If you’re just starting out on your guitar journey, you might want to dive right in and get started with some classic riffs. There’s a problem, though – some of those iconic guitar riffs that have graced the airwaves over the decades might feel intimidating for beginners.
But here at AllAxess, we’ve got you covered! These 30 easy guitar riffs can be a great entry point for beginner guitarists. Many classic guitar riffs come from songs that have topped the Billboard Music charts, making them instantly recognizable and a joy to play.
Here’s a look at some of these great guitar riffs, with a peek into the history of the artists or bands that created them.
Played predominantly on the lower frets, this intro riff to “Come As You Are” is a grungy testament to Nirvana’s alternative rock legacy. The haunting tune uses simple techniques, making it one of the best guitar riffs for beginners.
Artist Background: Led by Kurt Cobain, Nirvana changed the landscape of rock music in the early ’90s with their unique grunge sound. Their album “Nevermind,” where “Come As You Are” features, is a staple in rock history.
This simple guitar riff uses the A string and the 5th fret of the D string to create a melody that’s become an anthem at sporting events worldwide. Even if you’ve never played a note on the guitar, this is a straightforward sequence that can make you feel like a rock star in no time.
Artist Background: The White Stripes, composed of Jack and Meg White, made waves in the 2000s with their minimalist rock sound. “Seven Nation Army” from their album “Elephant” remains one of their most iconic tracks.
For those interested in playing more modern guitar riffs, “Pumped Up Kicks” offers an appealing mix of hammer-on/pull-off licks that are catchy yet simple enough for beginners. It’s sure to impress any music fan.
Artist Background: Foster the People emerged in the 2010s with a fresh indie pop sound. “Pumped Up Kicks” from their debut album became an instant hit and is still loved by many.
Starting with two power chords on the F and G positions of the E string (1st and 3rd frets), this classic guitar riff then moves up to the 3rd and 5th frets, and finally to the 10th and 12th frets. It’s a testament to how a simple riff can create a song that stands the test of time.
Artist Background: The Kinks, hailing from England, were part of the British Invasion of the US in the 1960s. Their raw sound, showcased in “You Really Got Me,” set them apart and inspired future rock bands.
The main riff from “Iron Man” is a prime example of how sliding power chords can create an intense musical atmosphere. While sliding power chords around may feel a tad tricky at first, once mastered, they offer an edgy sound that’s quintessential to many heavy metal tracks.
Artist Background: Black Sabbath, fronted by the legendary Ozzy Osbourne, is often hailed as the pioneer of heavy metal. Their dark, heavy tones and powerful guitar work set them apart in the rock scene of the 1970s.
“Plug in Baby” is a blend of progressive rock and alternative, presenting a unique guitar riff that’s not just melodic but also immensely captivating. The initial sequence is a combination of arpeggios that, while a bit more advanced, offers first-time guitarists a challenge worth taking on.
Artist Background: Muse, a British rock band, has a distinctive style that marries rock, electronica, and classical music. Their dynamic performances and innovative sound have earned them a massive global following.
A song that has become an anthem for rock lovers everywhere, the guitar riff for “I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll” centers around the E chord. The progression moves from the E string to the A, making it both catchy and relatively simple for those starting their guitar journey. And since the song is so popular, this is a great riff that anyone will recognize.
Artist Background: Joan Jett, with her band The Blackhearts, carved a niche in the rock world with her fierce attitude and unmistakable voice. “I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll” is a testament to her lasting influence on the genre.
While Fleetwood Mac is known for their melodious tracks, “The Chain” offers a guitar riff that’s both rhythmic and unforgettable. Focusing on the A and low E strings, this riff captures the soul of the song and provides an excellent entry point for beginners.
Artist Background: Fleetwood Mac, with their tumultuous history and multiple lineup changes, has always maintained a standard of musical excellence. Their blend of rock, pop, and folk has resulted in timeless tracks that resonate with multiple generations.
When it comes to classic guitar riffs, “Sweet Home Alabama” tops the list for many. This tune, with its catchy and recognizable intro, offers beginning guitarists a fantastic introduction to the beauty of southern rock. A classic piece of music, this riff is a joy to play and even more enjoyable to listen to.
Artist Background: Lynyrd Skynyrd, with their blend of rock and southern sound, became one of the pioneering bands of the Southern rock genre. Their timeless tracks, coupled with their energetic performances, solidified their place in rock history.
