On leaving the College, Bridge earned his living as a teacher and player, performing with several quartets, most notably, the English String Quartet. Such was his growing reputation that he was invited to join the Joachim quartet in a performance of Brahms's Sextet in G (1906). He also played in several orchestras, and conducted the repertoire rehearsals of the newly-formed New Symphony Orchestra (1905), as well as opera performances at the Savoy Theatre (1910-11) and Covent Garden (1913).
Central to the development of Bridge's reputation as a composer were his successes with the chamber music competitions sponsored by the businessman and amateur violinist, W W Cobbett. In 1905 Bridge won second prize in Cobbett's first competition with his Phantasie String Quartet in F minor, followed two years later by the first prize for his Phantasy Piano Trio in C minor. A commission from Cobbett followed - for the Phantasy Piano Quartet in F sharp minor (1910) - and another first prize for Bridge's Second String Quartet (1915). Previously Bridge had gained a mention d'honneur for his First String Quartet submitted for a competition organized by the Accademica Filharmonica in Bologna (1906).
While Bridge could benefit from the fact that prize-winning works in the Cobbett competitions were published and therefore readily available, his orchestral works were not. The symphonic poems, Comes the Mid of the Night (1903) and Isabella (1907), together with the Dance Rhapsody (1908) and Dance Poem (1913), remained in manuscript. The first full orchestral work to be published was the suite, The Sea (1911), since it was included among the works chosen for the music publication scheme sponsored by the Carnegie United Kingdom Trust in 1917. Its first performance, conducted by Sir Henry Wood at the Proms on 24 September 1912, was an immediate success, and it remained the most successful and frequently-performed of Bridge's orchestral works. Wood himself conducted it many times.