Guitar riffs are one of the foundations of modern music. This term refers to a piece of music that sets the tone and overall harmony of the entire composition. The ability to compose guitar riffs is essential for every guitarist, just to come up with the texture and general outline of the composition.
The history of riffs begins with the evolution of the blues into rhythm and blues, and then into rock and roll. Chuck Berry, Lincoln Wray, and Dave Davis are among the pioneers of this technique. Guitar riffs finally took hold in music after the dawn of hard rock and metal.
Together with such bands as Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, AC / DC, the guitarists of these teams have literally reinvented music, rethinking all standards and giving impetus to new horizons for the development of art.
Why do we need to learn riffs and how to play riffs on guitar?
We need to learn riffs for the same thing why you need to learn the blues square and other melodic standards. These are the foundations created by the musicians who were the trendsetters of the genre in their day. All novice guitarists should know the musical snippets of easy guitar riffs below.
Expert Tip: Learning classic easy guitar riffs will give you the foundation you need to compose your own tunes, as well as greatly expand your horizons and musical vocabulary.
Many of the examples below are extremely easy to understand and learn, so they are suitable for both experienced guitarists and beginners.
Most often, the tasks of a guitar riff include, firstly, the task of the main harmony and melody, the designation of the tonics, and the steps used in the song. Secondly, the riff should emphasize and complement the rhythmic pattern, along with the bass and drums. Therefore, you need to practice playing riffs with a metronome or pre-recorded flat drums.
It is very important to set accents and emphasize beats by hitting the strings because this is how the kick and kicker will be amplified by the extra frequencies from your instrument.
Types of riffs
Riffs can be monophonic, chordal, in “open” keys, performed based on a fifth, blues in the key of E-major, as well as riffs with a “pedal” tone. However, this is a conditional classification, since the same riff can be a combination of several fragments. Coming up with your own riff is not that difficult, the main thing is not to be afraid of experimenting.
1. Open key riffs (E, A, or D)
These riffs are used in music that has evolved from blues, rock, and roll, blues rock, hard rock glam rock, etc. They are performed with a clean sound or with a distortion effect. Often during play, palm muting is used. The basis for such rhythmic figures is the power chord, i.e.
A chord consisting of a root note and a fifth with the addition of various grades of scale as you play. The keys on which the riffs are played are mostly “open” e, re, la. The most popular key is A major.
The A Power chord in the open position looks like this:
• The first (forefinger) finger mutes 3.2 and 1 strings when playing riffs.
• Thumb mutes the 6th string.
If you add one note on the fourth string (sixth), you get the simplest blues riff that is used in many songs, for example, in AC / DC – The Jack.
After adding one more note on the fourth string (seventh), a slightly complicated version of the first riff is obtained, which is used in both the “open” and “closed” keys. An example is Alice Cooper-Dirty Dreams.
With an extra note on the 5th string, you get a major and minor third. Often, the notes on the 5th string, as well as on the 4th, are played with Hammer on and pulled off. An excellent illustration of this game is Led Zeppelin’s riff – When The Levee Breaks.
Combined with Hammer on and pull off, you can play Led Zeppelin -Rock’N’Roll or J. Satriani -Extremist riffs. If you add a second on the third string, pulled up by bend to a major or minor third, you get an Extreme-Decadance Dance riff.
2. Riffs with a pedal tone
These are the names of the constantly repeating tone riffs. They were popular in the 80s in the style of hard rock and heavy metal. The bottom line is that a pedal note is a tonic (most often played on an open string), against which interspersed intervals, most often quartz, are played, which correspond to different chords.
As a pedal tone, you can use not only the 5th string but also other “open” strings, for example, the sixth and fourth.
Examples of pedal-tone riffs: Ozzy Osbourne -1 Don’t Know. A.V.H. Whitesnake – Still of The Night.
