle 8 often doesn’t come in the middle of the song, and doesn’t even need to be 8 bars. It seems to me that that misnomer of a term would be even more confusing and unhelpful for musicians. You can at least visualize an actual bridge and come up with a justification for saying it, but “middle eight” conjures up nothing. It’s an empty term.

    But it’s also true that Bridge as a pop term doesn’t line up with its historical usage as a modulatory passage. Basically, neither of these terms really seem adequate for the section we’re talking about here. The best compromise is one mentioned in the article – interlude. Traditionally, an interlude comes in between choruses, so that may be the best term that makes sense musically and figuratively.


    1. Yes, a Middle 8 is a kind of interlude. But interlude is a broad term for a formal element that can be of any length and come anywhere in a song. For all the imprecisions of its name, a Middle 8 is quite specific as to where it comes, its length and what its role is.

      But if interlude works better for you, go for it.


  5. Brilliant! And my thoughts exactly; happy to have found this text.

    FOR DECADES I’ve used the word “bridge” the way you do, both for talking about as well as writing own songs, thinking EVERYBODY does – only in recent years I’ve learned that this is NOT the case! And only then I’ve heard the term “pre-chorus” – which in my ears sounds pretty dumb; especially since there is a so much more appropriate word… Is this a typical american thing??

    So again, great post! One objection though: a middle eight isn’t necessarily an interlude between second and final chorus; sometimes it comes before a THIRD VERSE to break the verse – bridge – chorus-structure. No actual example comes to mind, but I know for sure I’ve heard songs structured like this. Probably a number of Beatles songs; especially the early ones.


    1. Yes, you’re right. There can be another element between the end of the Middle 8 and the last chorus, as I pointed out in the post. However, there usually isn’t (as we don’t need it), and it would be very rare to find a full (third) verse in there unless you’re writing a 5 minute opus. In the case of the Beatles, I don’t believe they ever used a full third version after a Middle 8. Also, most early Beatles are AABA form, not verse-chorus form. Verse-chorus really didn’t become established until music got a bit “bigger” in the late 60’s, though we start to see its use back in the 50’s.


      1. I’ve been thinking a lot about song structure lately, which is probably what landed me here in the first place. I see we’ve already been discussing the Beatles a lot…the section in Don’t Let Me Down that begins, “I’m in love for the first time…” what would you call that? I guess I still think of it as a middle eight, even though musically it’s a pretty simple inversion of the other verses, not a drastic change. Also it’s truly in the middle as it’s sandwiched between chorus/verse/chorus on each side.


  6. Interesting article, however you write that a middle eight only happens once, and use the “Life is very short…” section of ‘We Can Work It Out’ as a great example of a middle eight. If you listen to the song, though, they play that section twice!


    1. Well picked up. You’re right of course … will revise accordingly. But I should never have included it as an example in the first place, as a Middle 8 only occurs in verse/chorus form, but We Can Work it Out is AABA (albeit expanded). Must have written that on a Friday afternoon, thanks for the correction.


  7. I enjoyed this article. Ultimately I agree with your assessment that musicians should be able to share a common language when they work together.

    However, the section we’re calling the middle eight, I do see as occasionally having a bridge-like function to it…at least in songs that are well-written and well-arranged.

    Driving over a bridge is always a little scary and uncertain to me (as a kid I went on a lot of pretty old-looking bridges crossing the wide Mississippi.) It’s like, you’re cruising along on familiar territory (that is, LAND) and all the sudden, you’re still driving but you come to this unfamiliar thing. The ride is a little shaky but you roll with it, and before you know it you’re back on “familiar territory” (land) again.

    But, you don’t end up at the exact same spot as where you were before the bridge. Much like how a good final chorus (or final verse/chorus, etc…whatever you’re putting after the middle eight) shouldn’t be the same as before. There should be development in the song that culminates in the final act. Whether this comes in the form of adding or changing some lyrics, adding new instruments, overdubs, etc., repeating certain lines more often, changing the key, singing up an octave or merely putting more gusto into it than before. I like to use the bridge to set up a subtle key change.

    The bridge, while it made things feel uncertain for a while, ultimately enhanced the ride.

    But yes, if we’re breaking down song structure in dry terms, the third chorus is still the chorus. And again, the most important thing is that musicians find a way to communicate to be able to work together. Cheers!


  8. Absolutely spot on!! I’m a music teacher and I’m always annoyed when I hear people referring to the bridge as a pre-chorus and the middle 8 as the bridge!! When did that even happen?? So glad I found your article! I have been teaching my students the correct terminology for years and REFUSE to be swayed by amateur transcribers from ultimateguitar.com


  9. The idea of a middle 8 is actually new to me so this was interesting to learn.

    To solve your problem with the artist, time stamps should be used – you didn’t write the song, you don’t know what the artist was doing or their intention. Time stamps clear all of this confusion.

    Also your analogy of a bridge going from one section A to another B seems appropriate but you’re missing a crucial piece. The bridge leads you to the CLIMAX of the song. It doesn’t just take you from verse to chorus. The bridge comes nearly after the middle and brings us to the highest point of the overall piece. The sections that appear everywhere between verse and chorus are pre-choruses.


    1. I remember watching an interview with Brian May and he referred to this section as the Middle 8. I agree with Peter, we need a standardised labelling system so that we (as musicians) know which sections we’re talking about. As a teacher and a gigging musician I need my students and band mates to know EXACTLY what section I’m referring to at any given point. Saying a Bridge can act as a “pre-chorus” or a middle 8 is not particularly useful. Back in the day the terms were set …suddenly the “pre-chorus’ term snuck in and the middle 8 was lost in the mist of time and replaced by the label of bridge. I never altered from the original labelling and so all my students refer to the section between the verse and chorus as the bridge and the “detour” of the song as the middle 8. It’s a simple and LOGICAL labelling system, and it’s the original system for contemporary popular music. Classical has its own set of labels and Jazz of course uses the alphabet – A section B section etc.


  10. I have always called it a “bridge” in Paul Simon’s “Graceland” single. Anyone want to educate a non-musician, so the hard facts of this particular change might stop it from always bringing me to tears?


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