Interlude: Definition, Music & Songs

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  • 0:03 What Is an Interlude?
  • 1:16 Instrumental…
  • 2:18 Multiple Interludes in Songs
  • 3:27 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Stephanie Przybylek

Stephanie has taught studio art and art history classes to audiences of all ages. She holds a master's degree in Art History.

Have you ever listened to a song and wondered why it has sections with instruments but no singing? In this lesson, let's look at the definition of an interlude in music and learn from some examples.

What Is an Interlude?

In the most basic sense, an interlude is a gap, pause, or break. So what does it mean for interludes in music? Sometimes you hear the word used to refer to whole musical compositions that are played during a ceremony or program. Think of music you hear during meditations at a wedding or prayers during a religious service. Popular choices include quiet, classical instrumental works like Pachelbel's Canon or Air on a G String by Bach.

But there's another musical meaning for interlude, and that's the one we'll focus on in this lesson. In many popular songs, an interlude is an instrumental passage that comes between sections of lyrics in a song, like between a verse, the part of the lyrics that tell the story, and a chorus, the repeated passage that reinforces the song's main idea. An interlude can also come between choruses. It connects different parts of a song within the body of the song. It may be relaxing or exciting in tempo. Sometimes it echoes melodies in the song. But whatever the specifics, an interlude provides a break for the singers. Literally, it's breathing space between vocal passages.

Instrumental Interludes in Songs

Let's discuss examples of brief interludes in pop songs. In the 1968 Rolling Stones' song, 'Sympathy for the Devil,' listen for an electric guitar solo after the end of the third verse and before the reprise of the chorus that leads to the fourth verse. With driving percussion behind it, the guitar stabs, slurs, and riffs an energetic, instrumental passage. It's a song about the devil and his history of his evil deeds, after all, and the sounds of the guitar emphasize it. Then Mick Jagger comes in again with his growling vocals.

In Billy Joel's rousing ballad, 'Only The Good Die Young,' from his 1977 album, The Stranger, there's an interlude before the last verse and refrain (which begins with the words 'Well your mother told you all I could give you was a reputation . . .') A wailing saxophone solo emphasizes the song's rowdy nature while giving Joel a break before the last section of vocals at the end.

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