Prelude: Definition, Music & Songs

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Interlude: Definition, Music & Songs

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:04 Preludes in Music
  • 0:35 Bach & Chopin
  • 2:13 Preludes in Opera
  • 3:20 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Speed Speed
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 heard a brief instrumental introduction to a longer piece of music? Did you know such beginnings have a name? In this lesson, we'll define a prelude in music and look at some examples.

Preludes in Music

A prelude is a brief introduction or preface before something longer takes place. In music, that means it's often (but not always) a short passage at the beginning of a longer piece of music.

It can also mean music that precedes a religious service or a ceremony; something that is played or sung before the event actually begins. In this lesson, we're going to concentrate on the idea of a prelude as a short musical introduction that may or may not connect to a longer composition.

Bach & Chopin

Musical preludes have been around for a long time. Hundreds of years ago, Baroque composers wrote preludes for harpsichord and organ.

For example, Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), composed many preludes. He often followed them with a fugue, a longer piece of music that takes a theme and repeats it many times in varied form.

An excellent example of this is his Prelude and Fugue in G Minor. The work begins with a brief free-form prelude before moving into the more tightly controlled fugue.

Now, remember that prelude definition with the caveat that it's often but not always part of a longer work? Bach set his own rules and composed preludes that didn't always introduce a longer work.

He wrote many organ preludes, among them a series called the Great Eighteen Chorale Preludes or Leipzig Preludes. Don't be confused by the word chorale. In this case, it's used because the preludes were based on familiar chorale tunes.

Bach's chorale preludes were short, independent pieces for organ. They might have been used as etudes, or studies, for students, but scholars aren't sure.

Composer Frederic Chopin (1810-1849) also wrote preludes for piano, and he openly admitted that Bach's earlier works inspired him. In his 24 Preludes (Op. 28), Chopin created brief independent musical preludes, some of extremely short duration, which showcased varied styles and moods of piano playing and differing levels of difficulty for the person playing them.

Preludes in Opera

Composers sometimes used an instrumental prelude to the acts of an opera. For example, Georges Bizet (1838-1875) composed the famous opera Carmen and opened it with an orchestral prelude.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account