Riff

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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). Radiohead "Creep" ostinato.png
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).

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.

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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]

Etymology

The term riff entered musical slang in the 1920s (Rooksby, ibid[ where? ], p. 6) and is used primarily in discussion of forms of rock music or jazz. "Most rock musicians use riff as a near-synonym for musical idea" (Middleton 1990, p. 125).

The etymology of the term is not clearly known. Some sources explain riff as an abbreviation for "rhythmic figure" or "refrain". [7]

Usage in jazz, blues and R&B

In jazz, blues and R&B, riffs are often used as the starting point for longer compositions. Charlie Parker used riff on "Now's the Time". Blues guitarist John Lee Hooker used riff on "Boogie Chillen" in 1948. [8]

The riff from Charlie Parker's bebop number "Now's the Time" (1945) re-emerged four years later as the R&B dance hit "The Hucklebuck". The verse of "The Hucklebuck", which was another riff, was "borrowed" from the Artie Matthews composition "Weary Blues". Glenn Miller's "In the Mood" had an earlier life as Wingy Manone's "Tar Paper Stomp". All these songs use twelve-bar blues riffs, and most of these riffs probably precede the examples given (Covach 2005, p. 71).

In classical music, individual musical phrases used as the basis of classical music pieces are called ostinatos or simply phrases. Contemporary jazz writers also use riff- or lick-like ostinatos in modal music and Latin jazz.

Riff-driven

The term "riff-driven" is used to describe a piece of music that relies on a repeated instrumental riff as the basis of its most prominent melody, cadence, or (in some cases) leitmotif. Riff-driven songs are largely a product of jazz, blues, and post-blues era music (rock and pop). [9] The musical goal of riff-driven songs is akin to the classical continuo effect, but raised to much higher importance (in fact, the repeated riff is used to anchor the song in the ears of the listener). The riff/continuo is brought to the forefront of the musical piece and often is the primary melody that remains in the listener's ears. A call and response often holds the song together, creating a "circular" rather than linear feel. [10]

A few examples of riff-driven songs are "Whole Lotta Love" and "Black Dog" by Led Zeppelin, [11] [12] "Day Tripper" by The Beatles, [13] "Brown Sugar" and "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" by The Rolling Stones, [14] "Smoke on the Water" by Deep Purple, [13] [15] "Back in Black" by AC/DC, [13] [15] "Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana, [13] [15] "Johnny B Goode" by Chuck Berry, [13] [15] "Back in the Saddle" by Aerosmith, [16] and "You Really Got Me" by The Kinks. [13] [15]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Rhythm guitar</span> Guitar used to provide rhythm

In music performances, rhythm guitar is a technique and role that performs a combination of two functions: to provide all or part of the rhythmic pulse in conjunction with other instruments from the rhythm section ; and to provide all or part of the harmony, i.e. the chords from a song's chord progression, where a chord is a group of notes played together. Therefore, the basic technique of rhythm guitar is to hold down a series of chords with the fretting hand while strumming or fingerpicking rhythmically with the other hand. More developed rhythm techniques include arpeggios, damping, riffs, chord solos, and complex strums.

The 12-bar blues is one of the most prominent chord progressions in popular music. The blues progression has a distinctive form in lyrics, phrase, chord structure, and duration. In its basic form, it is predominantly based on the I, IV, and V chords of a key. Mastery of the blues and rhythm changes are "critical elements for building a jazz repertoire".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bassist</span> Musician who plays a bass instrument

A bassist is a musician who plays a bass instrument such as a double bass, bass guitar, synthbass, keyboard bass or a low brass instrument such as a tuba or trombone. Different musical genres tend to be associated with one or more of these instruments. Since the 1960s, the electric bass has been the standard bass instrument for funk, R&B, soul music, rock and roll, reggae, jazz fusion, heavy metal, country and pop music. The double bass is the standard bass instrument for classical music, bluegrass, rockabilly, and most genres of jazz. Low brass instruments such as the tuba or sousaphone are the standard bass instrument in Dixieland and New Orleans-style jazz bands.

Hard rock or heavy rock is a loosely defined subgenre of rock music typified by aggressive vocals and distorted electric guitars. Hard rock began in the mid-1960s with the garage, psychedelic and blues rock movements. Some of the earliest hard rock music was produced by the Kinks, the Who, the Rolling Stones, Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience. In the late 1960s, bands such as the Jeff Beck Group, Iron Butterfly, Led Zeppelin, Golden Earring, Steppenwolf and Deep Purple also produced hard rock.

