Riff

A riff is a repeated chord progression or refrain in music (also known as an ostinato figure in classical music); it is a pattern, or melody, often played by the rhythm section instruments or solo instrument, that forms the basis or accompaniment of a musical composition.[2] Though riffs are most often found in rock music, heavy metal music, Latin, funk, and jazz, classical music is also sometimes based on a riff, such as Ravel's Boléro. Riffs can be as simple as a tenor saxophone honking a simple, catchy rhythmic figure, or as complex as the riff-based variations in the head arrangements played by the Count Basie Orchestra.

Ostinato from Radiohead's "Creep" features modal mixture, common tones between adjacent triads (B between G & B, C and G between C+ & C−), and an emphasis on subdominant harmony (IV = C in G major).[1]

David Brackett (1999) defines riffs as "short melodic phrases", while Richard Middleton (1999)[3] defines them as "short rhythmic, melodic, or harmonic figures repeated to form a structural framework". Rikky Rooksby states: "A riff is a short, repeated, memorable musical phrase, often pitched low on the guitar, which focuses much of the energy and excitement of a rock song."[4]

BBC Radio 2, in compiling its list of 100 Greatest Guitar Riffs, defined a riff as the “main hook of a song”, often beginning the song, and is “repeated throughout it, giving the song its distinctive voice”.[5]

Use of the term has extended to comedy, where riffing means the verbal exploration of a particular subject, thus moving the meaning away from the original jazz sense of a repeated figure that a soloist improvises over, to instead indicate the improvisation itself—improvising on a melody or progression as one would improvise on a subject by extending a singular thought, idea or inspiration into a bit, or routine.[6]


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