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#1
Old 05-05-2004, 11:12 AM
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Difference between a guitar riff and a guitar lick?

What's the difference between the two? I've just had my head bitten off for proclaiming that most of the songs in a list of the "20 best rock riffs of all time" don't even contain a riff. I claimed that the beginning of "Voodoo Chile" isn't a riff, but a lick, and that "Smells Like Teen Spirit" doesn't contain a riff either.

I was always under the impression that a riff had to be repeated more or less throughout the whole song, ala Daytripper and Waterfall, but it tranpsires that I thought incorrectly (incidentally, Google drags up about 100 differing definitions for a "riff").

So what really is the difference between a riff, lick and chord progression?
#2
Old 05-05-2004, 11:51 AM
tdn tdn is offline
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Personally, I think the person who ripped your head off has way too much time on his hands. And is probably a really sucky guitar player as well.

I've always thought of a riff in the same way that you do. A lick is a non-repeating figure of a few notes, usually from a "bag of tricks." It's a single word in a larger vocabulary.

A chord progression is, well, a progression of chords. While a lick or riff implies specific notes, a chord progression is a less specific series of harmonic structures underlying the song.

Black Dog is based on a riff.

The first phrase of Page's solo is a lick.

A E A is the chord progression.
#3
Old 05-05-2004, 12:10 PM
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"Riff" is short for "refrain." It really refers to any repeating musical phrase. It can be a melodic phrase or it can be a chord prgression. If it repeats, it's a "refrain," and hence, a "riff." It does not have to repeat for the whole song in order to be a riff.

"Smells Like Teen Spirit" is indeed a riff and it's a chord progression. Some of the greatest riffs are just chord progressions ("Smoke on the Water," "Iron Man," etc.)

A "lick" is basically a single line musical phrase which is discreet from a chord progression. A lick which repeats itself becomes a riff. The intro to "Voodoo Chile" is a repeating lick, hence it's a riff.

To sum up, a chord progression is (obviously) a sequence of chords. A lick is a discreet sequence of notes or melodic phrase. If either one of those is played in a repeating pattern, it's a riff.
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#4
Old 05-05-2004, 12:30 PM
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where does Eric Clapton fit in? I'm talking about the classic --"Layla"--one of the best examples of great rock guitar.

Those first 6 opening notes are to rock music what the opening of Beethoven's Fifth is to classical music.

I always called it the "opening lick" of the song.But it is repeated through the song, so maybe it should be called a riff.And if so, how did it get excluded from the top 20 list?

(and don't tell me I'm just an old fart who's stuck in the early 70's. 'Cause it ain't true---I'm a middle-aged fart who's stuck in the 70's. Vinyl records were real art!!!).
#5
Old 05-05-2004, 12:31 PM
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So virtually every song has a riff?
#6
Old 05-05-2004, 12:37 PM
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So what's a "groove" then?

Quote:
Originally Posted by chappachula
where does Eric Clapton fit in? I'm talking about the classic --"Layla"--one of the best examples of great rock guitar.

Those first 6 opening notes are to rock music what the opening of Beethoven's Fifth is to classical music.
Doesn't Duane Allman play principal guitar on that recording?
#7
Old 05-05-2004, 12:54 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by +MDI
So virtually every song has a riff?
Yes.

ascenray, I believe that Clapton played the rhythm tracks (with the main riff) while Allman played the melodic slide guitar part. They both played solos.

IIRC, though. It was Allman who actually came up with that opening riff.
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#8
Old 05-05-2004, 12:55 PM
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I'd be fairly skeptical about 'riff' coming from 'refrain' actually. That smacks of urban legend to me.

In my experience (which has several bands behind it as well and one short 4 song recorded EP and encompasses 20 years of playing one instrument or another) 'riff' and 'lick' have been used interchangably depending on how the speaker picked up the words.

Even, at this point, if the original word DID mean 'repeating pattern of notes' it sure isn't univerally accepted that way today.

Here's what I found (germane) online:
Quote:
From some online dictionary or other:
2. riff - a jazz ostinato; usually provides a background for a solo improvisation
ostinato - a musical phrase repeated over and over during a composition
So I'd buy that it may originally come from that usage but 'riff' and 'lick' are blurring in usage pattern at this point.
#9
Old 05-05-2004, 12:59 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by acsenray
So what's a "groove" then?

I thought a groove had to do with the rhythm; that is, a groove is to the drums as a riff is to the guitar.


RR
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#10
Old 05-05-2004, 01:56 PM
tdn tdn is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jonathan Chance
So I'd buy that it may originally come from that usage but 'riff' and 'lick' are blurring in usage pattern at this point.
I think that's exactly right. Music in general doesn't fit into neat little boxes, so descriptive words tend to get a bit fuzzy in meaning. Combine this with the fact that such definitions change over time, space, and demographics. And that the people that most often use these words are not well known for their command of the English language.

Yes, that was a jab at dumb rock musicians. Being a dumb rock musician myself, I feel I have that right. My own erudite attempts at obfusciation often result in...

er...

ROCKNROLL! WOOOOO!
#11
Old 05-05-2004, 02:04 PM
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You know, I intentionally avoided making the 'of course, these are musicians we're speaking about' crack.

But I'm glad someone did.

Now let's try to discover the etymology of 'chops'.
#12
Old 05-06-2004, 08:50 AM
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Ooooh! I have this one! Chops=your proficiency with the instrument. Back in the old days, that is: the jazz era, all the soloists were sax, trumpet & trombone players. One's "chops" (your lips/mouth) were what one used to produce the sound, thus "my chops are wiped out" and "he's got great chops."

Disclaimer: I have no cite for this, it's just my memory of the old stage-band days.
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#13
Old 05-06-2004, 09:32 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by acsenray
So what's a "groove" then?
I understand a groove as meaning the feel of the whole rhythm section possibly the whole band. All to do with the subtle timing of two/four and so on. Hence groove quantising in sequencing software. Where once you've stol^M^M^M^M programmed some nicely timed drum track you can sync up the bass part.

As for riffs/licks/sequences I agree with tdn's analysis of Black Dog for definitions. But certainly chord-sequences/riffs blur together. How about Baba O'Riley for example? A bit slow to be called a riff but (like Teen Spirit) a bit to defined to just be a chord-sequence. Or Child in Time every Purple song I can think of is based on a riff, but if that is one it's a very slow one.

And then there's the modern (post 80s scuse us of the older persuasion) metallic tendency for guitar parts to be syncopated fast muted chunking of one chord a/la Bring me to Life. Is there a name for that?
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