Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • noun Music A short rhythmic phrase, especially one that is repeated in improvisation.
  • noun A repeated or varied theme, idea, or phrase.
  • intransitive verb To play or make riffs. Often used with on.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • noun An obsolete form of reef.—2. A rapid or riffle. See riffle.
  • noun An obsolete form of reef.
  • noun The belly; the bowels.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • noun A repeated instrumental melody line in a song.
  • noun A clever or witty remark.
  • verb To improvise in the performance or practice of an art, especially by expanding on or making novel use of traditional themes.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • verb play riffs
  • noun a jazz ostinato; usually provides a background for a solo improvisation
  • noun a Berber living in northern Morocco
  • verb look through a book or other written material

Etymologies

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

[Origin unknown.]

Examples

  • Thanks to technological acceleration, John Cage jokes are rapidly approaching their sell-by date (remember when 4'33 was this wild, crazy cult thing that nobody knew about?), but this riff is a worthy entry in the pantheon.

    Archive 2009-04-01

  • Thanks to technological acceleration, John Cage jokes are rapidly approaching their sell-by date (remember when 4'33 was this wild, crazy cult thing that nobody knew about?), but this riff is a worthy entry in the pantheon.

    And you still

  • They slammed into the main riff (sort of a sped up version of "Spoonful") with a frantic and almost desperate ferocity.

    Binky Philips: The Damned at CBGB: The Night Punk Was Officially Born in the USA

  • They slammed into the main riff (sort of a sped up version of "Spoonful") with a frantic and almost desperate ferocity.

    Binky Philips: The Damned at CBGB: The Night Punk Was Officially Born in the USA

  • The element of rock and roll that we refer to as the riff has been around for many years.

    Harrison Solo | SciFi, Fantasy & Horror Collectibles

  • Teabagger riff is old, and “bigot” says more about the speaker.

    The Volokh Conspiracy » Major Gaffe in Britain

  • "Whole Lotta Love" shared some lyrics with Dixon's "You Need Love/Woman You Need Love", though the riff from the song was an original Jimmy Page composition.

    Dre-C/D(-O-Double G) C

  • At recent live shows, Wilco has played two new songs: "One Wing" recalls the melancholy, slowly building "Sky Blue Sky" closer "On and On and On," while "Sunny Feeling" has a sly main riff in keeping with loose jams from the last album.

    August 2008

  • At recent live shows, Wilco has played two new songs: "One Wing" recalls the melancholy, slowly building "Sky Blue Sky" closer "On and On and On," while "Sunny Feeling" has a sly main riff in keeping with loose jams from the last album.

    Sunny Blue Sky

  • They played the awesome guitar riff from the theme song to Thundercats.

    FRIDAY FREE FOR ALL: VOLTRON IS VIOLENT

Comments

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  • ninja words:

    (v) : to improvise in the performance or practice of an art, esp. by expanding on or making novel use of traditional themes

    June 11, 2008

  • Likely from a shortening of riffle.

    March 24, 2013