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In popular music, a break is an instrumental or percussion section or interlude during a song derived from or related to stop-time – being a "break" from the main parts of the song or piece.

A solo break in jazz occurs when the rhythm section stops playing behind a soloist for a brief period, usually two or four bars leading into the soloist's first chorus. A notable recorded example is Charlie Parker's solo break at the beginning of his solo on "A Night in Tunisia".

In DJ parlance, a break is where all elements of a song (e.g., pads, basslines, vocals), except for percussion, disappear for a time. This is distinguished from a breakdown, a section where the composition is deliberately deconstructed to minimal elements (usually the percussion or rhythm section with the vocal re-introduced over the minimal backing), all other parts having been gradually or suddenly cut out. The distinction between breaks and breakdowns may be described as, "Breaks are for the drummer; breakdowns are for hands in the air".

In hip hop and electronica, a short break is also known as a "cut", and the reintroduction of the full bass line and drums is known as a "drop", which is sometimes accented by cutting off everything, even the percussion.

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A break may be described as when the song takes a "breather, drops down to some exciting percussion, and then comes storming back again" and compared to a fake ending. Breaks usually occur two-thirds to three-quarters of the way through a song.

According to Peter van der Merwe a break "occurs when the voice stops at the end of a phrase and is answered by a snatch of accompaniment," and originated from the bass runs of marches of the "Sousa school". In this case it would be a "break" from the vocal part. In bluegrass and other old time music, a break is "when an instrument plays the melody to a song idiomatically, i.e. the back-up played on the banjo for a mandolin 'break' may differ from that played for a dobro 'break' in the same song".

According to David Toop, "the word break or breaking is a music and dance term, as well as a proverb, that goes back a long way. Some tunes, like 'Buck Dancer's Lament' from early in the nineteenth century, featured a two-bar silence in every eight bars for the break—a quick showcase of improvised dance steps. Others used the same device for a solo instrumental break; a well-known example being the four-bar break taken by Charlie Parker in Dizzy Gillespie's tune 'Night in Tunisia'."

However, in Hip Hop, today the term break refers to any segment of music (usually four measures or less) that could be sampled and repeated. A break is any expanse of music that is thought of as a break by a producer. In the words of DJ Jazzy Jay, "Maybe those records [whose breaks are sampled] were ahead of their time. Maybe they were made specifically for the rap era; these people didn't know what they were making at that time. They thought, 'Oh, we want to make a jazz record'".

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