“Back in Black” is a testament to the power of rock and roll, and its riff, which focuses heavily on power chords, embodies the spirit of rock music. The rhythmic beats and the infectious energy of this riff make it an exciting challenge for beginners.
Artist Background: AC DC, the Australian hard rock band, has dominated the rock scene for decades. With their high-voltage performances and iconic tracks like “Back in Black”, they have become legends in the music industry.
IMAGE: AC DC in a concert setting, with Angus Young donning his signature schoolboy outfit.
The iconic intro to “Sweet Child of Mine” is both challenging and rewarding. While it may not come easy to every beginner, with practice, the melodic tune can be mastered. If you don’t get this riff right the first time, remember it’s all about practice, persistence, and passion.
Artist Background: Guns N’ Roses, often abbreviated as GNR, stormed the rock scene in the late ’80s and early ’90s with their fusion of hard rock and blues. Tracks like “Sweet Child of Mine” from their debut album “Appetite for Destruction” showcased their raw energy and musical prowess.
“Boulevard of Broken Dreams” offers a melancholic tune that’s both easy to memorize and play. The primary focus of this riff is on the B and G strings on the higher frets, making it a lovely intro piece for those looking to explore a different side of rock music.
Artist Background: Green Day, a pioneer of the punk rock revival in the ’90s, has given us anthems that resonate with the youth across generations. With their profound lyrics and catchy tunes, they’ve made an indelible mark in the world of rock.
“Redemption Song” is a soulful tune that is less about the complexity of the riff and more about the emotion it conveys. Played primarily in the key of G, beginners can start by focusing on the G-string. This tune is not just a lesson in playing guitar but also in expressing raw emotion through music.
Artist Background: Bob Marley, the Jamaican singer-songwriter, brought reggae to the world stage. His songs, infused with political and social commentary, resonated deeply with audiences globally, turning him into an icon of peace and unity.
Diving back into the world of rock, “Paranoid” offers a classic rock riff that embodies the heavy metal spirit of the 70s. This tune is a must-learn for anyone looking to immerse themselves in the world of rock guitar riffs.
Artist Background: Black Sabbath’s contribution to the rock world goes beyond just music. Their innovative sound and lyrics set the stage for many rock and metal bands that followed. With tracks like “Paranoid,” they showcased the depth and versatility of rock music.
“Day Tripper” offers a riff that’s rhythmic, catchy, and, most importantly, slow enough for any beginner to pick up. It’s a testament to The Beatles’ genius that they could craft simple yet iconic riffs that have stood the test of time.
Artist Background: The Beatles, often referred to as the Fab Four, transformed the landscape of music in the 60s. Their innovative sound, coupled with their songwriting genius, turned them into one of the most influential bands in history.
“Wonderwall” is more than just a song; it’s an anthem for a generation. With its iconic intro and memorable lyrics, it’s a classic song that almost everyone recognizes. Learning the riff is a joy, and playing it is like connecting with music lovers worldwide.
Artist Background: Oasis, led by the Gallagher brothers, defined the Britpop era of the 90s. Their tracks, filled with raw emotion and musical brilliance, have become staples in the rock genre. “Wonderwall” remains one of their most celebrated compositions.
“Purple Haze” is a testament to Jimi Hendrix’s prowess with the electric guitar. While the song sounds intricate, the riff is fairly simple once you learn some basic techniques. This track is perfect for those who wish to dive deep into the world of psychedelic rock and truly understand the genius of Hendrix.
Artist Background: Jimi Hendrix, with his exceptional talent and innovative guitar techniques, became one of the most influential electric guitarists of all time. His performance at Woodstock remains iconic, and his ability to manipulate the guitar to create new sounds set him apart.
“Heartbreaker” offers a rhythmic and classic guitar riff that employs a minor pentatonic scale, showcasing the depth and versatility of Led Zeppelin’s music. It’s an excellent piece for beginners looking to understand the mechanics of scales while playing an iconic rock tune.
Artist Background: Led Zeppelin, consisting of Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, and John Bonham, dominated the rock scene in the ’70s. Their blend of blues, rock, and folk resulted in some of the most celebrated tracks in rock history, cementing their legacy as one of the greatest rock bands ever.
“In My Place” offers a beautiful and melodic guitar riff played primarily on the higher strings. This tune, with its soothing rhythm and memorable melody, is perfect for those looking to explore a more contemporary sound on the guitar.
