If you’re like me, then one of the main reasons that you picked up a guitar is because you want to learn how to play some seriously awesome pieces of music.
And there’s no better way of getting to that point than learning how to play guitar riffs.
After you’ve spent some time picking up the basics, like reading tabs and playing chords, there’s nothing more satisfying than learning a famous and instantly recognizable guitar riff.
There are loads of fun, easy guitar riffs that can make you feel like a guitar god, and they’re also a great way to improve your guitar technique.
Ready to learn some easy guitar riffs and start shredding? Then let’s go!
What Is a Guitar Riff?
To really get the hang of guitar riffs, it’s important that you understand what they are first.
A riff is a pattern or melody that can consist of single notes or groups of chords. It can be as simple as a few notes repeatedly played in a rhythmic pattern (think Seven Nation Army by the White Stripes) or an extremely complicated verse, bridge, or hook (check out Ego Death by Polyphia for a good example of this).
Another way to think about a riff is as a short melodic phrase in a song.
Riffs, although ubiquitous in rock music, actually appear in all styles of music. Many times, riffs will repeat throughout a song, but a riff can also appear as a once-off.
Another term used for a guitar riff is a guitar lick. These terms are often used interchangeably, but there is a difference between the two – a riff is a standalone musical phrase, while a lick is a short series of notes usually used in solos.
Clear as mud? Great!
Riffs cover a lot of musical territories – and provide a lot of benefits for beginner guitar players. Let’s take a look at exactly what makes them so great when you’re just starting out.
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Why Guitar Riffs Are So Awesome for Your Guitar Playing
As a beginner guitar player, learning some easy guitar riffs is an essential part of your journey.
Because they’re incredibly useful for a number of different reasons.
Here are just a few reasons why easy guitar riffs are so awesome:
They’re Fun to Play
In case I haven’t stressed it enough, guitar riffs are a lot of fun to play!
There’s a hard-to-define feeling that occurs when you perfectly emulate the guitar riff from one of your favorite songs of all time.
And as you improve and start to play that riff even better over time, you enjoy an extremely high level of satisfaction. And this is key to the whole guitar playing experience – your practice shouldn’t just be rote repetition, you should be having a good time while you do it!
They Greatly Improve Guitar Technique
Not only are riffs fun to play, but they can also benefit your guitar technique immensely.
Since different guitar riffs demand different skill sets to execute perfectly, it’s in your best interest to learn a wide variety. Some easy guitar riffs are simple chord progressions, whereas other riffs will see you soloing and perfecting your hammer-ons and pull-offs.
So by learning guitar riffs, you’re improving your dexterity, finger positioning, execution, and speed.
They Sound Awesome
And last but not least – the sound.
There’s a reason guitar riffs were made famous by some of the all-time greats – and that’s because they sound amazing!
Guitar riffs are the life and blood of any good rock song – they inspire, motivate, touch, and move those who listen to them. On acoustic guitar, riffs add variety and interest, taking your sound way beyond basic strumming.
At this point, I hope you’re fully invested in the power of guitar riffs. If so, let’s take a look at some of the most classic guitar riffs of all time.
10 Classic Guitar Riffs That Every Guitarist Should Know
In this list of famous guitar riffs, I’ve included a brief description of the song, the song itself, and the tablature you can use to practice it.
If you’ve never heard of guitar tabs before, I recommend you check out my Beginner’s Guide to Tabs.
Now, on to the riffs!
“Redemption Song” by Bob Marley
Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” was released just a couple of months before he died. Already faced with his own mortality, this song is widely considered his last testament.
The main focus here is the eight-bar intro riff. If you find that it’s a little too tricky, slow it right down until you can play it at a much lower tempo, then keep practicing from there.
“Satisfaction” by The Rolling Stones
The intro to “Satisfaction” has one of the most distinctive guitar riffs in rock music, and it’s also one of the easiest to learn.
It consists of only three notes on a single string. But just because it’s simple doesn’t mean it’s not powerful – the riff from “Satisfaction” has stood the test of time for a reason.
“Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple
The intro to “Smoke on the Water” might be the most iconic guitar riff of all time, and most likely doesn’t even need an introduction.
Believe it or not, the intro riff actually draws inspiration from Beethoven’s Symphony No.5!
But don’t worry. Despite its classical inspiration, it’s still relatively easy to play. In fact, for many guitar players, this is one of the first riffs they learn.
“All Apologies” by Nirvana
I personally find it impossible to put together a top 10 riff list without a Nirvana song, so here’s “All Apologies.”
The opening riff of the song is a grunge hallmark and fairly easy to get the hang of. Once you master it, you’ll be able to replicate their famous MTV Unplugged Performance for your friends.
“Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd
One of the most iconic and instantly recognizable Pink Floyd songs, “Wish You Were Here” features an acoustic guitar intro that is wistful, haunting, and beautiful all at the same time.
“Hotel California” by Eagles
Eagles guitarist Don Felder has spoken extensively about stumbling upon the iconic riff for “Hotel California” as one of his finest moments.
See if you can channel your inner Don Felder and work your way through this tab. It’s a little more challenging than others on this list but well worth the attempt.
“Enter Sandman” by Metallica
“Enter Sandman” is another one of those songs that demonstrates great guitar work doesn’t need to be complex to be incredible. The opening riff is performed solely on open strings before transitioning to an electric riff (which can still be played easily on an acoustic guitar).
I personally find that the intro riff of “Enter Sandman” is one of the more satisfying guitar riffs to learn.
“Free Fallin’” by Tom Petty
The guitar riff in the intro to “Free Fallin’” is often one of the first few that new guitar players attempt to learn.
And for good reason – the whole song consists of just three chords: D, G, and A.
Despite its simplicity, it’s a real crowd-pleaser!
“Blackbird” by the Beatles
Written and performed by Paul McCartney, “Blackbird” is a gentle and meandering acoustic song. He wrote it after hearing the eponymous bird singing during a trip to India.
This one requires a few fingerpicking skills, but with enough practice, you can definitely pull it off.
“More Than a Feeling” by Boston
“More Than a Feeling” is an absolute classic by Boston and features a number of iconic riffs that are all instantly recognizable.
Between the intro and verse, bridge, chorus, and solo, there are a number of riffs of varying difficulties to attempt.
Ready for More?
After learning a few of these, I hope I’ve convinced you that playing popular guitar riffs is a fun way to practice and learn guitar. In case you want to keep going on a riff journey, check out this awesome blues riff that you can play in any key.
And if you’re looking for new ways to shake up your guitar learning journey, then I highly recommend you check out my guitar workshop – Tony’s Acoustic Challenge.
It’s full of guitar tips and exercises that will help you learn swiftly and effectively no matter where you are on your guitar-playing journey. I designed it specifically to help guitar players of all levels see consistent, meaningful progress and have fun at the same time.
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