3. Monophonic riffs
These riffs do not use intervals and chords. They were used in 70s rock music, mainly by Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin. They are currently played by the famous band Rage Against the Machine. Most often, monophonic guitar riffs are built based on the pentatonic scale in the first box and are dubbed an octave lower on the bass guitar.
Expert Tip: To play these riffs, special exercises are not needed, so I immediately work out the tabs of such rhythmic formulas of famous rock compositions.
Examples: Led Zeppelin- How Many More Times and Heartbreaker; RageAgainst The Machine- Bombtrack and Killing In the name; Muse – Ashamed.
4. Chord riffs on a clean or slightly overdriven sound
It’s easy to guess from the name that these are riffs using chords. So that the notes of the chord are not distorted, they are played mainly on a not very overdriven sound. The founders of this game are Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix. By the way, Jimi Hendrix rarely played barre chords.
Instead, he played each such chord with notes from the major pentatonic scale and used intervals. How to play a chord without a barre. see the link. An example of such a game can be found in Jimi Hendrix’s riff – Purple Haze.
Next, we will take a look at guitar riffs for beginners. The list is not compiled according to the popularity of the songs. But there is a certain concept in it from simple to complex, that is the first riffs are relatively easy to play and then more difficult, you must work out more to learn how to play.
15 of the easiest and most popular guitar riffs
1. In My Life – The Beatles
The simplest, but beautiful, soulful melody on the first two strings within the first five frets of the neck. A great option for beginners to practice guitar learning from scratch.
2. The Man Who Sold The World – David Bowie
You may have heard this song performed by Kurt Cobain. The simplest but most interesting three-note phrase. Also, you will have to bend the third string (pull it up by half a step – how to play it is indicated in the tabs).
3. Satisfaction (I Can’t Get No) -The RolIing Stones
The topic needs no special introduction. Classics are classics. But for beginners, what you need. The riff is played on the 5th string in three-finger fingering. Don’t forget about glissando (gliding on the string) and lined notes (pool).
What’s more remarkable is that the second note of the riff, when repeated after the second and third times, is shorter in duration (not the fourth, but the eighth), that is, pick it off earlier so that it sounded more abruptly.
4. Politician – Cream
Very, very interesting range in the riff. At least for blues-rock. Sounds a little unusual. But the moves are easy, learn quickly.
5. Day Tripper – The Beatles
And long live rock and roll. Everything is in the best traditions of this style. Not without the presence of blues magic. The phrase is played on electric guitar in the second position using open strings.
6. Hey Bulldog – The Beatles
The Beatles again. The emphasis on the lowered fifth (C to F) gives a slightly aggressive sound. Which, however, was probably intended by John Lennon, the author of the song.
7. Oh Pretty Woman – Roy Orbison
Get to know the history, a riff from a rock and roll pioneer. Its first part is repeated several times, and then it is played in its entirety. What creates development. Has a certain similarity with the phrase from Day Tripper (The Beatles). And by the way, the songs were written almost at the same time.
8. Dazed And Confused – Led Zeppelin
A dark, chromatic (moving in semitones) melody in a 12/8 blues rhythm. Probably, this is one of the secrets of Jimmy Page’s guitar mastery, to get such an exotic fusion of blues and rock. Halftone bends alternate with “clean” notes, first on the fourth string, and then on the fifth, which creates chromaticism.
But they are light riffs for an electric guitar. Do not be intimidated by the musical notation. The main thing is to learn how to make bends accurately.
9. Californication – Red Hot Chili Peppers
If you’re just starting out with a barre guitar called F, Californication is a great topic to practice. The theme is played in the position I in F major with melodic additions in incomplete fingering (only on bass strings). Or rather, in a harmonic combination Am – F. Anyway, this is a cool riff for an electric guitar.
10. Come As You Are – Nirvana
Whenever you want to play this grungy psychedelicize, the first step is to rearrange all the guitar strings one tone lower. Otherwise, you will not be able to play with the original, if the system is standard, there will be a terrible disorder with a difference in tone, that will give your ears the wrong psychedelic.
