Riffs are probably the most important thing in guitar music! Solos are great, chord progressions are vital, but when it comes down to it, it’s the riffs that everyone remembers.
Learn a few popular riffs, and people will want to listen to you play them – it’s really that simple! Here are 20 easy riffs from classic, well known songs for you to learn!
Smoke On The Water
Probably the starting point for more guitarists than any other riff, this iconic riff achieved meme status before the internet at large had even discovered memes. Of course, even for such a simple riff, it can still be played incorrectly – indeed, that’s part of the memery! Any transcription telling you to play it 0-3-5 is not to be taken seriously!
Metal was big before this riff, but this is arguably the riff that made metal huge. Actually, this song is a collection of great riffs, each one of them an iconic classic. This is one of those songs that almost everybody knows, and is one of the riffs that almost every guitarist learns.
Ride The Lightning
Harsh and abrasive, this simple powerchord verse riff from the album of the same name is only made tricky by one thing, really – the whole album is tuned up a little bit from most guitars! Either retune your guitar a little sharp, or (more easily) search YouTube for an E standard/A440Hz version.
My Friend Of Misery
Another titanic riff from Metallica, this simple but cool riff uses a familiar powerchord shame, but inverted. This is actually a minor third interval shape – D minor. The next part of the riff uses a similar shape too, but this time it’s a major third interval, namely C major. Theory aside – this riff riff is super cool.
Back In Black
One of the songs that defined rock as a genre, this song showed that AC/DC were intent on continuing the legacy left by their beloved former singer Bon Scott after his untimely death. A rock song that everyone knows, this is one of the most instantly recognizable riffs ever written, and one that you’ll have fun learning.
You Shook Me All Night Long
Another absolute classic, this song is a perfect example of the riffwriting genius of the Young brothers. Just a few very simple chords, but what they did with them is amazing. There’s a lot of good reasons that this song is so popular, so learn it! It’s awesome, and it’s one that nobody will ever mind you pulling out of the bag.
Breaking The Law
One of the first metal songs many guitarists learn, Breaking The Law isn’t just a beast of a song, but also a pretty easy one! The opening riff is one of the most iconic metal riffs of all time, and it’s so easy you could have learned it in less time than reading these two sentences!
A classic song, and a classic powerchord riff. This one makes good use of simple muting techniques, and is a perfect introduction to powerchords. Not to mention that it’s an absolute banger. It’s another quick Priest riff to learn – in fact, the whole song is pretty easy! Except for the solo – Judas Priest might have a lot of easy riffs, but their guitarists are absolute behemoths.
Living After Midnight
A fantastic late-night rocker, this is another classic Judas Priest riff, and is sure to get your head banging. This song has Judas Priest proving that a few simple powerchords can make a great song. Just do your best not to wake your neighbors – you don’t have to wait until after midnight to play this. It rocks at any hour!
Three notes (well, four if you count that awesome trill, which you should). A powerful, dissonant tritone interval. That’s all Tony Iommi needed to invent metal guitar as we know it. Pay attention to your timing on this one – when you’ve only got a few notes to play, you’d better get them exactly where they’re meant to be!
Probably their most famous song, Black Sabbath’s Paranoid wasn’t even, in their opinion, much to write home about! A simple pentatonic riff based around an E5 powerchord, this is one of the most instantly recognizable riffs of all time. One of the best too – which shows that, sometimes, even geniuses can’t recognize their own genius.
It’s hard for riffs to sound bigger than this. Supernaut has a COLOSSAL opening riff, and it’s a simple one to play too. Bluesy and beefy, this riff is yet another that shows Iommi’s mastery of the art of riffwriting. Yet another Sabbath riff that, once learned, you’ll play over and over again for decades. After all, they did.
Kurt Cobain was undoubtedly a genius songwriter, and proved to the world that you didn’t need to be a virtuoso player to be an amazing musician, and an inspirational guitarist. As simple as his riffs may have been, they inspired a generation of players. In Bloom is just one of Nirvana’s great riffs, and a song that everyone will love to learn.
Come As You Are
Another instantly recognizable Nirvana song, and such a cool, understated riff. This is a cool song to play on either guitar or bass, in fact – and it’s got a riff that’s hard not to love. Very cool to hear, very cool to play, and easy to get a grip on, Come As You Are is a great song by a great band. A great one to learn.
Smells Like Teen Spirit
This is the Nirvana song. The one that everyone knows. This riff made guitar store owners across the world very busy people – and no surprise, as it’s catchy as hell. Another great and easy Nirvana song, ithere’s barely a guitarist on the planet who hasn’t learned this riff. Bonus points for the cool solo – have a go, it’s easier than it sounds!
Dave Mustaine might be an angry guy, but that seems to translate into some awesome riffs. Trust is sometimes called Megadeth’s Enter Sandman – and while there are some similarities in the riffs, this one has a dark character all of its own. Watch your fingering in the latter part of the riff, and you’ll have this one in no time!
Tornado Of Souls
Tornado Of Souls has possibly the best metal guitar solo ever – but it also has a killer riff. You might have to work a bit to get up to speed on this, as it’s a very fast riff. Also, make sure to manage your muting and picking. With only a few powerchords to play, you can put plenty of attention into getting the transitions between strings nice and tight.
Symphony Of Destruction
Such a simple riff, yet an absolute monster. Of course, this riff really needs the bass to back it up, but even alone it’s a simple yet effective titan. Keep that palm muting nice and tight, especially during the silences – you don’t want strings ringing out unintentionally! And maybe clear some space around you first, in case you start headbanging.
Red Hot Chili Peppers
One of Red Hot Chili Peppers’ more relaxed songs, this song was practically a global phenomenon when released. Chilled out, a perfect song to learn and relax to – and you’ll learn some cool chords too, if you don’t know them already! Take it slowly when learning it, because even though it’s not too hard. you’ll want this one to sound as nice and clean as you can.
The White Stripes
Seven Nation Army
Who needs a bassist? Not The White Stripes, much to the consternation of four-string fiends everywhere – being made to feel redundant by an octave pedal has to suck a little! An iconic riff that traveled across the world, even people who never listen to guitar music have heard this one.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I Play These On An Acoustic Or Classical Guitar?
Definitely! Although they’ll sound closer to the originals on an electric, these riffs are great to play no matter what sort of guitar you have.
How Can Such Easy Riffs Be So Great?
Complexity isn’t a bad thing – but great music can still be made using simple elements. Both are “right”!
Do I Need An Expensive Guitar To Play These Well?
Not at all! Some of the best guitarists in the world, who wrote the most famous songs, started out on utterly terrible instruments! How much money you spend makes no difference to how good you are – but how much time and effort you spend practicing does!
There you have it – 20 classic riffs that are great for beginners to learn! Most of them won’t take more than a few minutes to learn, which is one reason why most guitarists know a lot of these riffs. And, of course, because they’re awesome! Have fun learning them . Not only are they great starting points for learning guitar, and will set you up for learning harder things – they’re all a lot of fun to play!