In popular music, a break is an instrumental or percussion section during a song derived from or related to stop-time - being a "break" from the main parts of the song or piece. A break is usually interpolated between sections of a song, to provide a sense of anticipation, signal the start of a new section, or create variety in the arrangement.
A solo break in jazz occurs when the rhythm section (piano, bass, drums) stops playing behind a soloist for a brief period, usually two or four bars leading into the soloist's first improvised solo chorus (at which point the rhythm section resumes playing). A notable recorded example is sax player Charlie Parker's solo break at the beginning of his solo on "A Night in Tunisia". While the solo break is a break for the rhythm section (for the soloist) it is a solo cadenza, where they are expected to improvise an interesting and engaging melodic line.
In DJ parlance, in disco, hip hop music, and electronic dance music, a break is where all the elements of a song (e.g., synth pads, basslines, vocals), except for percussion, disappear; as such, the break is also called a "percussion break".
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 [dancers' and listeners'] hands in the air". In hip hop music 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 right before the full music is dropped back in.
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 false 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 loop) beats, (originally found in soul or funk tracks) and their subsequent use as the rhythmic basis for hip hop and rap. 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. 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 and mix 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.
Notable breaks include:
Even more common, especially in jungle/drum 'n' bass, is a break ... which fans and musicians commonly refer to as the 'Amen' break.