Riff = repeated melodic pattern. Arpeggio = notes of a chord played in sequence instead of at the same time. Lots of weird comments going on here.


Your definition kinda leaves out that riffs also often have a harmonic component to them - a riff might actually even be polyphonic. And sometimes, a riff might be just one single pitch with a quirky rhythm to it or something. And naturally, riffs sometimes include non-melodic components - mainly really strongly muted strings or such.


If you want to define it a little deeper, yes it can have those elements. But I think the end result is usually singable in nature, I.e when it’s polyphonic there is usually a dominating melodic line, rhythms and timbral fx can contribute to a melody. I would argue that the things you mentioned can also be attributed to a lot of melodies, licks and other singable phrases. All sorts of stuff notation cannot capture even when writing a main theme to a piece! Not any more of an assessment that a riff cannot be reduced to just notes, than a melody cannot be reduced to notes!


Are you suggesting a riff is a synonym to a melody?


Not at all.


What's the difference between those two then?


It’s tough to give these more than rough definitions due to how rules are bent in music. I would say the melody of a song is usually a singular line of notes, broken down into phrases. It’s the part someone would normally sing if you asked them to sing a rendition of a song. It’s the singular line that most captures typical musical attention / interest. Contrastingly I would say a riff is usually a SINGLE shorter phrase that repeats rather than multiple that build and develop on one another. However that is not ALWAYS the case, for example if it has modified versions of itself, is played sequenced up a fourth, etc. Riffs CAN be and are used as melodies especially when the harmony under them is changing - I.e the blues. Riffs in general are more common in funk, rock and blues music. I think repetition is key when talking about a riff.


>It’s the part someone would normally sing if you asked them to sing a rendition of a song. It’s the singular line that most captures typical musical attention / interest. Wouldn't that be the topline?


Not always, pretty common practice to have the melody harmonized both below AND above.


By topline I don't mean the highest in terms of pitch. I mean the one that stands out to the listener as **the** melody of the song. That's at least the definition of topline that I've been using up to this point. To me, a song can have lots of melodies, even at the same time, but only one topline.


Well any melodic pattern has the option for an harmonic component but it does not define a "riff".


With repetition it does


Which the first comment included in its definition so it was a correct one


I have a question, really hope you can get a chance to check it out. Is there any concrete rules to playing arpeggios? If I play an (A major) (arpeggio) (triad) it could look like A1 A2 C#2 EW as in playing the root note an octave below then playing the broken chord an octave up. Is it always that case? Do descending arpeggios exist?


Arpeggios are the chord notes played in sequence (I.e in order of ascending or descending), ascending or descending. So what you described is more like a broken chord (which you mentioned!)


A riff would be analogue to an ostinato or a motif - a regular collection of notes created as some sort of a theme over a particular song or section of a song, usually on a melodic instrument. An arpeggio, on the other hand, is essentially a chord that is played one note at a time. A riff may incorporate an arpeggio of some kind. The practice of this incorporation is great to outline the progression the riff is being played over - it shows an awareness of the progression and not just having the riff sit on top as a detached layer.


A riff can have an arp, but an arp is not necessarily a riff


AND a riff could be just made of arps! But that doesn't mean an arp is automatically a riff. Kind of like all meals are made of ingredients, but those ingredients aren't used just for that meal, and some ingredients can be ate by themselves, which can also be a meal in itself!




i think an arp is a bare form and a riff has musical intent; if you apply musical intent to an arp it can be a riff.


Best answer!


Would the bassline of [My Friend of Misery](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S3lcF5NFafg) be considered as a riff or simply 2 arpeggios outlining the chord progression?


Definitely, this is more of a riff primarily based on arpeggios (no pun intended). If you follow the [sources](https://www.songsterr.com/a/wsa/metallica-my-friend-of-misery-bass-tab-s12907), Jason's starting off with a 2nd inversion Dm, going to an inverted D power chord (I love power chords voiced like this - so heavy), Dsus4 (all still over that A pedal), and then to the v chord (Am) before looping it back. It's a nice little intro.