In music, an ostinato is a motif or phrase that persistently repeats in the same musical voice, frequently in the same pitch. Well-known ostinato-based pieces include both classical compositions, such as Ravel's Boléro and the Carol of the Bells, and popular songs such as Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder's "I Feel Love" (1977), Henry Mancini's theme from Peter Gunn (1959), The Who's "Baba O'Riley" (1971), and The Verve's "Bitter Sweet Symphony" (1997).

In a musical composition, a chord progression or harmonic progression is a succession of chords. Chord progressions are the foundation of harmony in Western musical tradition from the common practice era of Classical music to the 21st century. Chord progressions are the foundation of Western popular music styles, traditional music, as well as genres such as blues and jazz. In these genres, chord progressions are the defining feature on which melody and rhythm are built.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bassline</span> Low-pitched instrumental part

A bassline is the term used in many styles of music, such as blues, jazz, funk, dub and electronic, traditional, or classical music for the low-pitched instrumental part or line played by a rhythm section instrument such as the electric bass, double bass, cello, tuba or keyboard.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Accompaniment</span> Part of a musical composition

Accompaniment is the musical part which provides the rhythmic and/or harmonic support for the melody or main themes of a song or instrumental piece. There are many different styles and types of accompaniment in different genres and styles of music. In homophonic music, the main accompaniment approach used in popular music, a clear vocal melody is supported by subordinate chords. In popular music and traditional music, the accompaniment parts typically provide the "beat" for the music and outline the chord progression of the song or instrumental piece.

Lead guitar is a musical part for a guitar in which the guitarist plays melody lines, instrumental fill passages, guitar solos, and occasionally, some riffs and chords within a song structure. The lead is the featured guitar, which usually plays single-note-based lines or double-stops. In rock, heavy metal, blues, jazz, punk, fusion, some pop, and other music styles, lead guitar lines are usually supported by a second guitarist who plays rhythm guitar, which consists of accompaniment chords and riffs.

Blues rock is a fusion music genre that combines elements of blues and rock music. It is mostly an electric ensemble-style music with instrumentation similar to electric blues and rock. From its beginnings in the early to mid-1960s, blues rock has gone through several stylistic shifts and along the way it inspired and influenced hard rock, Southern rock, and early heavy metal.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lick (music)</span>

In popular music genres such as country, blues, jazz or rock music, a lick is "a stock pattern or phrase" consisting of a short series of notes used in solos and melodic lines and accompaniment. For musicians, learning a lick is usually a form of imitation. By imitating, musicians understand and analyze what others have done, allowing them to build a vocabulary of their own.

Song structure is the arrangement of a song, and is a part of the songwriting process. It is typically sectional, which uses repeating forms in songs. Common forms include bar form, 32-bar form, verse–chorus form, ternary form, strophic form, and the 12-bar blues. Popular music songs traditionally use the same music for each verse or stanza of lyrics. Pop and traditional forms can be used even with songs that have structural differences in melodies. The most common format in modern popular music is introduction (intro), verse, pre-chorus, chorus, verse, pre-chorus, chorus, bridge, and chorus. In rock music styles, notably heavy metal music, there is usually one or more guitar solos in the song, often found after the middle chorus part. In pop music, there may be a guitar solo, or a solo performed with another instrument such as a synthesizer or a saxophone.

A modal frame in music is "a number of types permeating and unifying African, European, and American song" and melody. It may also be called a melodic mode. "Mode" and "frame" are used interchangeably in this context without reference to scalar or rhythmic modes. Melodic modes define and generate melodies that are not determined by harmony, but purely by melody. A note frame, is a melodic mode that is atonic, or has an unstable tonic.

"Sunshine of Your Love" is a 1967 song by the British rock band Cream. With elements of hard rock, psychedelia, and pop, it is one of Cream's best known and most popular songs. Cream bassist and vocalist Jack Bruce based it on a distinctive bass riff he developed after attending a Jimi Hendrix concert. Guitarist Eric Clapton and lyricist Pete Brown later contributed to the song and drummer Ginger Baker plays a distinctive tom-tom drum rhythm.

