Definition of riff in English:

riff

noun

  • 1A short repeated phrase in popular music and jazz, typically used as an introduction or refrain in a song.

    ‘a brilliant guitar riff’
    • ‘After these first wan gags, subsequent riffs on the same themes fail to amuse.’
    • ‘Why the silence, the sirens, the jazz riffs, the drumming?’
    • ‘Sick of hearing the same tired riffs and canned beats on the radio?’
    • ‘Johnson said he had come up with the rollicking piano riffs and trademark rhythm backing Berry's lyrics.’
    • ‘Layering multiple streams of electronically generated sound, he interspersed sparse and sometimes repetitive keyboard riffs into the mix.’
    • ‘Longingly romantic " Live Line " is backed by a simple folk blues riff.’
    • ‘Yet in this way, we immediately understand the initial discordant keyboard riff.’
    • ‘Characterised by its undulating electronic bass riff it's one of the strongest tracks of the line-up.’
    • ‘He manufactures catchy guitar riffs with ease, and blends them with off-beat lyrics.’
    • ‘Effortless hooks and fantastical storytelling gave way to chugging riffs and darker lyrics.’
    • ‘They played the opening riff for a while, until Rocky tried a solo.’
    • ‘People naturally respond to the diminutive sax man's keening sound, funky rhythms and bluesy riffs.’
    • ‘Barely a track begins without an ominous drum roll, or a chugging monster riff.’
    • ‘The band's condensed rock riffs also sound stale.’
    • ‘The ad needs a shot of adrenaline, a killer riff.’
    • ‘Listen carefully and you can hear even more familiar riffs.’
    • ‘You hear the opening riff to a song.’
    • ‘Catchy, jangly guitar riffs are slung about violently.’
    • ‘Before long we get a nice piano riff and lots of ambient weirdness joining it.’
    • ‘"Used to Think " takes its impetus from the guitars, utilising a stuttering riff reminiscent of the Who.’
    1. 1.1 A monologue or spoken improvisation, especially a humorous one, on a particular subject.
      ‘extended riffs on the pitfalls of contemporary romance’
      • ‘Last week's riff on how the coming ubiquity of wireless networks could lead to a new and better form of digital rights management brought out both supporters and detractors.’
      • ‘Her conversations are never completed, her ideas left unexplored, and her truths half spoken while Hatanaka indulges in another riff about the story.’
      • ‘A personification of the bomb appears near the end, portrayed by Sotor's cousin, in a satirical riff off an old cliché Sotor rewrote himself.’
      • ‘"Detective work," someone mutters to an eager graduate student in A. S. Byatt's latest fictional riff on things Victorian.’

verb

[no object]
  • 1Play riffs.

    ‘the other horns would be riffing behind him’
    • ‘The secret may be that although rock 'n' roll is supposedly at its best when it's riffing on the pleasures and heartaches of youth, Springsteen edged away from that very early in his career.’
    • ‘The musicians in the band are just as comfortable thrashing out with The Misfits and The Ramones as they are riffing with Ted Nugent or KISS.’
    • ‘The dubious wisdom of naming your record after a crumbling empire's capital aside, the band makes a noble effort, even if their search often leads them to simple power-punk or minor-key metal riffing.’
    • ‘Fortunately, it turned out they too spoke the international language of prog rock or whatever musical abomination he was riffing on at the time.’
    • ‘Kaufman is riffing on well-connected dots from Wolfe's reportage, as well as having a little fun with Johnson's reputation for old-school bullying and sulking.’
    • ‘Even the former stars of soupy boy bands have taken up riffing.’
    • ‘So perhaps it comes as bit of a surprise that some of the best riffing to be heard on any album this year doesn't come from some retro-garage band, but from electronica outfit Ratatat.’
    • ‘The whole disc is jumbled riffing and passages that are ham-fistedly smashed together, making each ‘tune’ come plodding out of the speakers like a wet, grumbly fart.’
    • ‘This is Shatner's milieu these days - riffing about love and pain in a sort of slow-motion white man's rap.’
    • ‘Who needs six minutes worth of foreshadowing, ambient noise and one-chord riffing when you could surge straight into a noise as glorious as this?’
    • ‘‘He loves riffing about show business,’ says Williams, one of his famous friends.’
    • ‘It's like watching two nerdy kids on the bus riffing endlessly on their own inside jokes: it might be fun if you're bored, but pretty soon you'd rather just look out the window.’
    • ‘His love jams are often trite and he spends far too much time riffing on the phrase ‘do it.’’
    • ‘Often times, Simmons' band sounds remarkably like the traditional Coltrane quartet, with pianist John Hicks riffing off propulsive drummer, James Zitro.’
    • ‘While the band was riffing away, Fallon would unleash a torrent of lyrics about monster trucks, prison planets and yetis in his unmistakable throaty roar.’
    • ‘Gone are the wacky keyboard lines, the chunky punk ‘n’ metal riffing and polka/ska passages that have made this band a Canadian legend.’
    • ‘In the same way that Twin Peaks was David Lynch riffing on the soap opera genre, so does Kurosawa riff on the family drama in Bright Future.’
    • ‘With Dave Grohl behind the drum kit and a bucket full of Sabbath style riffing, it certainly rocks.’
    • ‘Stoppard further underlines the tension between perception and reality by riffing on Hamlet's ‘play within a play’ that catches the conscience of the king.’
    • ‘Steve Wilson's vibes are deep in the rhythm section's pocket, riffing or firing off spare, hanging chords.’
    1. 1.1 Perform a monologue or spoken improvisation on a particular subject.
      ‘he also riffs on racism and the economy’
      • ‘Building on Curtis's concept, you can begin exploratory sketching by riffing off of these three words or phrases.’
      • ‘Given the tight theme, Hughes says he was greatly impressed with the "nice little gamut" the nine authors riffed on the subject.’
      • ‘By the end of the day, a number of commentators had riffed on this phrase.’
      • ‘When he is in a darker mood Jacobs likes to riff on abstract themes.’
      • ‘David Gayton is still riffing on John's situation.’
      • ‘Riffing on Digby's post earlier, I agree that Bush et al are too sanguine.’
      • ‘Imagine my anxiety when Roger riffed today about the history of black music.’
      • ‘Today he's riffing about the immorality of being a porn star.’
      • ‘That being said, I would like to riff on some of the things I noticed in the film.’
      • ‘It was all right there, everyone riffing off each other, remarking, critiquing.’
      • ‘And the moment may come when he will riff on again.’
      • ‘He generally riffed a lot at weddings, making warm jokes about pets or the new wedding china.’
      • ‘Now the artist Jason Salavon has produced a set of images that riff wittily on the culture of the centerfold.’
      • ‘The structure of the show, especially in the first act, has a lot in common with the play: various characters take turns riffing on a common theme.’
      • ‘And it's funny because riffing on Virgil is exactly how I thought of it myself.’
      • ‘Sullivan excels at punditry, happily riffing off the news or essaying exuberantly off the top of his head.’
      • ‘Speaking of Chinese translations, Harper's Magazine, once published a list of Chinese books riffing on Johnson's earlier classic.’
      • ‘Vic starts riffing about how he has an eight year old daughter, just like the missing girl.’
      • ‘The issue's highlight, however, is an inspired fashion spread riffing on the 1998 Danish film, The Celebration.’
      • ‘Whatever myth or motif Svankmajer is riffing on - he's created a true gem here.’

Origin

1930s: perhaps an abbreviation of refrain.

Pronunciation

riff

/rɪf/