Guitar riffs are an intimidating concept to most beginners in the art form. The first thought that comes to mind is how mind-blowing it is when heralded legends such as Jimi Hendrix or our favorite bands like U2 or Deep Purple jam it out on the fretboard. And it might make you feel like it’s one of those things only the skilled of the skilled can do. But in truth, all guitar riffs are simply sequences of notes or chord progressions that are dedicated to forming a catchy melody. We call this the ‘hook’ and there is nothing quite like going to a concert and watching and hearing the guitarist bang it out before the breakdown of the song. There are many such melodies available, among which some are friendly to beginners, even some of the legendary and iconic ones. Learning guitar riffs will not only add fun to your practice but equip you with tools in your belt that you can show off with and accelerate your learning.
Below is a compiled list of the 15 Best Guitar Riffs For Beginners:
Boulevard of Broken Dreams by Green Day
Starting off with a song that offers a glimpse into the music scene of the early 2000s. The intro is composed of a two-bar rock riff. It uses the power chords E minor, G6, D5, and A5 but at moderate to low tempo so it should not be that hard to pick up. The transition from E minor to D5 requires a bit of sliding but other than that it’s just moving the shapes around the fret.
Back in Black by AC/DC
One of the greatest guitar riffs from the 80s, this one uses a combination of chords, pull-offs, and single-note lines. There is a heavy focus on the power chords and requires you to mute the strings after each group. It’ll be a bit of a workout for your fingers to achieve a full bend on the second fret. Don’t be too disheartened if at first, it sounds a little flat, over time it will start sounding better. For the single notes, there are some wide gaps so think carefully about your positioning.
Redemption Song by Bob Marley
If you already know how to play the major scale, this will be a breeze. If you don’t, this is a great lesson for it. This riff is also one of the few on this list that was originally played on an acoustic guitar, in the key of G. It is a classic, reggae tune that if you can pull off correctly, it will surely get the attention of your listeners.
In My Place by Coldplay
It’s hard to find a riff to play on the higher end of the fretboard but as a beginner, this could be exciting for you to learn. It is also a relatively contemporary song compared to the others on this list. The ninth fret has to be held down with the 1st finger and the twelfth fret with the 3rd or 4th fingers simultaneously while plucking so this will take a bit longer to master if your fingers are not used to the stretch.
Beat It by Michael Jackson featuring Van Halen
A straightforward riff brought on by the intermingling of these talented stars. This one is for pop lovers. It is a four-bar riff based around a three-string E minor arpeggio. Quick muting of the strings is imperative for this song to give it the distinct funky feeling of the original.
Psycho by Muse
The riff in this song is just the thing for you to get started with Drop D tuning. This is when you lower the tuning of your low E string down to a D and it is one that is used by many rock and metal songs. This riff also has some notes that require you to bend up so if you are just starting out it might feel a little uncomfortable but otherwise it is quite uncomplicated.
Iron Man by Black Sabbath
If you’re at the point where you are starting to get comfortable with power chords, this will be good to practice sliding with. In this riff, you will slide the power chords themselves. This part comes easy to some and takes a bit of work for others but nevertheless, you will benefit from this practice. If it is too challenging to do chords, try practicing individual slides at a slower tempo then work your way up. This riff will give you the confidence boost in terms of power chords and movement across the fretboard.
Eye of The Tiger by Survivor
This riff became widespread after the release of the boxing movie, ‘Rocky’. To this day, it remains one of the most recognizable guitar riffs, especially for beginners because of its ease of learning. The song uses power chords but is not complicated at all. You only have to pay attention to muting the strings properly.
(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction by The Rolling Stones
This is one of the first records to incorporate the fuzz distortion pedal. It’s also hands-down one of the easiest to learn like Seven Nation Army because you only have to play three notes on the same string. The pull-offs and slides will help build your technique. You can use a regular distortion pedal for this but for the authentic sound, it’s best to go for a fuzz pedal.
You Really Got Me by The Kinks
One of the most iconic riffs of all time. This could be your gateway to the lead guitar play style. The positioning of the fingers is in the manner you would play scales and leads in which differs from the standard strumming stance. It also helps strengthen your fingers due to the use of power chords. This shape is versatile, used in all kinds of music. Learning this riff will force you to move this chord quickly so if you can get this down you can rest assured this chord will become a piece of cake for you and you can apply it to a number of songs.
Purple Haze by Jimi Hendrix
A riff from the legends and easier to grasp than his other, far more advanced stuff which is out of the scope for beginners. The main riff for this song should be easy if you’ve dabbled in some bending and sliding techniques. While most of Hendrix’s songs have always been tuned a half-step down, thankfully, this one is in standard tuning so you can get right into it and try it out.
Day Tripper by The Beatles
A classic track by the classic boy band The Beatles, this guitar riff is heavily influenced by blues music. It’s one of the easiest as the fretting is centered around the first four frets. Since it is based on the E minor pentatonic scale this will help you finesse the minor pentatonic scale. Played on the three thickest strings, this riff is good for strength building as well.
Smoke on the Water by Deep Purple
This riff created by the guitarist of Deep Purple, Ritchie Blackmore has remained popular over the decades. Luckily, it is one of the easiest riffs to learn. The straight forward rhythm and chord shapes make it accessible to beginners. It’s also played entirely on the fifth and sixth strings so it will help you build your finger strength.
Come As You Are by Nirvana
An iconic song with the 90s grunge we are all familiar with. This song is good for enhancing your picking and fingering skills. It also builds your sense of rhythm because this riff begins on the ‘and’ of the third count. In the original track, the guitar is tuned down a whole step but you may play it in standard tuning and it will sound fine. The main challenge you may face is alternating between the two thickest strings so, make sure you pay close attention to your finger placement.
Seven Nation Army by The White Stripes
At number one we have the catchy and easily recognizable riff that is sure to have reached your ears before even if you did not know what to call it. This is one of the simplest riffs ever— perfect for people who have only played for a few days. It employs the use of the 1st finger across a couple of strings, mostly the 5th string. The trick here is that it might not sound the cleanest right off the bat because you have to avoid accidentally ringing out other strings. The rhythm might be a little confusing as well to the untrained ear so it’s better you play along with what you hear rather than focusing on counts.
Tips for Learning Guitar Riffs
With guitar riffs, it is easy to get overzealous and get upset when our sound does not match the track one hundred percent but the key is to be slow and steady with yourself. If you are having trouble matching pace, it is always a good idea to practice chords and sequences away from the track with your memory of the rhythm. This will help build your sense of groove as well. Once you are comfortable with that, try playing along to the track. This is a challenging thing but very rewarding if you can succeed. It makes you feel one with the musicians and teaches the nuances of coordinated playing. If you can find a backing track with the guitar removed, that would really help finesse your style and rhythm.
Riffs are about showmanship and playfulness, so if you get a buddy or two to jam along with, you will get the full fun out of it. It is also stylistic so as you go along, you will notice differences in how you play versus others. In noticing and adding to it, you can start to carve out your own style in the long run.
Guitar riffs are nothing to shy away from. In fact, it is an essential step to take as a beginner as it will hone our understanding of performance, rhythm, harmony, and melody. It is the starting point through which you can experiment and develop your own style. Of course, there are innumerable riffs than the ones I have listed but these are great for getting you into the groove of things. Once you’ve mastered them, you can seek out more and get even better.