What is an Interlude in Music?

If you have spent a fair amount of time exploring the music world, you may have come across certain songs that contain interludes. This term is frequently used to describe instrumental passages, transitionary sections, or even silent breaks in songs. However, you may be wondering about the origin of this term and where it can be applied.

Today we will be examining “What is an interlude in music?” and discussing the different types of interludes in songs.

What is an Interlude?

The term “interlude” can be applied to many different forms of music. It can refer to a section within a particular track. It may also refer to a stand alone track.

Interlude within a Track

Let’s say you’re listening to a pop or a rock track that exceeds three minutes in length. Chances are that the track contains instrumental portions where no vocals are present. These sections may be used to connect a verse with a chorus, or a chorus with another chorus. However, the key thing to note here is that they are instrumental sections.

For example, you might hear an instrumental portion following the second chorus of a song. This instrumental section may then lead into the song’s third and final chorus. Many would say that this instrumental portion is the song’s “interlude”. However, there is no definitive answer for whether or not this section constitutes an interlude.

Others would describe the section mentioned above as a “solo” or a “bridge”. In either case, it is apparent that it is difficult to tell what exactly an interlude is and whether it differs from a bridge within the context of a single track.

The above definition for interlude may also feel flimsy when you take into account that many song intros and outros contain instrumental sections. Do these count as interludes too? No one really knows.

Interludes Between Tracks

While some interludes may be tucked into a section within a song, others may be placed between songs on an album or EP.

For example, on folk singer-songwriter Sufjan Steven’s 2005 album Illinois, the track In This Temple, As In The Hearts Of Man For Whom He Saved The Earth is a 35 second instrumental with vibraphones and choir hymns that precedes the album’s sixteenth track The Seer’s Tower. This interlude essentially bridges the tracks it is between and serves to make the album sound more cohesive.

You can think of the interlude mentioned above as performing the same function as pulling closed the curtains between scenes of a play. However, unlike an intermission, the track still features musical elements that could be considered engaging.

History of Interludes

The term “interlude” is derived from the Latin word “interludium”, which means “between a play”. The term’s association with music likely developed at a later point in history. However, the exact point where it became associated with music is still unknown.

Skits and Interludes

Many albums in the hip hop genre feature transitional tracks between full tracks. These transitional tracks often feature dialogue between artists or the album’s “characters”. They may or may not feature any music at all. Hip hop artists often refer to these tracks as “skits” because they usually feature a humorous or storylike element to them.

For example, Kanye West’s debut album College Dropout features a number of humorous skits that poke fun at the concept of post-secondary education. The track School Spirit Skit 2 in particular mocks the album’s protagonist’s urge to keep studying and earn degrees rather than pursue other things in life. The aforementioned skit could be considered an interlude even though it isn’t like the instrumental sections discussed earlier.

Do Silent Portions Count as Interludes?

If you have listened to dozens of albums in your lifetime, you may have come across at least a few songs that contain silent portions. Such portions often serve the purpose of giving listeners a break between tracks. Alternatively, they may conceal hidden tracks tucked away at the end of a silent stretch. However, you may be wondering if such silent portions count as interludes.

These sections certainly bridge different parts of a song or tracks. However, they do not feature vocals or instrumentation. With that in mind, would it be fair to refer to them as interludes?

There is actually a term known as “caesura” that describes silent breaks or pauses in classical music. This means an interlude cannot be silent.

Should You Include Interludes In Your Music?

After learning about the different types of interludes out there, you may be wondering if it is worth inserting interludes in your own music. The answer may vary depending on the type of composition you are creating. We have discussed some scenarios where an interlude may be useful below:

Connecting Portions of a Song

As mentioned earlier, an instrumental interlude serves the purpose of connecting different portions of a track together. Such interludes may be necessary to give listeners a break between vocal sections and get them excited for what’s to come.

For example, The Stone Roses’ track She Bangs the Drum features a forty second interlude after the first chorus. The track maintains a steady groove with energetic guitar and bass riffing during this interlude before launching back into a second chorus and closing out the track.

An interlude also serves as an opportunity to add an instrument solo to your track. So if you want to show off your lead playing on a synth or a guitar, the interlude is definitely the best place to do it.

Transitions Between Songs

In some cases you can add a short interlude between tracks on an album. This may help make the transition between two very different sounding songs a bit smoother.

Car Seat Headrest’s I-94 W (832 mi) from their 2014 EP How to Leave Town illustrates this well. This instrumental section conveys an introspective tone with its fragmented guitar delay loop. It follows the track Kimochi Warui (When? When? When? When? When? When? When?), in which singer Will Toledo is struck with an existential crisis after realizing his childhood heroes and idols were just as lost and confused as he currently is.

The interlude track is then followed up by the track You’re In Love With Me in which the young songwriter mocks the prospect of another person being in love with him and presents the idea in a more humorous tone. Placing these two tracks side by side would have led to a jarring tonal shift in the album, so adding I-94 W (832 mi) as a transitory interlude in-between helps smoothen out this contrast.

You can try following the above example if you would like to place two very different sounding tracks near each other on an album.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, the term “interlude” has a loose definition that can be applied to many songs or song sections. At the end of the day, it is simply a label used to describe something that differs from the main portions of a song or album.

The above guide illustrates the concept of an interlude with many examples, so consider reviewing it if you are interested in adding some interludes on your next album or EP.