Difference Between Lick and Riff

Lick vs Riff

Difference between lick and riff is a topic of interest to all music enthusiasts. The concept of a Lick and how it differs from a Riff tends to be a grey area for most of us, particularly for all music enthusiasts. A Lick generally refers to a short musical pattern usually played by one musician or it can serve as a short improvisation by a soloist. It is an original idea. A Riff, on the other hand, is more a recurring musical pattern and it is usually rhythmic. Yet this general differentiation still somewhat leaves the contrast between the two blurred. A closer examination of the two terms is required.

What is a Lick?

A Lick is technically defined as a stock pattern or phrase that is used by musicians. Commonly heard in genres such as rock, jazz and blues, a Lick consists of a series of notes and is most often played by one musician. Think of it as a soloist’s very own musical innovation just for that particular point in the song. While a Lick is unique and usually one-of-a-kind, its exemplary nature often results in it been used in another song although in a somewhat varied and developed format. In that sense, a Lick does not make up the whole musical theme and hence is transferable to other songs.

Licks are famously associated with renowned guitarists. Red House by Jimmy Hendrix, for instance, contains a wonderful example of a Lick. For the more general music lovers, think of Sweet Home Alabama and that musical solo played by the guitar in between the verses of that song. Licks are basically used by soloists to enhance their song, to give it style and an extra bit of musical appeal. The advantage with a Lick is its flexibility in that it can be modified or completely taken out from the original work without drastically altering it. The song would still be the same. Another characteristic of a Lick is that it is not often repeated. If it is repeated, it is very minimal.

Difference Between  Lick and Riff

What is a Riff?

A Riff is fairly easy to identify than a Lick. It serves as the theme of a particular song, a musical pattern that resounds throughout the entire song. A Riff is that musical quote that sticks in your head. It is catchy and you often hear a Riff been played or tried out at music or guitar stores. Sometimes a Riff is developed during the course of a song in that it can be played on a different key and will sometimes include variations. Despite the changes, one is able t o distinctly recognise the main musical theme.

A Riff is always associated with the song. For example, the Riffs from Back in the Black or Highway to Hell by AC/DC or Satisfaction by the Rolling Stones are iconic. So, if one hears either of those Riffs reproduced somewhere, it is automatically linked with those songs. A Riff is dubbed a musical quote because if the song is popular partly for its rhythmic pattern then it is quoted by others linking it to the original song. Like Licks, Riffs are most commonly found in the genres of rock and jazz. They are characterised by chord progressions or a mixture of single notes and chords, which serve as a background to the main melody. A Riff, therefore, is a core part of a song.

What is the difference between Lick and Riff?

• Licks usually consist of single-note phrase lines as opposed to Riffs that generally consist of repeated chord progressions.

• A Riff constitutes the main recurring theme or idea of the song; A Lick, on the other hand, is a short solo, a component of the song , and is often not repeated.

• A Lick can be played as a melody or a single phrase while a Riff is often a rhythmic pattern played throughout the song.

• Licks are often incomplete and constitute a part of a solo or portion of a Riff.

• A Lick is transferable to other songs. A Riff, however, cannot be removed from a song as it will change the song completely.