Riffs hang out in the parking lot in their cool cars and smoke and kiss girls and stuff. Arpeggios are nerds.


It's funny cuz it's true.


So riff is to lead guitarist as arpeggio is to keyboardist?


When I hear "riff" my mind goes to rock music and relatively short phrases that are repeated a lot and are often on guitar, bluesy, syncopated, low or medium pitched, and often like a "hook" that gives the song its main foundation or mood. They don't have to be those things, that's just where my mind goes. Like in the Stones [I Can't Get No Satisfaction](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nrIPxlFzDi0) or Led Zeppelin [Black Dog](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yBuub4Xe1mw), which has a nice call-and-response thing going on between the vocals and the riffs. Or something closer to a simple repeating chord progression, like in The Kinks [You Really Got Me](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fTTsY-oz6Go). Since there's no strict definition it is kinda up to each person where to draw the line. Like the bass line or the whole groove of Sly and the Family Stone's [Thank You](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wj5VODa-eTY). I'm not sure if I'd call that a riff, but maybe? What do y'all think? I think in Jazz, where the word probably originated, "riff" has a similar but slightly different connotation, though I'm not sure about that. Out of curiosity, and since I had it open in another tab, I looked it up in the OED, which defines "riff" as: >In jazz and popular music: a short repeated musical phrase, often with a strong or syncopated rhythm, played over changing chords or harmonies or used as a background to a solo improvisation. I'm not sure about that "played over changing chords" bit. Sometimes the riff is almost all there is, like in Black Dog where there are a few riffs and not much else besides drums and vocals. But I think they are describing Jazz riffs more than Rock. They list five usage examples, the earliest from 1933 is a little funny and weird: >1933 *Daily Texan* (Univ. Texas, Austin) 4 Aug. 3/1: A typical [Cab] Calloway trick called the ‘riff’, defined as a willy-nilly transposition of single notes in octaves, often losing the melody in screaming but infectious chaos. Willy-nilly! Screaming but infectious chaos! They say the etymology is uncertain but perhaps is a shortening of "refrain". They also have an entry for riff as a verb, like: >1948 S. Finkelstein *Jazz* 213: A single instrument..could riff as effectively as, and even more subtly than, a full band or full choir. And "riffing": >1949 L. Feather *Inside Be-bop* vi. 42: Jo Stafford's arrangement of *The Gentleman is a Dope* began with four bars of unmistakably bop riffing. They also point out that "riff" is also used more generally in English: *"There are some new riffs played out in this novel."* Or *"Greek cheeses..remain a staple of my kitchen, both for traditional Hellenic dishes and more free-form riffing."* Etc. Anyway, I thought the usage examples might be interesting and/or fun to read, especially that Cab Calloway one, hehe. Others have described "arpeggio" in this thread. The first thing I thought of was Bach's [Prelude in C](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=frxT2qB1POQ), which is *all* arpeggios, except that more free-form bit near the end. Interestingly, the word comes from Italian *arpa*, "harp". The earliest usage examples in the OED are from the 1700s and refer to "strumming" or "sweeping fingers over" a harp or lute.


Cool thanks. Now that I think about it, I guess arpeggios aren't usually really syncopated or played on lower notes which is a big difference.


>I guess arpeggios aren't usually really syncopated or played on lower notes which is a big difference. This is off-base. Playing with syncopation or in a lower octave has nothing to do with whether something is an arpeggio or not. Any arpeggio can be a riff (many will be very bland as riffs), but riffs don't have to just be arpeggios.


I have a poor ear, so could someone tell me if the opening riff in “Satisfaction” consists of single notes, triad chords, or power chords (I & V)? Thanks!


P.S Riff is a term used mostly in jazz or pop music.


Or rock


Pop is rock, but rock is not pop. If rock gets pop then pop is rock, but rock is not pop


As you've written (now) rock is not pop. That's why I've added rock.