Artist Background: Coldplay, since their formation in 1996, has gifted the world with tracks that touch the soul. Their fusion of rock, pop, and electronic elements, coupled with Chris Martin’s haunting voice, has made them a household name across the globe.
“House of the Rising Sun” has a melody that lingers long after the song ends. While the intro looks like intricate fingerpicking, it is actually very simple, making it a delightful piece for beginner guitarists. It’s a song that carries a deep history and offers an excellent opportunity to delve into the roots of rock and folk.
Artist Background: The Animals, an English band formed in the early ’60s, brought the bluesy sounds of the American Deep South to the UK. Their raw and edgy sound, highlighted in tracks like “House of the Rising Sun,” made them stand out in the bustling rock scene of the era.
While Michael Jackson is more renowned for his unparalleled vocal talent and dance moves, “Beat It” stands out with its unforgettable guitar riff. Primarily played on the low E, A, and D strings, it’s a catchy tune that beginner guitarists can pick up with ease, all while grooving to the rhythm of the King of Pop.
Artist Background: Michael Jackson, dubbed the “King of Pop,” revolutionized the music industry with his unique sound, dance moves, and groundbreaking music videos. From soulful ballads to energetic dance tracks, Jackson’s music transcends time and generations.
With a move from the 2nd fret to the 5th fret of the A string, the iconic riff from “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” has inspired countless guitarists around the world. Simple yet incredibly impactful, this riff embodies the spirit of rock and roll and the rebellious essence of the Rolling Stones.
Artist Background: The Rolling Stones, with their raw sound and edgy lyrics, have been the flag bearers of rock and roll since the 60s. Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and the rest of the band have given the world numerous classics that have stood the test of time.
“Johnny B. Goode” is a testament to the rock and roll era, with its electrifying guitar riff that might seem tricky to execute at first. However, with some patience and practice, even beginners can master this piece and embrace the spirit of Chuck Berry’s timeless music.
Artist Background: Chuck Berry, often called the “Father of Rock n’ Roll,” introduced the world to the electric guitar’s possibilities. His performances, combined with his charismatic stage presence, laid the foundation for the future of rock music.
One of the most iconic riffs in the history of rock music, “Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple is a rite of passage for every guitarist. The simplicity of its main riff makes it accessible for beginners, while more experienced players can delve into the advanced version, exploring the depths of this classic tune.
Artist Background: Deep Purple, pioneers of heavy metal and modern hard rock, have a legacy that spans decades. Their experimental sound, combining rock, classical, and blues elements, has produced some of the most enduring tracks in music history.
“Enter Sandman” is an anthem for metal lovers, with its brooding yet catchy intro riff. Easy and fun to play, this guitar riff resonates with the very spirit of heavy metal, making it an absolute favorite for budding guitarists and Metallica fans alike.
Artist Background: Metallica, hailing from Los Angeles, is one of the titans of the thrash metal genre. Since their inception in 1981, the band, led by James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich, has consistently delivered powerful, hard-hitting tracks, earning them legions of fans worldwide.
The melodic strings of “Pretty Woman” reverberate with nostalgia and romance. Its intro riff, effortlessly transitioning from one note to another, is one of the most recognizable guitar music pieces ever, reflecting the timeless appeal of Roy Orbison’s music.
Artist Background: Roy Orbison, with his unmistakable voice and poignant songwriting, carved a unique niche in the music world. His ballads, teeming with raw emotion and intricate melodies, have left an indelible mark on the annals of music history.
“Psycho” stands out with its powerful and rhythmic riff, offering guitarists a perfect introduction to the Drop D tuning. It’s a track that epitomizes Muse’s experimental sound, giving beginners a glimpse into the vast world of alternative rock guitar techniques.
Artist Background: We’ve already talked about Muse, but it’s worth mentioning them again! This trio, comprising Matthew Bellamy, Christopher Wolstenholme, and Dominic Howard, is celebrated for its fusion of rock, classical, and electronic elements. Known for their theatrical performances and thought-provoking lyrics, Muse pushes the boundaries of rock music.
“Hey Ya” is a burst of energy with its infectious rhythm and soulful lyrics. While primarily recognized for its catchy chorus, the song’s guitar part is based on a four-chord sequence, making it accessible and enjoyable for guitarists at all skill levels.
Artist Background: Outkast, consisting of André 3000 and Big Boi, brought a fresh wave of innovation to the hip-hop scene in the late ’90s and early 2000s. With their eclectic mix of funk, soul, and rap, the duo from Atlanta created tracks that remain iconic to this day.
