Playing riffs on the guitar can be overwhelming for beginners, no matter what age you start playing. The reason for this is that the phrase “playing a riff” sounds technical and because when you hear them, it seems to be playing so many notes in a short period. Especially those riffs that are played at a faster tempo.
However, playing riffs on an acoustic guitar can help you learn guitar techniques and pick up songs at a quicker pace. There are many easy guitar riffs that you can start with to know before working your way up to those more complex riffs or playing them on an electric guitar.
WHAT ARE GUITAR RIFFS?
To play riffs well, you must first have an understanding of what a guitar riff is. The basic definition of a guitar riff is that it is a repeated chord progression, sometimes like the chorus of a song.
Fundamentally, a riff is a specific pattern played in a solo fashion. For example, the short, repeated phrase can be made out of chords or done with individual notes and play on the lower part of the guitar like a rhythm, or you can play on the higher frets as a lead guitar part.
Depending on your playing skill, the guitar riffs can be played with clean tones or effects. If you are playing the main riff in a song, chances are you will play a solo riff.
Once you feel that you have mastered a riff, you can play more advanced techniques with your guitar, such as learning a lengthier guitar solo.
You may have heard the phrase guitar “lick” instead of a guitar riff – these terms are both used loosely and interchangeably. The main difference between the two is how the melody is used.
If the tune goes along with the main idea or chorus of a song, it is known as the riff. However, if the solar part is more of a creative idea of the melody made into a solo, then it’s more likely known as a lick.
HOW TO FIND THE RIGHT CHORDS TO PLAY A RIFF
To find the right chords to play your riff, you should determine the scales that the riff is based on. Most of the time, you will be playing off of already-known songs so that you can stick to their natural key.
But you can also change your chord choices based on other keys that the scale for the song is derived from. If you know the scale well, you can experiment with different chords to see what sounds best.
You’ll want to choose a chord that has multiple notes to play from. For example, the root note in a G Major Scale would be G, and you can start right from that same note for your riff.
The best chord will be the one that has the most notes that appear in a section of your riff, which is known as chord tones. Each section contains chord tones that will provide you with a chord that goes best within the section.
Practicing with different chords and finding out which ones you can play and move about comfortably is a great way to get started and become familiar with riffs.
You can even find a progression of notes that you feel comfortable playing individually and utilize that as the basis or foundation for each riff you start with to play.
WHY ARE GUITAR RIFFS IMPORTANT?
When you learn to play easy riffs that are from popular songs, you become instantly impressive. Learning how to play them also will boost your confidence in your skills to help you master your guitar playing.
If you had the choice to play a repetitive exercise or learn a cool guitar riff, chances are you would go with the latter. You can use them in place of your regular guitar exercises since they help with finger placement, picking, and movement across chords and progressions.
Here are 15 of the most uncomplicated guitar riffs with the guitar tab for any new guitarist to learn and master. These simple riffs will help prepare you and provide you with guitar chords and songs to help improve your skills so you are well on your way to becoming a master guitarist.
NOTE GUITAR RIFFS AND CHORD GUITAR RIFFS
Riffs are composed either entirely of chords or notes or a combination of both things. It can be a tough choice to decide what to start with first. If you have started playing and find that you are more comfortable playing whole chords or scale notes individually, that should help determine which riffs you want to play.
It is important to note that once you feel you have mastered one or the other, try to learn the more complex patterns of riffs. The more you practice, the better you become. Also, it is a good idea to play along with the songs as you learn these classic riffs so that you can test your memorization and coordination.
10 Easy to learn guitar riffs for beginners
1. “COME AS YOU ARE” by Nirvana
One of the reasons that this popular song is a good beginner riff is that you play the whole intro riff on the thickest strings on your acoustic or electric guitar, the low E string and low A string.
They have to be tuned down a whole step to low D and G. You can also use a chorus pedal with your electric guitar to make the sound that comes from the original song.
This is a two-bar riff, starting with three eight-note pick-ups (D, D, D#). You will play the full notes as D, D#, E, G, and A, alternating between the open, first, and second fret positions on your guitar like this:
If you are familiar with this song, or even just as a side note as you are learning your riffs – it can help if you play the song along with you as you are playing to help you pick up the rhythm a little easier.
If it is a quicker riff, you may want to try without the music at first until you become comfortable with the movement.
Another technique you can work on as you learn the riffs is the better you become, to start playing with your eyes closed. This way, you can feel your finger placement and where to pick on the strings by feel rather than sight, and it gives another level of advancement to your technique.
2. “DAY TRIPPER” by The Beatles
This riff is one of the easiest riffs for beginners, so it had to be on the list. John Lennon had such a knack for creating simple melodies and making them popular music. You can play this riff easily on either an electric or acoustic guitar without losing the effect.