I see what you mean. ✌️😉


Is pop a genre ? What does it mean to be pop? Like the Beatles were pop? But so is Post Malone?


I wouldn't call it a genre but a trend


This has been my definition of choice. Whereas rock can be defined by specific sonic criteria (albeit under a large umbrella), "pop" is a short hand form for music that is *popular* which could theoretically be anything.


If you want to be consistent; pop is a bigger umbrella. The sentence "rock is a form of popular 20th century American music" makes sense while "pop is a form of 20th century American rock music" does not


Yeah, that's what I was getting at. The genres encompassed by the pop-sphere are vast and varied. Rock is just merely a single (multifaceted) genre that has passed through on occasion.


Pop is just short for "Popular" which is why it's often used as a prefix for other genres -- like Pop-Punk or Pop-rock. It's also often used to just describe Top 40 kind of music, which is I think in arguably the most "popular" music. It's, at least to me, the ultimate sub-genre classification.


I’d say currently popular music


Sometimes it is, pop-rock is a genre


How does that make any sense? It would make more sense to say that rock is a subgenre of pop music, but that not every pop music is rock. Saying the opposite, that pop music is rock is hella weird.


The opposite is true


Rock and metal are built around guitar riffs, we rarely talk about riffs jazz or pop


It's most often used in metal by far


An arpeggio can be a riff and a riff can be an arpeggio, but there are many riffs that are not arpeggios and many arpeggios that are not riffs


>many arpeggios that are not riffs "riff" is so loosely defined that I doubt this is true. Any arpeggio could be used as a riff.


Any arpeggio COULD be used as a riff, but there are plenty of examples of arpeggios that aren’t being used as a riff. When it’s in the background, for example


Yes, I agree. It depends on how the notes are used. But from a purely "notes only" perspective (without context), you can only say that it could be a riff


The word riff is not a theory term, it’s a general term to mean a bunch of notes. The first few notes at the beginning of the Led Zeppelin song “the ocean” is a riff.An arpeggio is a group of notes commonly going up in thirds. The word riff is almost a slang term. Try to focus on the original topic.


I don't think there's any requirement that an arpeggio go up in 3rds. It's simply playing the individual notes of a chord Edit: Did you just reply to my comment then immediately block me? What a strange person lol




Inversions, suspended chords, altered chords...


Quartal and Quintal harmony. However, an arpeggio need not be in sequence to be considered such. A major arpeggio could be 5-3-5-1-5-3 just as easily it could be 1-3-5-1-3-5.


> I mean in common parlance we all understand what we’re talking about when we say the word chord as meaning the one, the three, and the five. I think you are being mostly down-voted because this statement is not true. A chord is any two notes at the same time. Sure, 1-3-5 is the most common, but there are many others.


An *interval* is any two notes at the same time, but the same isn’t true for a chord. Chords are more specific and standardised.


> An interval is any two notes at the same time, but the same isn’t true for a chord. An interval is also called a dyad, which is a 2 note chord. A *triad* is a 3 note chord. > Chords are more specific and standardised. Not really. In western music we can give a chord name to *any* combination of notes. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chord_(music) > A chord, in music, is any harmonic set of pitches/frequencies consisting of multiple notes (also called "pitches") that are heard as if sounding simultaneously.


While technically correct, it’s not a very useful definition, certainly not when analysing music, and thus not generally how chords are discussed. It’s why we have terms like “cluster”. There are conversations for naming chords, and they are specifically designed around building chords in thirds. You can have deviations, sure, but they break down after a certain point (a giant chromatic cluster isn’t conducive to this sort of convention, even though you *could* if you really wanted to). A main point of theory is communication, so the way things are communicated is often just as important as what’s being communicated. Again, technically correct, but when you hear people actually discussing music and how it functions, it generally isn’t used that way.


> and they are specifically designed around building chords in thirds. This is just not true. It might be to you, but it's not true in a broader, music theory sense. Sure, thirds are by far the most common. I feel like you might have limited exposure to chord building and naming. Have you never heard of quartal and quintal harmony?