In popular music, a fill is a short musical passage, riff, or rhythmic sound which helps to sustain the listener's attention during a break between the phrases of a melody. "The terms riff and fill are sometimes used interchangeably by musicians, but [while] the term riff usually refers to an exact musical phrase repeated throughout a song", a fill is an improvised phrase played during a section where nothing else is happening in the music. While riffs are repeated, fills tend to be varied over the course of a song. For example, a drummer may fill in the end of one phrase with a sixteenth note hi-hat pattern, and then fill in the end of the next phrase with a snare drum figure.

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Repetition is important in music, where sounds or sequences are often repeated. It may be called restatement, such as the restatement of a theme. While it plays a role in all music, with noise and musical tones lying along a spectrum from irregular to periodic sounds,(Moravcsik, 114)(Rajagopal, ) it is especially prominent in specific styles.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Jazz improvisation</span> Spontaneous composition in jazz

Jazz improvisation is the spontaneous invention of melodic solo lines or accompaniment parts in a performance of jazz music. It is one of the defining elements of jazz. Improvisation is composing on the spot, when a singer or instrumentalist invents melodies and lines over a chord progression played by rhythm section instruments and accompanied by drums. Although blues, rock, and other genres use improvisation, it is done over relatively simple chord progressions which often remain in one key.

"Third Stone from the Sun" is a mostly instrumental composition by American musician Jimi Hendrix. It incorporates several musical approaches, including jazz and psychedelic rock, with brief spoken passages. The title reflects Hendrix's interest in science fiction and is a reference to Earth in its position as the third planet away from the sun in the solar system.

Boogie rock is a style of blues rock music that developed in the late 1960s. Its key feature is a repetitive driving rhythm, which emphasizes the groove. Although inspired by earlier musical styles, boogie rock has been described as "heavier" or "harder-edged" in its instrumental approach.

References

  1. Capuzzo, Guy. Neo-Riemannian Theory and the Analysis of Pop-Rock Music, pp. 186–187, Music Theory Spectrum, Vol. 26, No. 2, pp. 177–199. Autumn 2004. Capuzzo uses "+" to indicate major and "−" to indicate minor (C+, C−).
  2. New Harvard Dictionary of Music (1986) p. 708. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  3. Middleton, Richard (2002) [1990]. Studying Popular Music. Philadelphia: Open University Press. ISBN   0-335-15275-9.
  4. Rikky Rooksby (2002). Riffs: How to create and play great guitar riffs. San Francisco: Backbeat Books. pp. 6–7. ISBN   0-87930-710-2.
  5. BBC Radio 2 website.
  6. "Definition of RIFF". www.merriam-webster.com. Retrieved 2019-09-30.
  7. "Definition of riff". Dictionary.com. Retrieved 2020-11-09.
  8. Best Guitar Riffs. Retrieved 28 July 2021.
  9. Rolling Stone (1992). The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll (3 Sub ed.). Random House. p. 61. ISBN   978-0679737285.
  10. Horner, Bruce (Editor), Swiss, Thomas (Editor) (1999). Key Terms in Popular Music and Culture (Paperback ed.). Blackwell Publishing Limited. pp.  143. ISBN   978-0-631-21264-5.{{cite book}}: |last= has generic name (help)CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  11. Fast, Susan; et al. (2001). In the house of the Holy: Led Zeppelin and the power of Rock Music (1 ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 33. ISBN   0-19-511756-5. The song (Black Dog) represents a defining moment in the genre of hard rock, combining the elements of speed, power, an artful and metrically clever riff
  12. "The Greatest Songs Ever! Black Dog". Blender Magazine . Archived from the original on May 30, 2009. Retrieved March 2, 2010.
  13. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "50 Greatest Guitar Riffs Of All Time". NME. October 25, 2012. Retrieved 29 January 2019.
  14. Bogdanov, Vladimir; et al. (2003). All Music Guide to the Blues. Backbeat Books. p. 477. ISBN   0-87930-736-6.
  15. 1 2 3 4 5 Chilton, Martin (October 22, 2018). "15 Of The Best Guitar Riffs". Udiscovermusic. Retrieved 29 January 2019.
  16. Gallucci, Michael GallucciMichael. "Top 10 Joe Perry Aerosmith Riffs". Ultimate Classic Rock. Retrieved 2022-10-21.

Sources