The rest is simple tabs for beginners and yet Kurt Cobain’s musical minimalism is brilliant.
11. Hells Bells -AC, DC
The dark ballad “Hell Bells”, written by the group sometime after the death of the first vocalist Bon Scott, Overdrive bust. Notes are not muted but merged when you play arpeggios. At the end of each four-bar square, there is a melodic power chord move, a fifth from C and a sixth from B (the little finger remains at the same fret, and the index finger moves to the 2nd fret).
12. Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath
Lingering, mystical sounds. What doubts can there be that this is Black Saturday? The strokes indicated at the end of the phrases are close to the original recording. But if you find it difficult to cope with all these sliding up and down the string, just keep the duration of the note or trill and then do an upward glissando where necessary.
To help video songs from live performances of Black Sabbath. And by the way, about trills (in this riff they are devilish): Look in the tabs where there is an inscription “tr” above the C #(C sharp) note, you need to quickly alternate it with the D note (Re).
13. Crazy Train – Ozzy Osbourne
The crazy train is about to hit the road. Cool move in F sharp minor. Something like a pedal tone, a constantly repeating tonic sound (F #). For the fourth time, the phrase ends with power chords And they are played with open strings at the first frets. In E5, the third-string is muted, does not sound (chord charts are shown on the tablature).
14. Into The Fire – Deep Purple
Recommended for beginners mastering chromatic moves, and simply for fans of classic hard rock. Yes, you have not confused anything. How they went in the second measure from the first fret of the sixth string and right up to the sixth (C A-sharp means). And in the final measure, there is one more “chromatic walk” up to the 11th fret.
15. Black Sabbath – Iron Man
One of the greatest events in the world of rock that took place in England was the emergence of the band Black Sabbath, which is still popular 40 years later. The main thing you’ll notice is that you don’t need a very heavy guitar sound to play Black Sabbath songs. This is especially noticeable in comparison with modern metal bands.
In fact, the heavy sound of Black Sabbath lies in the dense, powerful riffs (riff is a repetitive musical phrase). Many of their riffs are very slow and rely heavily on the groove (the feeling of a beat in music). They are played with a slight delay from the rhythm, which serves as the impetus for a particular riff.
The melody begins with a few heavy dive bombs (a guitar technique in which a tremolo system is used to quickly lower the pitch of a note, thereby creating a bomb-like sound) that brings us to the main riff in bar 9.
The main riff is based on a slow groove and features many powerful chords. Take care of sliding the G5 and F # 5 chords in measure 10. This riff repeats throughout the song.
How to write a great guitar riff yourself?
To keep the riff interesting, there are some tips for aspiring guitarists to help you write better guitar riffs.
Design a guitar riff with all instruments in mind –
When composing a new riff, think about how it will sound in the context of the complete set of musical instruments of a rock band.
The bass should not repeat the rhythm guitar part –
The bass part, which repeats note for note the rhythm guitar part is a very common problem for guitarists. Try to split the bass and electric guitar parts, experiment with rhythms and dynamics.
On the other hand, you should not take this advice as an unbreakable rule, since there are times when all instruments simply need to play the same parts together.
Give your guitar riffs more musicality –
Many people probably know that the same chord can be played in completely different positions. This makes life much easier for musicians since there is no need to jump all over the fretboard between two different chords. Plus, it can help add variety to the music. If the bass is playing an E note that sounds very low, then move the guitar part higher.
It’s worth experimenting with different positions of the same chords to get the most musical guitar parts.
In conclusion, once you are confident in playing the above riffs, you can always try yourself at composing your own riffs. The most important thing here is imagination and a craving for experimentation. Don’t be afraid to break the rules and use non-standard harmonies and spacing.
The most important thing is to remember about the rhythm and accents, and everything else is the harmony and thinking, will come, especially if you teach classical melodies and theory.