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.
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'".
A break beat is the sampling of breaks as drum loops (beats), originally from soul tracks, and using them as the rhythmic basis for hip hop and rap songs. It was invented by DJ Kool Herc, a Jamaican, the first to buy two copies of one record so as to be able to mix between the same break or, as Bronx DJ Afrika Bambaataa describes, "that certain part of the record that everybody waits for--they just let their inner self go and get wild," extending its length through repetition. A particularly innovative style of street dance was created to accompany break beat-based music, and was hence referred to as "The Break", or breaking. Breaking enjoyed some popularity before being largely ousted by "The Freak" in 1978. In the 1980s, charismatic dancers like Crazy Legs, Frosty Freeze, and the Rock Steady Crew revived the breaking movement. More recently, electronic artists have created "break beats" from other electronic music. Compare with "breakbeat" below.
Although DJ Kool Herc is usually credited with being the first to cut between two copies of a record, it is likely that there were a number of like-minded DJ's developing the technique at the same time. For example, Walter Gibbons was noted in first-hand accounts by his peers for cutting two copies of the same record in his discothèque gigs of the mid 1970s. Hip hop break beat compilations include Hardcore Break Beats and Break Beats, and Drum Drops.
Breakbeat as a genre did not appear in any commercial sense until well after the advent of inexpensive digital sampling equipment.
Disco mixer and remixer Tom Moulton invented the "disco break" or breakdown section in the early 1970s. Moulton had been remixing a dance record (”Dreamworld” by Don Downing) which "immaculated" (went to a higher key) towards the end, and he wanted to cut parts together that were in different keys. To do this, he separated two sections with non-tonal information. He edited in a section of drums, and the aesthetic effect was immediately found to be pleasing to dancers. The placement was also useful for club DJ's, providing a rhythm-only section of the recording over which to begin mixing in the next record to be played.
Moulton has maintained that his innovation was an accident. The placement followed the patterning of a traditional pop recording: it replaced the bridge typically found in such a record after the second chorus. A clear example is the breakdown in "My Lovin' (Never Gonna' Get It)" by En Vogue: a sampled male voice can be heard introducing this part of the record with the sentence "and now it's time for a breakdown". Longer tracks often have two, three or more breakdowns.
Initially the transition to the breakdown was an abrupt absence of most of the arrangement in a disco record as described above. HiNRG records would typically use a pronounced percussive element, such as a drum fill, to cover the transition, and later genres reach the breakdown section by a gradual reduction of elements. In all genres, the stripping away of other instruments and vocals ("breaking-down" the arrangement) helps create intense contrast, with breakdowns usually preceding or following heightened musical climaxes. In many dance records, the breakdown often consists of a stripping away of the pitched elements (most instruments) - and often the percussion - while adding an unpitched noise sound effect. This is often treated with a lot of reverb and rises in tone to create an exciting climax. This noise then cuts to a beat of silence before returning to the musical part of the record.
In bluegrass music, a break is a short instrumental solo played between sections of a song and is conventionally a variation on the song's melody. A breakdown is an instrumental form that features a series of breaks, each played by a different instrument. Examples of the form are "Bluegrass Breakdown" by Bill Monroe as well as "Earl's Breakdown" and "Foggy Mountain Breakdown", both of which were written by Earl Scruggs.
Musical ensembles which are notable for their use of breaks include The Meters, Creative Source, The J.B.'s, The Blackbyrds, and The Last Poets.
Notable breaks include:
- The Amen Break from "Amen, Brother" (1969) by The Winstons
- "Apache" by the Incredible Bongo Band. Used by DJ Kool Herc, The Sugarhill Gang in "Apache", West Street Mob in "Break Dancin' - Electric Boogie".
- "Cold Sweat" by James Brown
- "Funky Drummer" by James Brown
- "Fencewalk" by Mandrill, used by DJ Kool Herc
- "The Bottle" by Gil Scott-Heron
- "Mardi Gras" by Bob James, cover of Paul Simon's "Take Me to The Mardi Gras". Used by The Crash Crew on "Breaking Bells (Take Me To the Mardi Gras" and by Run DMC on "Peter Piper".
- "Scorpio" by Dennis Coffey
- "Scratchin'" by Magic Disco Machine
- "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart Club Band Reprise" by The Beatles sampled in Beastie Boys * "Sound Of Science" theme from Paul's Boutique LP.
- "Soul Makossa" by Manu Dibango
- "Super Sporm" by Captain Sky
- "Blair Blair Blair Blair" by Blair
- "Creeping Death" by Metallica
- "No Wasted Hearts - Paul & Luke Radio Edit" by Nicola Fasano and Ultra Naté
- " This Love" by Pantera
- "Waking up to Reality" by In This Life featuring Etienne Sin
- "Scream Aim Fire" by Bullet for my valentine
- "Durations" by I Am The Alchemist
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