What is the proper term for an 'aside' in music (mostly in vocals, but sometimes the score)? Many times these 'asides' MAY not be actually noted in the lyrics.

Two examples:

In Taylor Swifts 'Shake It Off' (2014) @ 0:18 there is a little 'giggle' that is presumably a comment on the 'absurdity of the previous lyric' OR an acknowledgement that maybe the lyric is close to the truth.

In the Rogue Traders 'Watching You' (2005) @ ~1:33-35 You can hear a little laugh (Best with headphones or in an environment with low ambient noise, it is subtle.)

I personally find these little details in the music endearing (when not over done) and notice the absence in different cuts.

I am mostly asking just about the technique in the vocals, not in the score. However if the term is different or technique is considered different a discussion would be interesting.

Just as the 'right' accompaniment can compliment (or sometimes, IMO) surpass any vocals, these embellishments add to the overall character of the tune and add enjoyment. I've wondered for a while what the technique is called.


I am not sure there is actually a name for these impromptu embellishments or an official term to describe them. In some cases you could describe it as ad-lib - but that's not an official music term.

Obviously in a live show there is often a situational variation or embellishment to the normal lyrics or an unrehearsed, ad-lib or spontaneous ornamental comment, inflection or gesture - and each live show is different, which is what is cool about a "live" show.

But when this type thing shows up in the studio recording that ends up on the album or single, it is often simply something spontaneous that happened during one of the takes in the studio and the producer thought that it would (as you say) "add to the overall character of the tune and add enjoyment". So the producer decided to use that take as part of the final production as opposed to having it be an outtake. It is not usually planned or rehearsed or scripted. In fact you might say it's "unscripted".

You can read about a famous example of this in Wikipedia - "The famous "Turn it up" line uttered by Ronnie Van Zant in the beginning (of Sweet Home Alabama) was not intended to be in the song. Van Zant was simply asking producer Al Kooper and engineer Rodney Mills to turn up the volume in his headphones so that he could hear the track better."

I am simply not aware of any specific terminology in common use in the song writing or music production world to describe this sort of thing. But it does add interest to the song and makes the performance more endearing.

  • Thank you for this well thought out answer. Another example of an unplanned voice addition (that rarely made it past the DJ's) is at the end of "No One Needs to Know" - Shania Twain "There's your record Hoss...". I would expect this type of thing much more in a live show. There is nothing that can compare to Big Bad VooDoo Daddy live over the studio recordings (IMO). I suspect that you are likely correct that the producer is typically involved.
    – ErnieE
    Nov 3 '15 at 15:13
  • in the context of the question "ad lib" is definitely the best answer, though "sotto voce" also comes close. Disparte is an interesting candidate, though it refers to something more specific (and somewhat out of context here)
    – dwoz
    Nov 3 '15 at 17:12
  • @ErnieE - Yep - There you go Dude! ;-) Nov 3 '15 at 17:45

There is an Italian term in disparte meaning "aside" to a person or persons offstage. Another Italian term is fra se which means "to oneself." Another term is sotto voce which really means "under voice." I'd guess that "sotto voce" would be the best term. For popular music, I'd just use "aside."

  • I like all of the answers and the information about disparte is also interesting. Thanks.
    – ErnieE
    Nov 3 '15 at 14:36

In theater, this is called "breaking the fourth wall." It means that the actor acknowledges that there is an audience, and makes commentary or asides about the performance or offers "meta-detail" about the play or characters.

In music, it's much the same thing. I'd call it "meta-discourse."

  • I actually hadn't thought of it in that way. (In my experience) this is not a technique that is often used in music. Certainly not in recorded music anyway. I have seen similar (purposely) scripted and obvious acknowledgments in musicals.
    – ErnieE
    Nov 3 '15 at 14:42

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