What is a riff?

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by Stephen S, Jul 9, 2003.

  1. Stephen S

    Stephen S Member

    Apr 10, 2002
    San Bernardino, CA
    I have been reading a lot of interviews with bassists lately and I came across Sting's interview in BP and he said that once you have the right riff it is easy from there. Then, I start thinking and I realized I have no idea what a riff is. So could anyone give me an example of a bass riff that I might have heard on the radio that is fairly recent.
  2. A riff is basically a passage, or a group of bars. Enter Sandmans main line is a riff. Another One Bites The Dust by Queen is a famous "riff".


  3. riff/lick/chop...they're all basically a "line" which as Merls said a group of bars or are group of notes that sound sweet:cool:


    heh...at first,I thought a riff was a part of a guitar:eek:
  4. moley


    Sep 5, 2002
    Hampshire, UK
    A repeated phrase though, that's important. It's not really a riff if you only play it once :D
  5. Stephen S

    Stephen S Member

    Apr 10, 2002
    San Bernardino, CA
    That is what I assumed it was. Thank you all very much.
  6. wulf


    Apr 11, 2002
    Oxford, UK
    My definitions would be:

    Chops - demonstrations of the technical mastery of a particular technique

    Licks - short musical phrases. A particular musician may have certain 'licks' that they play and adapt again and again and this forms an important part of their 'signature' sound

    Riffs - a short musical phrase that is repeated, maintaining the same form (set of intervallic relationships) even when moved to a different starting point. It may either be played strictly or varied to some extent while still maintaining a distinctive 'flavour'

    Therefore, in order to demonstrate my 16 note finger funk chops, I might lay down an intense riff to establish the groove and then spice it up with a variety of different licks at the end of each phrase.

    However - and this is an important point - the terms are very flexible. Even if you know what you mean when you use the words, avoid assuming that someone else means exactly the same thing.

  7. fclefgeoff

    fclefgeoff Supporting Member

    Jan 3, 2002

    These entries should be in the Oxford English Dictionary.
  8. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    That costs money to access online - but the Cambridge Dictionary has the following :

    (from Cambridge Dictionary of American English)

    noun [C]
    (in popular music) a simple tune that is used as a pattern for creating more complicated musical patterns
  9. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    I prefer Merriam Webster though :

    Main Entry: 1riff
    Pronunciation: 'rif
    Function: noun
    Etymology: probably by shortening & alteration from refrain
    Date: 1935
    1 : an ostinato phrase (as in jazz) typically supporting a solo improvisation; also : a piece based on such a phrase
    2 : a short succinct usually witty comment; also : BIT, ROUTINE
  10. Philbiker

    Philbiker Pat's the best!

    Dec 28, 2000
    Northern Virginia, USA
    Got a good reason for taking the easy way out.

    "Day Tripper" is one of the most classic riffs ever. :)
  11. Another one would be "Smoke On The Water" (the guitar riff, of course, since the bass is only pumpin' 8th notes).