Breakdown (music)

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In music, a breakdown is part of a song in which various instruments have solo parts (breaks). This may take the form where all instruments play the verse together, and then several or all instruments individually repeat the verse as solo parts.

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A breakdown is a popular musical style particularly in bluegrass, notable examples being Earl Scruggs' "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" and Bill Monroe's "Bluegrass Breakdown".

Disco and later dance music

Disco DJ, mixer, and remixer Tom Moulton invented the "disco break" or breakdown section in the early 1970s. Moulton had been remixing arecord (”Dreamworld” by Don Downing) which "immaculated" (went to a higher key) towards the end, and he wanted to cut parts together that were in different keys. To do this, he separated two sections with non-tonal information. [1] He edited in a section of drums, and the aesthetic effect was pleasing to dancers at the club. The placement was also useful for club DJ's, providing a rhythm-only section of the recording over which to begin mixing in the next record. Moulton says his innovation was an accident. [1] The placement followed the pattern of a traditional pop recording: it replaced the bridge typically found in such a record after the second chorus.

A later example is the breakdown in "My Lovin' (You're Never Gonna Get It)" by En Vogue: a sampled male voice can be heard introducing this part of the record (at 3:27) with the sentence "and now it's time for a breakdown". Longer dance tracks often have two, three, or more breakdowns.

Initially, the transition to the breakdown was an abrupt absence of most of the arrangement in a disco record, as described above. Records in the hi-NRG style of the late 1970s to early 1980s would typically use a pronounced percussive element, such as a drum fill, to cover the transition. Later dance genres typically reach the breakdown section by a gradual reduction of elements, though a wide variety of styles have been employed since the mid-2000s.

In all genres, the stripping away of other instruments and vocals ("breaking-down" the arrangement) helps create intense contrast, with breakdowns usually preceding or following heightened musical climaxes. In many dance records, the breakdown often consists of a stripping away of the pitched elements (most instruments) – and often the percussion – while adding an unpitched or indistinctly pitched noise, a sound effect. This is often treated with a lot of reverb and rises in tone to build toward an exciting climax. This noise then typically cuts to a beat of silence, creating extra tension on the dance floor, before the drop – the sudden (and often percussive and volume-enhanced) return to the musical part of the track.

Heavy metal and punk rock

Breakdowns are sometimes found in metal and punk songs, as they can be used to eschew traditional verse–chorus–verse songwriting. When played live, breakdowns are usually responded to by the audience with high-intensity moshing (slam dancing).

The drumming is usually simple, with a four quarter-note ride pattern with the snare on the third beat. Most commonly, the drummer plays quarter notes on the crash cymbal or China cymbal. In some breakdowns where a very slow tempo is used, the drummer will play half notes, to give the music a very "heavy", slow feel. The guitarist usually follows the rhythm, or "chugs" (uses palm-muted strokes on the lowest three to four strings of the guitar) along with the kick drum. In most cases, the drummer will use the kick drum to complement such "chugs" of the guitars.

The guitars play a set of rhythmically oriented riffs, usually on lightly palm-muted strings to achieve a very high attack noise that decays slowly, making the overall sound more thick and "heavy". Sometimes, these are contrasted with either dissonant chords, such as minor second intervals, tritones (flatted fifths), or pinch harmonics.

In punk, breakdowns tend to be more upbeat, using the floor toms and snare to create a faster, "rolling" rhythm. This provides audience members with an opportunity to skank, mosh, or form a circle pit.

Many of the bands that play in the genres of deathcore and metalcore make heavy use of breakdowns, which may consist of slow-paced strumming on the guitar, or fast syncopated triplet-feel patterns, both of which are typically palm-muted and played on the lowest three strings of a guitar, and may also involve a bass drop. These strings are usually tuned down from somewhere between Drop D all the way down to Drop Eb tuning. As in other modern metal genres and in punk, breakdowns in metalcore and deathcore are signals for moshing at live shows.

Electronicore bands such as Horse the Band, Asking Alexandria, Attack Attack!, Capture the Crown, Fear, and Loathing in Las Vegas, and Enter Shikari incorporate synthesizers that often add a dance-beat style to the breakdown.

Bluegrass

In bluegrass music, a break is a short instrumental solo played between sections of a song and is conventionally a variation on the song's melody. A breakdown is an instrumental form that features a series of breaks, each played by a different instrument. Examples of the form are "Bluegrass Breakdown" by Bill Monroe as well as "Earl's Breakdown" and "Foggy Mountain Breakdown", both of which were written by Earl Scruggs.

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Bluegrass music is a genre of American roots music that developed in the 1940s in the United States Appalachian region. The genre derives its name from the band Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys. Bluegrass has roots in traditional English, Scottish and Irish ballads and dance tunes, and by traditional African-American blues and jazz. Bluegrass was further developed by musicians who played with Monroe, including 5-string banjo player Earl Scruggs and guitarist Lester Flatt. Monroe characterized the genre as: "Scottish bagpipes and ole-time fiddlin". It's Methodist and Holiness and Baptist. It's blues and jazz, and it has a high lonesome sound."

Scruggs style

Scruggs style is the most common style of playing the banjo in bluegrass music. It is a fingerpicking method, also known as three-finger style. It is named after Earl Scruggs, whose innovative approach and technical mastery of the instrument have influenced generations of bluegrass banjoists ever since he was first recorded in 1946. It contrasts with earlier styles such as minstrel, classic or parlor style, clawhammer/frailing/two-finger style, jazz styles played with a plectrum, and more modern styles such as Keith/melodic/chromatic/arpa style, and single-string/Reno style. The influence of Scruggs is so pervasive that even bluegrass players such as Bill Keith and Don Reno, who are credited with developing these latter styles, typically work out of the Scruggs style much of the time.

The palm mute is a playing technique for guitar and bass guitar, executed by placing the side of the picking hand below the little finger across the strings to be plucked, very close to the bridge, and then plucking the strings while the damping is in effect. This produces a muted sound. The name is a slight misnomer, as the muting is performed by the side of the hand, not the palm.

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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.

Rhythm section group of musicians within a music ensemble or band who provide the underlying rhythm, harmony and beat for the rest of the band

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Flatt & Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys was an American bluegrass band. The band was founded by guitarist Lester Flatt and banjo player Earl Scruggs and is viewed by music historians as one of the premier bluegrass groups in the history of the genre. The band was originally formed in 1948 by Flatt, who had been a member of Bill Monroe's bluegrass band. Flatt brought Scruggs with him shortly after leaving Monroe.

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Glossary of jazz and popular music

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Bluegrass mandolin

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In music, a chop chord is a "clipped backbeat". In 4
4
: 1 2 3 4. It is a muted chord that marks the off-beats or upbeats. As a rhythm guitar and mandolin technique, it is accomplished through chucking, in which the chord is muted by lifting the fretting fingers immediately after strumming, producing a percussive effect.

The chop is analogous to a snare drum beat and keeps the rhythm together and moving. It's one of the innovations bluegrass inventor Bill Monroe pioneered, and it gave the music a harder groove and separated it from old-time and mountain music.

Heavy metal drumming art of playing percussion, predominantly the drum set, in heavy metal styles

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Bass guitar techniques

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References

  1. 1 2 Discoguy. "Tom Moulton Tribute", Disco-Disco.