“Smells Like Teen Spirit” is not just a song; it’s an anthem of a generation. The rawness and grunge essence of the track are encapsulated in its guitar riff. Comprising only four power chords, the riff is both simple and incredibly impactful, making it a favorite for guitarists of all levels.
Artist Background: Nirvana, with Kurt Cobain at the helm, became the voice of the grunge movement in the early ’90s. Emerging from Seattle’s underground music scene, their sound, characterized by distorted guitars and introspective lyrics, gave rise to an entirely new genre and cultural phenomenon.
“Everlong” showcases the Foo Fighters’ unique blend of rock intensity and melodic allure. Its riff, played in Drop D tuning, provides depth and richness to the track, allowing beginner guitarists to experiment and expand their horizons.
Artist Background: Foo Fighters, led by former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl, have cemented their place as one of the leading rock bands of their generation. With a mix of hard-hitting tracks and soulful ballads, they have consistently delivered music that resonates with fans across the globe.
A Beginner’s Guide to Easy Guitar Riffs
The Allure of the Guitar Riff
To the uninitiated, playing riffs on an electric guitar might seem like a daunting task. But the beauty of many great guitar riffs lies in their simplicity. Whether it’s the iconic riff from Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water” or the opening riff of “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin, many legendary tracks are built around a central, simple guitar riff. For beginner guitarists, starting with these riffs can provide an instant confidence boost. And luckily, most iconic guitar riffs are easy to play or can be simplified.
As guitarists progress, they can dive into more complex compositions, expanding their repertoire.
What is a Guitar Riff?
A guitar riff is a repeated sequence of notes or chords that becomes the main theme of a song, often played by the rhythm guitar. Think of it as the “catchphrase” of the song – it’s what you hum along to, even if you don’t know the lyrics. From the iconic sounds of Foo Fighters’ “Everlong” to the unmistakable chords of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, guitar riffs leave a lasting impression and often define the song they’re in.
Easy Guitar Riffs for Beginners: What to Look For
While there’s no shortage of complex, intricate riffs in music history, beginners need a starting point. Here’s what makes playing guitar riffs easy for newbies:
Limited Chords or Notes: Riffs that are composed of fewer chords or notes are naturally easier to pick up. For instance, power chords, which are two-note chords, feature prominently in many classic guitar riffs and are a good starting point for beginners.
Simple Structure: A basic, repetitive structure without too much variation can be easier to memorize and play.
Slower Pace: Riffs that don’t require rapid finger movements give beginners the chance to build muscle memory and confidence.
Common Techniques: Some riffs employ basic guitar techniques that beginners usually learn early on, such as hammer-ons, pull-offs, or basic slides. These are great for applying what you’ve learned.
Open Chords: Many easy riffs for beginners use open chords, which means they utilize the strings of the guitar that aren’t being pressed down by the fingers. This makes the riff sound full without needing complex finger placements.
Why Start with Easy Guitar Riffs?
Boosts Confidence: Successfully playing a recognizable riff from a beloved song can be a massive confidence boost for a new guitarist.
Builds Muscle Memory: Repeatedly practicing riffs helps in building muscle memory, which is crucial for advancing to more complex guitar-playing techniques.
Enhances Musical Ear: Learning riffs can also help budding guitarists develop a better musical ear, understanding the nuances of melody and rhythm.
Immediate Gratification: There’s a sense of instant gratification in playing a riff that’s recognizable. It makes the learning process fun and rewarding.
Why Acoustic Guitar Riffs Matter Too
While the electric guitar often takes center stage when we talk about iconic riffs, the acoustic guitar has its own set of memorable tunes. Think of the main riff in “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd or the fingerstyle magic in “Blackbird” by The Beatles. Learning acoustic guitar riffs can provide a different kind of satisfaction, bringing out the melodic and rhythmic nuances that the electric guitar often overshadows.
Whether you’re strumming power chords, practicing a main riff, or just playing riffs to your favorite songs, remember that every guitarist starts somewhere. And with so many easy guitar riffs for beginners available, there’s no better time to start your journey. As you learn guitar riffs, from the classic to the modern, from the electric to the acoustic, you’re not just playing notes; you’re becoming a part of a rich musical history that continues to evolve.
Remember, the best guitar riffs are those that resonate with you. So pick up your guitar, find a tutorial, and start playing. The world of guitar awaits!