Definition of riff in English:



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

    ‘a brilliant guitar riff’
    • ‘Layering multiple streams of electronically generated sound, he interspersed sparse and sometimes repetitive keyboard riffs into the mix.’
    • ‘People naturally respond to the diminutive sax man's keening sound, funky rhythms and bluesy riffs.’
    • ‘Effortless hooks and fantastical storytelling gave way to chugging riffs and darker lyrics.’
    • ‘Barely a track begins without an ominous drum roll, or a chugging monster riff.’
    • ‘Longingly romantic " Live Line " is backed by a simple folk blues riff.’
    • ‘Listen carefully and you can hear even more familiar riffs.’
    • ‘After these first wan gags, subsequent riffs on the same themes fail to amuse.’
    • ‘Johnson said he had come up with the rollicking piano riffs and trademark rhythm backing Berry's lyrics.’
    • ‘Sick of hearing the same tired riffs and canned beats on the radio?’
    • ‘The band's condensed rock riffs also sound stale.’
    • ‘They played the opening riff for a while, until Rocky tried a solo.’
    • ‘The ad needs a shot of adrenaline, a killer riff.’
    • ‘You hear the opening riff to a song.’
    • ‘Characterised by its undulating electronic bass riff it's one of the strongest tracks of the line-up.’
    • ‘Yet in this way, we immediately understand the initial discordant keyboard riff.’
    • ‘Catchy, jangly guitar riffs are slung about violently.’
    • ‘He manufactures catchy guitar riffs with ease, and blends them with off-beat lyrics.’
    • ‘Before long we get a nice piano riff and lots of ambient weirdness joining it.’
    • ‘Why the silence, the sirens, the jazz riffs, the drumming?’
    • ‘"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’
      • ‘"Detective work," someone mutters to an eager graduate student in A. S. Byatt's latest fictional riff on things Victorian.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.’


[no object]
  • 1Play riffs.

    ‘the other horns would be riffing behind him’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’’
    • ‘‘He loves riffing about show business,’ says Williams, one of his famous friends.’
    • ‘This is Shatner's milieu these days - riffing about love and pain in a sort of slow-motion white man's rap.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Even the former stars of soupy boy bands have taken up riffing.’
    • ‘Steve Wilson's vibes are deep in the rhythm section's pocket, riffing or firing off spare, hanging chords.’
    • ‘With Dave Grohl behind the drum kit and a bucket full of Sabbath style riffing, it certainly rocks.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Gone are the wacky keyboard lines, the chunky punk ‘n’ metal riffing and polka/ska passages that have made this band a Canadian legend.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Often times, Simmons' band sounds remarkably like the traditional Coltrane quartet, with pianist John Hicks riffing off propulsive drummer, James Zitro.’
    • ‘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?’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Fortunately, it turned out they too spoke the international language of prog rock or whatever musical abomination he was riffing on at the time.’
    1. 1.1 Perform a monologue or spoken improvisation on a particular subject.
      ‘he also riffs on racism and the economy’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘When he is in a darker mood Jacobs likes to riff on abstract themes.’
      • ‘He generally riffed a lot at weddings, making warm jokes about pets or the new wedding china.’
      • ‘And the moment may come when he will riff on again.’
      • ‘Speaking of Chinese translations, Harper's Magazine, once published a list of Chinese books riffing on Johnson's earlier classic.’
      • ‘Sullivan excels at punditry, happily riffing off the news or essaying exuberantly off the top of his head.’
      • ‘Vic starts riffing about how he has an eight year old daughter, just like the missing girl.’
      • ‘Given the tight theme, Hughes says he was greatly impressed with the "nice little gamut" the nine authors riffed on the subject.’
      • ‘Whatever myth or motif Svankmajer is riffing on - he's created a true gem here.’
      • ‘David Gayton is still riffing on John's situation.’
      • ‘The issue's highlight, however, is an inspired fashion spread riffing on the 1998 Danish film, The Celebration.’
      • ‘Imagine my anxiety when Roger riffed today about the history of black music.’
      • ‘It was all right there, everyone riffing off each other, remarking, critiquing.’
      • ‘Building on Curtis's concept, you can begin exploratory sketching by riffing off of these three words or phrases.’
      • ‘Riffing on Digby's post earlier, I agree that Bush et al are too sanguine.’
      • ‘And it's funny because riffing on Virgil is exactly how I thought of it myself.’
      • ‘That being said, I would like to riff on some of the things I noticed in the film.’
      • ‘Now the artist Jason Salavon has produced a set of images that riff wittily on the culture of the centerfold.’
      • ‘Today he's riffing about the immorality of being a porn star.’
      • ‘By the end of the day, a number of commentators had riffed on this phrase.’


1930s: perhaps an abbreviation of refrain.