Songwriting: When NOT to use a hymn bridge

Southern Gospel songwriters and arrangers frequently pull a chorus from a familiar hymn as a song bridge. Sometimes the songwriter puts it on the original demo; other times, the arranger adds it. The hymn usually shares a title word with the new song and sometimes shares the basic concept.

When should we use a hymn bridge?

Use it when it works musically and adds to or completes the story being told. A perfect example is the hymn bridge of “I Know Who Holds Tomorrow” in the Collingsworth’s recent radio hit “Fear Not Tomorrow.”

But when should we not use a hymn bridge?

  1. When it doesn’t work musically. Several hymn bridges come to mind with awkward transitions from 4/4 to 3/4 or 6/8 time. If it doesn’t work musically, don’t do it.
  2. When it doesn’t work lyrically. Even if the song title shares a word with the title of your song, that doesn’t mean it adds anything to the story you are telling.
  3. When it doesn’t overshadow the rest of the song. Let’s illustrate this with two songs that are actually quite good on their own merits. The Ruppes’ “Under His Wings” is highlighted by an appearance by the hymn of the same name. Casual fans have been known to express surprise that the “The Holy City” excerpt from the Hoppers’ “Jerusalem” actually originates from a separate song; one friend exclaimed, “Why, that’s the best part of the song!” As with these two exceptions, this rule of thumb can be broken, sometimes with excellent results—but at least recognize your risks!