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Thread: What is a riff?

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  1. #1
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    What is a riff?

    I just want to raise a guitar-related question.

    I assume most of you have, one time or another, heard a riff.

    Now, I would like to hear your personal view on what a riff is. Give me your definition; What makes a riff be a riff? Where goes the line between a riff and a melody? Do you also consider melodies as riffs?

    I used to consider riffs as i.e. the intro of Iron Maiden's 2 Minutes Two Midnight, for those who've heard that song.

    When I think about it, Judas Priest's Breaking The Law has got a very distinct intro, however, with a slightly more melodic touch than the previous mentioned example. Now where goes the 'dividing line'? When is it a riff, and when is it a melody?

    The intro of Eric Clapton's Layla is also a famous example. Quite melodic, yet, I'd call it a riff.

    Most guitarists have played quite many riffs, however, I'm not sure that just as many has considered the definition of a riff.

    Give me your opinions!

  2. #2
    Jazz Apprentice Factor's Avatar
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    Riff:
    Melodic and/or hamonic motif repeated and sometimes varied throughout the tune.

    I wouldn't call a melody a riff, but there's most certainly a distinctive melody in all the riffs I like.

    EDIT:
    With regards to improvisation, this differs from style to style. While a keeping a good riff going may be cool in rock, this may quickly become boring in jazz. "Riffs" in jazz can be repeated patterns which the bassist plays. The intros to So What and Footprints come to mind.

    A good riff needs to groove, establish harmony and carry a melodic line - all at once.
    Last edited by Factor; 04-27-2005 at 09:29 PM.

  3. #3
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    Most of the quesitons at IBreathe I have some type of answer which is usually a pretty good one

    however in this case there seems to be a "Gray area" based on my knowledge

    I would like to find a definitive definition of a riff also a definitive definition of a lick(in genenal is it a melodic motif sequence? or ?)

    sometimes it is the same as a "lick" sometimes it is considered something quite different

    I have some theories as to what a riff is, just no definitive theory
    "Success is arriving at a Personal Satisfaction within yourself"

    Dedicated To Guitar!!!

  4. #4

  5. #5
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    well thanks for the research Factor, but unfortunately a simple definitive definition as far as I can tell doesn't exist, that's what I meant by "Gray Area" for these terms

    for instance(based on your research):
    "Term used in pop, rock and jazz for short phrases used as background or as building blocks for solos"

    that defintion describes a lick as well!

    "A short melodic phrase that may be repeated and played as a solo or used as an accompaniment. See Licks"

    that definition even refers to licks!

    anyway you get my point!!

    Of couse there are some definitions that based on my knowledge fit my theory of what a riff or lick is. but as I said before there is no definitive definition or answer.
    "Success is arriving at a Personal Satisfaction within yourself"

    Dedicated To Guitar!!!

  6. #6
    Jazzman Poparad's Avatar
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    My short definition: a riff is a melodic accompanimental part. It has a bit of melodic interest, but when it comes down to it, it's still accompanimental so other melodies (vocals, horns, guitars, etc) will fit ontop of it without being interfered with by the riff.

  7. #7
    chewing bubble gum Chim_Chim's Avatar
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    I would consider a riff something of a mix between an accompaniment,melody and a fill.A repeating "hook" if you will.

    If Beavis & Butthead sing it while pumping their fists in the air then it's probably a riff.
    Some days I seem to do OK. Other days I feel like just shoving an M-80 right up my guitar's butt.

  8. #8
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    I always thought "riff" was just the rock word for "motif".

  9. #9
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    I think it actually comes from the jazz dudes abbreviating "Rhythmic figure"

    It's slang.

    Sometimes notated as "rhy.fig."

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