This riff has two bars repeated several times throughout the song based on the E minor pentatonic scale. Scoring this will help you master the minor pentatonic scale, with the notes played on the thickest strings of the 6th, 5th, and 4th strings.
This is also one of those riffs where once you master it, you can pretty much play the entire song.
The notes played in sequence are E, G, G#, B, E, D on the first bar, and then the second bar goes B, F#, B, D, E:
3. “PARANOID” by Black Sabbath
This song contains a classic rock riff that is very easy to learn. Many seasoned guitarists would have grown up learning this riff. The hammer-ons for the first bar are extremely fast to start, so you will need to practice your coordination with both hands so that you can pick the strings correctly before you hammer on the fourteenth fret.
You should listen to the song to become solid with the rhythm, and you can practice this one at a slower speed to start and then speed it up as you become more confident in your playing.
4. “(I CAN’T GET NO) SATISFACTION” by The Rolling Stones
This famous song is a great riff for beginner guitarists because it only uses three notes on the same string. You will utilize your first finger, third fingers, and fourth fingers to play the notes, making it a simple riff to pick up:
Don’t worry so much about the slides and pulling off the notes when you first start to learn this riff. Instead, pick out each note, and then get yourself used to the rhythm, and you will be able to play it easier. Then you can add in those little nuances to make those simple changes and bring the whole riff together.
5. “SMOKE ON THE WATER” by Deep Purple
A classic guitar riff that is easy to play and one of the more iconic riffs people will recognize is “Smoke On The Water.” Unfortunately, many people tend to misplay this riff because they are used to seeing the riff written as 0-3-5, but it is not played that way. Instead, as a beginner, you can make use of the open strings with this simplified version without the sliding noise, like this:
Advanced guitarists prefer to play it in the original version, which is this:
Both versions will sound the same, but you will learn once you have more developed skills why you will have more control over fretted note sounds compared to the open strings, even though open is easier for beginners.
6. “BACK IN BLACK” by AC DC
AC DC is another famous rock band with many songs containing some great guitar riffs. One of their biggest hits, “Back in Black,” has an excellent riff for beginners because it focuses heavily on power chords. You can begin by focusing solely on playing just the power chords before you bring in the single notes:
The essential part of playing this simple melody is making sure to keep your rhythm intact throughout. Heavy metal music and rock music riffs utilize their guitar riffs like a rhythm section, where the beat is one of the most important things.
7. “ONE” by Metallica
Speaking of heavy metal music, Metallica is another group that has many easy riffs you can learn. One of their easiest riff comes in this song, “One” because it has a beginner riff that is nice and slow for the notes. When playing this riff, each of the notes has to have its own little spotlight, so be cautious that your fingers are not touching any adjacent strings to cut the sound off:
You can also use the intro riff from “Fade To Black” by Metallica with this one since they both use similar finger patterns. You can experiment with different ways of finger positioning to find which suits you best.
8. “REDEMPTION SONG” by Bob Marley
This classic song with reggae roots is excellent for the acoustic guitar. This simple guitar riff was initially played in the key of G, so starting with the G-string, you can play the major scale notes and master this four-bar riff.
When learning to riff to have familiarity with major chords like G, C, D, and E, it helps when learning to riff to understand major chords like G, C, D, and E. The notes go G, A, B, G in the first bar, and then the notes C, E, D, B in the second.
9. “BEAT IT” by Michael Jackson featuring Eddie Van Halen
This iconic riff is very straightforward, the four bars that you can play on an electric guitar (and utilize a distortion effect to be more authentic to the original song). The notes for this riff go G, B, G, E, F# for the first bar, and then E, D, D, E for the second bar, which repeats the same in the first bar for the third bar, and then the notes E, D for the fourth:
There is a slide down to the G on the third fret and 6th string at the beginning of the first bar and then another slide on the E of the second fret of the 4th string on the second bar.
10. “SEVEN NATION ARMY” by The White Stripes
This last riff has an easy guitar tab to follow, and another one that you can easily play on either an electric or acoustic guitar. You can play with standard tuning, and it will sound the same as the original song, even though the guitar in the song is turned to Open A.
The main riff played throughout this song goes like this:
All of these guitar riffs should be easy enough for any new guitarist to start learning. Some you may be able to learn in a short time, and others may take some practice. The guitar tabs here may be helpful, but you can also help yourself with some video lessons on YouTube, explaining how to play the riffs and where to put your fingers.
You can also locate and practice other easy guitar songs you might be interested in playing. It can also be helpful to take lessons either in person or online with an instructor to help you master your guitar riffs.
The good news is with a lot of practice and knowledge, you will be able to play some of these famous songs containing some of the best guitar riffs of all time. Your friends will be impressed, and you will be able to consider yourself a proper guitar player. Riff on!