What is a riff?

‘Kid from Kansas plays killer guitar riff.’

Maybe you’ve seen a YouTube video with a title like that or read a review from one of your favorite music zines that referenced a memorable riff in a particular song from an artist you dig.  Some of you reading this might have been wondering, “what the heck is a riff?”  Simply put, it’s like a musical phrase or a hook that gets played more than once. 

The idea is to play something catchy that’s going to grab your audience.  Have you ever heard a little number out of the 1970’s called ‘Smoke on the Water’ by the British powerhouse, Deep Purple?  The song starts off with a little four note phrase.  It’s played a number of times before the main verse kicks in and really sets the stage for the tune.  When you walk away from listening to that song, chances are the two things that will stick out most for you are the chorus and that four note grouping.  Guess what?  That note grouping is a riff!  It’s probably one of the most well recognized riffs in Western rock music. 

As you go through your own musical journey and start learning about notes, scales, chords, and patterns, you’ll start to develop your own riffs.  Riffs are great building blocks for songs!  Hopefully as you go along you’ll start to see that these different concepts might sound strange at first, but they’re not so daunting once you know what they are. 

Cheers and happy fret blazing!

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