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.1 The distinction between breaks and breakdowns may be described as, "Breaks are for the drummer; breakdowns are for hands in the air".1
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"1 and compared to a fake ending. Breaks usually occur two-thirds to three-quarters of the way through a song.1
According to Peter van der Merwe2 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".3
According to David Toop,4 "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'".56
A break beat is the sampling of breaks as (drum loop) beats, (originally found in Soul 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 breakcitation needed 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.4 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 1978citation needed. 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.citation needed Hip hop break beat compilations include Hardcore Break Beats and Break Beats, and Drum Drops.4
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Notable breaks include:
- The Amen Break from "Amen, Brother" (1969) by The Winstons7
- "Apache" by the Incredible Bongo Band. Used by DJ Kool Herc, The Sugarhill Gang in "Apache", West Street Mob in "Break Dancin' - Electric Boogie".4
- "Funky Drummer" by James Brown.4 Used by Public Enemy, Run-D.M.C., LL Cool J, Ice Cube etc
- "Fencewalk" by Mandrill, used by DJ Kool Herc4
- "The Bottle" by Gil Scott-Heron4
- "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".4
- "Scorpio" by Dennis Coffey4
- "Scratchin'" by Magic Disco Machine4
- "Soul Makossa" by Manu Dibango4
- "Super Sporm" by Captain Sky4
- "Think" by Lyn Collins4
- Brewster, Bill and Broughton, Frank (2003). How to DJ Right: The Art and Science of Playing Records, p. 79. New York: Grove Press. ISBN 0-8021-3995-7.
- van der Merwe, Peter (1989). Origins of the Popular Style: The Antecedents of Twentieth-Century Popular Music, p. 283. Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 0-19-316121-4.
- Davis, Janet (2002). [Mel Bay's] Back-Up Banjo, p.6. ISBN 0-7866-6525-4.
- Toop, David (1991). Rap Attack 2: African Rap To Global Hip Hop, p. 113-115. New York: Serpent's Tail. ISBN 1-85242-243-2.
- Leland and Stein 1987: 26, cited in Schloss 2004.
- Schloss, Joseph G. (2004). Making Beats: The Art of Sample-Based Hip Hop, p. 36-37. Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press. ISBN 0-8195-6696-9.
- Butler, Mark J. (2006), Unlocking the groove: Rhythm, meter, and musical design in electronic dance music, Indiana University Press, p. 78, ISBN 978-0-253-34662-9, "Even more common, especially in jungle/drum 'n' bass, is a break ... which fans and musicians commonly refer to as the 'Amen' break."