Bruce Dykes bkd at GRAPHNET.COM
Mon Apr 24 11:14:52 UTC 2000

-----Original Message-----
From: Chuck Borsos <sqeezbox at CRUZIO.COM>
Date: Sunday, April 23, 2000 4:00 AM
Subject: Re: Axe for 'guitar'?

>My perception of the difference between a "riff" and a "run" (and while we
>are at it, why not throw in "lick"?):
>A "riff" and a "lick" are a melodic segment, and are more essentially
>melodic than a "run".  To my mind a "lick" is shorter and less specific
>than a "riff".  An improvising musician is likely to have a lot of licks in
>his bag of tricks, but if he becomes too dependent on them he begins to
>sound stale.  So they are a bit like musical cliches.  "Riffs" are melodic
>sequences upon which the instrumental portions of the song can be hung;
>they are going to be more specific to the song, and a good riff can be the
>basis for the entire structure.  Just about anyone is going to recognize
>some of the riffs that make up the structure of the popular songs of their

Riff is also used as a verb, meaning to take an element and explore it
further. Common in music, it's also applied in other creative venues, such
as standup comedy, where comic might riff on the length of the census form,
or in writing, where an alternate history discussion might riff of off a
critical, trivial event.

And once again, the Straight Dope (well, Cecil's editorial staff, anyway)
comes through in the clutch:

Dear Straight Dope:

I wanted to ask you, who wrote the melody to the alphabet song? I would
greatly appreciate an answer if you have one. --Karl Stein

SDSTAFF Jill replies:

...but the tune itself is older and...it first appeared without words as
"Ah! Vous Dirai-Je, Maman"...Mozart did compose variations on this theme for

Many other famous composers have been inspired by or written variations on
this theme. The second movement to Joseph Haydn's "Surprise" Symphony (#94,
written in 1791) is a series of variations of this tune, and Beethoven
improvised on it in his second public concert in Prague in 1798...

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