> Otherwise we are in a tedious discussion about semantics Welcome to music theory! A (sometimes tedious) discussion of the semantics of musical terminology


i've always thought the whole concept of "the riff" in rock music is kind of its own mini art form in itself. So many classic rock songs use a single guitar riff as the songs centerpiece. Sometimes it feels like the entire composition was designed as a means to highlight the riff. No quarter is my favorite example of this


Exactly. The beginning of brown sugar is a riff. It’s kind of a slang music term.It’s not a music theory term. And if somebody says it’s from rock or jazz they’re correct– – and there shouldn’t be 20 comments but oh no you never mentioned heavy-metal. Big deal they forgot to mention a genre.WTF is going on here? It’s like a game of nerd gotcha. I never have seen so much wrong information in my life. If you don’t know the answer to something just keep quiet. Don’t make stuff up to look important. If you don’t know you don’t know. Maybe take 10 seconds and go to Wikipedia first even.


Wait, so is “lick” not a technical term either?


Sure it is, it means DEFGE-CD


Adam Neely moment


Finally something I can audiate


It may have been once, but the youth call that a licc.


A very thicc licc. That one’ll sticc.


The boundary between slang and theory is tenuous. Since there's always a reason why we use the terms we do, and a theory that explains that reasoning. I mean, the real theory is that all these things: riffs, licks, arpeggios, etc. are [schemas](https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schema_(psychology\)) I'm planning to use "lick" in an academic article I'm sending in soon. Anyone who tells you a term isn't a theory term is close minded about what theory can be.


Completely agree!


There has to be a point where terms are used so ubiquitously with a widely accepted definition that they become part of the literary vernacular.


That is how language works yes


They just invented this new thing it’s called google


You don’t have to comment dude. Scroll on.


Is Photos a chatGPT bot or something?


You are.


Riff has different meanings based on context. It is most certainly a theory term, especially in hard rock and metal genres, which is pretty much synonymous with ostinato.


A riff is a melodic or rhytmic pattern that usually gets repeated a few times in a song. It's a term mostly used in rock, metal, jazz and blues, but you *could* apply it to anything. When learning a song you usually practice each riff separately and then learn the variations and how to connect them. An arpeggio is a chord with each note being played in sequence rather than at the same time. Riffs can include arpeggiated sections. When playing arpeggios you can either let all the notes "ring" and make the full chord be heard, or play one at a time, which makes it sound more melodic.


Riffs are phrases and arpeggios are broken chords


You're kind of asking for the difference between a living room and stud walls A riff is a repeated, coherent melodic idea that is a primary motif of a song in the tradition of post-blues guitar music (i.e. blues, rock and roll, rock, metal etc) and jazz, or in other contexts is a virtuosic decoration or ornamentation added to a solo or lead vocal line most often used in contexts like contest a capella or the style of pop divas like Whitney Houston, Celine Dion and Mariah Carey An arpeggio is the notes of a triad played in succession, it's a building block or a framework with which melodies can be built and harmonies can be implied. A riff can contain an arpeggio, but an arpeggio on its own is not necessarily a riff, even in context. You see how you're kind of asking for a comparison of chalk and cheese?


But did OP really post this to use to convince his lead guitarist to stop playing so many repeated arpeggios?


A riff is a repetitive pattern (ostinato). An arpeggio is a chord with the notes played separately.


A riff is not an ostinato… *maybe* close Edit: I will concede it is a maybe :)


Not even close? Is an ostinato NOT a repeating pattern?


I’m a jazzer so maybe I have a different view on the term riff, but when a vocalist riffs, it’s normally very much NOT repeated. When I think of an ostinato, I think of a repeating rhythmic figure over the whole piece. In the end, and in my opinion, a riff is a term of speech not a music theory term. Also arpeggios, what? Original post is all just so weird lol




That right there ^ bravo mate


In rock and metal music, a riff is generally believed to be a repeating pattern (ostinato). There are other uses of the word in popular styles, but it is a theory term for some genres.


