Definition of fife in US English:



  • A kind of small shrill flute used with the drum in military bands.

    • ‘Wax candles covered the table everywhere, and a group of musicians played nearby on ‘fiddles, fifes, trombones, and a drum’ although they are not very talented; in fact, their songs really bother the narrator throughout his meal.’
    • ‘The drums sound, the fife plays ‘Yankee Doodle,’ a tune for insulting colonists.’
    • ‘Other musical instruments included stringed instruments such as fiddles and harps, and woodwind instruments such as flutes and fifes.’
    • ‘The Marine Band began as a fledgling band of fifes and drums through an act of Congress signed July 11, 1798 by President John Adams.’
    • ‘The band is made up of a stringed guitar, drum, and fife.’
    • ‘Amerindian men perform a dance in the local church to the accompaniment of fife and drums.’
    • ‘Increasing sophistication of construction allowed the development of complicated drum tunes, played in combination with tonal instruments such as fifes or bagpipes.’
    • ‘On one side was a design of the three Revolutionary War patriots marching forward carrying the flag and playing a fife and drum, while on the reverse was a cowboy riding a horse, tall in the saddle.’
    • ‘Little adornment was on her, except a single piercing at the top of her pointed ear, but what caught Kira's attention was the fife at her waist.’
    • ‘William Ferman complained that whenever he chose to stay out all night playing the fife in a saloon, his wife would harass him.’
    • ‘He played the fife and was a great lover of traditional music.’
    • ‘Other events at the castle included 24 drummers who gave a special display involving drums, bugles and fifes, and an appearance of the Richmond Drummer boy, an important part of local legend.’
    • ‘I have no doubt that the disuse of the fife and drum by one regiment after another, until they have become practically obsolete in our service, has been due to this very difficulty of providing adequate material and training.’
    • ‘He played the fife for military assemblies and the violin for dancing parties.’
    • ‘It consisted of thirty-two members, playing exclusively drums and fifes.’
    • ‘He singles one of them out - a musician, and tells him to play a tune on his fife.’
    • ‘The priests trained in the bardic arts beat their drums, strummed on their lutes, and played on their fifes to a wild beat and a buoyant tune.’
    • ‘The air came alive with the shrill whistling of the fifes, and the drums began pounding in rhythm with my heart.’
    • ‘The standard fife, the old Renaissance treble, is pitched in B and has six finger holes.’
    • ‘People were coming into the square from all sides, and down the street we heard the pipes and the fifes and the drums coming.’
    whistle, penny whistle, flute, recorder
    View synonyms


[no object]archaic
  • Play the fife.

    • ‘His deep interest in Irish culture and music prompted his research into the Lambeg drumming and fifing traditions of Ulster.’


Mid 16th century: from German Pfeife ‘pipe’, or from French fifre from Swiss German Pfifer ‘piper’.