With an estimated 90% of new guitar players quitting within the first year of playing, I think it’s important to start learning songs right away. After all, that’s why we start playing guitar in the first place, right? The key is finding easy songs to learn. So In this lesson, I’ve provided some easy guitar riffs for beginners to start learning and playing real music.
Learning these easy riffs will keep your motivation high, make the guitar fun, and hopefully help prevent you from becoming part of the 90% of players who quit in their first year.
But before we hop into the riffs, let’s make sure we have a basic understanding of what a guitar riff actually is.
What Is a Guitar Riff?
Guitar riffs are the heart of rock n’ roll. For me, when I think of guitar riffs, bands like Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, and Deep Purple come to mind. Of course this is because of my personal taste in music, but these bands have written a plethora of iconic riffs.
But what exactly is a guitar riff? Simply put, a guitar riff is a repeated pattern of music, whether it be a chord progression, melody or series of notes. The riff essentially forms the basis of the rhythm guitar track.
Riffs can be a lot of fun to play and there are plenty of easy ones that are perfect for beginner guitarists, as you’ll see in the list below.
10 Easy Guitar Riffs
The ten riffs below are easy enough for the beginner to learn, but they’re also fun to play regardless of playing level. They span from metal, to rock, to grunge and even the oldies. The riffs vary in degree of difficulty, so if you find some are too challenging for your current level of playing, learn the others and come back to these after.
Riff #1: Enter Sandman – Metallica
From the 1991 album Metallica, Enter Sandman was the first single released. For longtime fans of the band, this song (and album) was a bit of a departure from their previous four. It was a bit more simplistic in song structure and rhythm than that of their previous albums. But, this change offered up some pretty cool guitar riffs that are a bit more playable for newer guitar players.
Listen: Enter Sandman – Metallica
Riff #2: Come As You Are – Nirvana
Far from my favorite Nirvana riff, Come As You Are does, nonetheless, provide a great riff for beginner guitar players to learn. The technical ability required to play the riff is minimal and it provides a great opportunity to work on finger coordination while learning real songs.
Listen: Come As You Are – Nirvana
Riff #3: Dazed and Confused – Led Zeppelin
When thinking about Dazed and Confused, of course the main riff comes to mind. It’s an obvious choice, and certainly falls under the category of easy guitar riffs. But for this selection, I’m going with that other riff…you know, the one similar to Paranoid by Black Sabbath.
Riff #4: Breaking the Law – Judas Priest
Heading back in to the metal genre for this one. Breaking the Law was perhaps the first Judas Priest song I ever heard. The main riff just catches you and pulls you in. While it’s technically a simple riff to play, the variations in rhythm across the same notes provides a great opportunity to feel how notes and time work together to create the feel of music.
Listen: Breaking the Law – Judas Priest
Riff #5: Don’t Stop Believin’ – Journey
Classic riff from the iconic Journey song, Don’t Stop Believin’. Similar to the Judas Priest riff above, this riff is technically simple, but offers some timing and fingerings that will help develop rhythm and coordination. It’s perfect for beginner guitar players.
Listen: Don’t Stop Believin’ – Journey
Riff #6: Smoke on the Water – Deep Purple
You knew it was coming. Is there ever a list of guitar riffs that doesn’t include Smoke on the Water? From their 1972 album Machine Head, Smoke on the Water is one of the most popular classic rock ‘n roll riffs ever…and one that’s super easy to play.
Listen: Smoke on the Water – Deep Purple
Riff #7: Symphony of Destruction – Megadeth
Might be a little surprising to see a Megadeth riff on a list for beginners, but Symphony of Destruction fits the bill. From their 1992 album Countdown to Extinction, this riff is just a couple of power chords and a few palm muted notes.
Riff #8: Thunder Kiss ’65 – White Zombie
From the album La Sexorcisto: Devil Music Volume One, this riff is comprised mostly of a single, palm-muted note. But the rhythmic variations make this a great picking hand exercise as well as a really cool, and fun, riff to play.
Listen: Thunder Kiss ’65 – White Zombie
Riff #9: My Girl – The Temptations
An oldie but goodie…and such a classic. If you know your pentatonic scales, this riff should seem pretty familiar to you. It comes straight from the C and F major pentatonic scales. This is another example of how the just rhythm of the notes can breathe life into a riff.
Listen: My Girl – The Temptations
Riff #10: You Really Got Me – The Kinks
What better way to end a list of easy guitar riffs than with an iconic, hugely influential riff like You Really Got Me? While it would be hard to overstate its impact on rock ‘n roll, this riff by The Kinks couldn’t be more simplistic. This two-chord progression gets straight to the point.
Listen: You Really Got Me – The Kinks
With that, you know have ten easy guitar riffs to get started with playing actual music. If you find some of these riffs too difficult to tackle now, no problem. Learn the ones you can and come back to the others. With a little time you’ll find yourself able to play through all of them.
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