A riff is a short section of music, especially in jazz. When you're first learning to play the saxophone, you may just play the same riff over and over.

When one jazz musician in a band is improvising, the others are typically playing riffs in the background. Sometimes a riff introduces the start of a song or its chorus. To play this section is also to riff, and you can also talk about improvised speech using riff: "The stand-up comic decided to riff on the subject of his mom, since it was the only joke that was getting any laughs."

Definitions of riff
  1. noun
    a jazz ostinato; usually provides a background for a solo improvisation
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    type of:
    a musical phrase repeated over and over during a composition
  2. verb
    play riffs
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    type of:
    play, spiel
    replay (as a melody)
  3. verb
    look through a book or other written material
    synonyms: flick, flip, leaf, riffle, thumb
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    type of:
    examine or consider with attention and in detail
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