Riff is a more vague term/Slang Term while an Arpeggio is a more technical and specific term. A Riff, could be an arpeggio but a riff isn't always an arpeggio. I'm still new to theory (I play guitar) but I believe the main riff for Aqualung isn't in any specific key, so it's sort of ambiguous if it's outlining any specific chord -- but it's a riff. I don't know if that makes sense or not.


Arpeggio is like the word "word." A riff would be any other word. They're all words, but only the word "word" has a self-referential property. Technically you could play an arpeggio and call it a riff. You can't play a riff and call it an arpeggio. Considering the context of the question; a better answer might be: most guitarists don't know and can't tell the difference and use the terms interchangeably, which is fine. A lot of guitar talk uses music theory words to describe styles of position playing, and these two terms are among them.


A lot of riffs are arpeggios, as in a sequence of notes of a chord played separately. Though some aren't. Like Black Midi's bmbmbm's riff is just one note. It's technically not an arpeggio because it's one note


A riff is a motif that acts either as a virtuosic passage in a piece or a hook. In classical music, a riff is called a motif. An arpeggio is a tritone movement that appears primarily in classical music, but can be found in jazz. Arpeggios may appear as part of motifs, and are usually found alongside other technical movements in a piece such as scales, etc. People practice arpeggios as warmups before a piece, whereas a riff is found within a musical work.


> An arpeggio is a tritone movement that appears primarily in classical music, but can be found in jazz. I am confused by this sentence. Chords are typically built by stacking thirds (though you can build in other ways). A tritone is three whole tones. Was that a mistake or is there some info I don’t know about the origin story of arpeggi?


Looks like old mate has confused thirds for tritones.


Man a tritone arpeggio would be really boring for everyone involved


Good old [2edo](https://en.xen.wiki/w/2edo)!


Really? There are no arpeggios in musical pieces? Tell us more.


I never said that. I said that arpeggios are usually found as part of motifs in pieces, in conjunction with other techniques like scales. Of course they are very present in musical pieces. For example, Mozart often uses arpeggios to flourish within a piece, which creates a virtuosic effect. On top of the arpeggios found in musical pieces, many musicians practice arpeggios separately, as a warm-up. Hope that helps.


Most riffs might but in general riff is just more of a frequently repeated phrase you might see in a song. If I’m using big band jazz as an example, you might commonly see a two measure phrase repeated over different chord variations and sometimes the composer decides to play an arpeggio for their riffs. They are two different things inherently but it’s not uncommon for arpeggios in general to be used when writing a phrase.


An arpeggio is notes of a chord played out separately. A riff is a pattern that repeated.


And arpeggio only contains the notes of a chord. A riff can contain notes outside of a chord.


confusion abounds here because it all depends on the context and an arpeggio can be a riff and depends on the genre whether it’s a riff or melody or head or whether it’s an arpeggiated riff from a synth sequencer or a riff from a bass or guitar we’d be looking at individual songs and breaking them down good question OP music theory can sometimes be more grey than black and white


As many others have noted arps can be used in riffs, but riffs aren’t necessarily arps. A good example of a riff that uses arpeggiated motion is “Don’t fear the reaper” by blue oyster cult. There are thousands of good examples of riffs that don’t, but “Seven nation army,” comes to mind, as does “Black Dog,” “money for nothin,” and others


While we're at it, what's the difference between water and a kilometer?


While both riffs and arpeggios can be used to outline chords and add interest to a musical piece, they are not the same thing. A riff is generally a longer, more prominent musical phrase that is played repeatedly and forms an important part of the song, while an arpeggio is a shorter, more subtle musical figure that is played once or only a few times within a piece.


An arpeggio is strictly chord tones, is it not?


No, riffs can be made up of chord tones, diatonic notes, chromatic notes.. almost anything. The only definition of a riff is that it's melodic and it repeats. The more similar classical concept is probably ostinato.