What is an Interlude in Music? (Meaning and Purpose)

An interlude is an instrumental passage that connects different parts of the song. Interludes generally do not have a fixed length and some artists may even use interludes to transition from one song to another in an album.

Although there is no singular definition for an “interlude” in music, artists have often used it as a way to transition from one verse to another.

Interludes In Action

In Blink 182’s song ‘Dammit’, the guitar riff plays through the intro, verses, and even the chorus. But when we hear it in-between two verses, the feel is very different. This prevents the song from not sounding monotonous and helps break up the verses nicely. This is an example of a simple instrumental interlude.

Hook As An Interlude

In a song, a ‘hook’ is a short and catchy melody that is repeated throughout. Hooks are often used to transition from one verse to another.

In the song ‘Baker Street’ by Gerry Rafferty, the saxophone line hook also doubles as an interlude.

Bridge As An Interlude

Interludes are sometimes also referred to as ‘bridges’. This is because they are used to link one part of the song to another. A bridge generally has a shift in melody and/or tempo and is used once in a song to create a shift in the mood.

In Limp Bizkit’s ‘Break Stuff’, the bridge appears in the middle of the song. The drums decrease in dynamics so give more room to the vocals and the guitar riff, which is also simplified. This results in the dip in the energy of the song before it kicks back up again.

Outro As An Interlude

Another unique way for interludes to appear in a song is at the very end of it, or in its ‘outro’.

Think of these as hidden tracks that the artist has carefully crafted into a song or an album. These will appear at the very end and can even be preceded by complete silence so the listener is in for a pleasant surprise.

In Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’, one expects the album to end after ‘Something In The Way’, but after a few seconds of complete silence, a new track ‘Endless, Nameless’ appears.

A Song As An Interlude

Like we mentioned earlier, interludes are not just used in a song but they can be used in albums as well. They are generally not full-length songs and are shorter in duration than the rest of the tracks in an album.

In Radiohead’s album ‘OK Computer’, a 1:58 minute track called ‘Fitter Happier’ appears between ‘Karma Police’ and ‘Electioneering’. The track is an automated voice accompanied by a filtered piano.

The placement of the track not changes the mood of the album but also acts as an interesting transition between a slow tempo song to a high-paced one.

Uses Of Interludes:

  • To transition from one part of the song to another.
  • To add a climax to a piece of music.
  • To change the mood in a song.
  • To provide a break in the traditional verse-chorus-verse structure in pop music.
  • To introduce change in melody, rhythm, or tempo in a song.

Summary

Interludes are a crucial part of songwriting. When used correctly, they can not only connect two radically different thoughts or moods in a song but even on an album as a whole.

Artists, especially in genres such as Hip Hop and R’n’B have used interludes as a means to express themselves. 

Although the trend of adding interludes in albums has been on the decline because of changing listening habits, artists such as Tool and Kendrick Lamar continue to challenge the status quo of streaming singles online and invite their listeners to listen to an album in its entirety.

Brian Clark is a multi-instrumentalist and music producer. He is passionate about practically all areas of music and he particularly enjoys writing about the music industry.

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