The prefix "pre-" means “before,” so it makes sense that a prelude is an introductory action, event, or performance that comes before a bigger or more momentous one.

People speaking old school French and Latin understood a prelude to be the the notes that they would play or sing to warm up or test an instrument. Today preludes are more like introductions than practice, but you can still think of them as a small warm up to the main event. Preludes are often used in classical music, as well as in novels, to set the tone for the rest of the orchestral piece or story.

Definitions of prelude

n something that serves as a preceding event or introduces what follows

overture, preliminary
Type of:
inception, origin, origination
an event that is a beginning; a first part or stage of subsequent events

n music that precedes a fugue or introduces an act in an opera

chorale prelude
a composition for organ using a chorale as a basis for variations
Type of:
an artistic form of auditory communication incorporating instrumental or vocal tones in a structured and continuous manner

v serve as a prelude or opening to

Type of:
function, serve
serve a purpose, role, or function

v play as a prelude

Type of:
play, spiel
replay (as a melody)

Sign up, it's free!

Whether you're a student, an educator, or a lifelong learner, can put you on the path to systematic vocabulary improvement.