When we begin our journey on guitar, especially if we’ve decided to take lessons, we’re going to be hit with challenging topics early on like music theory, exercises, and study activities which can get a little boring. While these are very conducive to progression on the instrument, oftentimes as a beginner all we want to do is just have fun and rock out to some killer guitar riffs.
This is why today we’ve gathered up 30 of the absolute best guitar riffs around that are also easy so that any beginner can play them. Plus, we’ve included both video lessons and guitar tablature to give you a helping hand as you learn them.
- You Really Got Me’ by The Kinks
- Come As You Are by Nirvana
- Seven Nation Army by The White Stripes
- Smoke On The Water by Deep Purple
- Iron Man by Black Sabbath
- Back In Black by AC/DC
- Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana
- Sunshine Of Your Love by Cream
- Enter Sandman by Metallica
- House of the Rising Sun by The Animals
- Ain’t Talkin’ ’Bout Love by Van Halen
- Are You Gonna Be My Girl by Jet
- Purple Haze by Jimi Hendrix
- Sweet Child O’ Mine’ by Guns ‘N’ Roses
- Sweet Home Alabama by Lynyrd Skynyrd
- Satisfaction by The Rolling Stones
- Beat It by Michael Jackson
- Breaking the Law by Judas Priest
- Chasing Cars by Snow Patrol
- Cocaine by Eric Clapton
- Day Tripper by The Beatles
- Layla by Eric Clapton
- Message In A Bottle by The Police
- One by Metallica
- Money For Nothing by Dire Straits
- Paranoid by Black Sabbath
- Owner of a Lonely Heart by Yes
- Plush by Stone Temple Pilots
- Rebel Rebel by David Bowie
- Redemption Song by Bob Marley
You Really Got Me’ by The Kinks
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Certainly a classic riff that never has gone out of style. For that time period, it was a very modern sounding riff and would play a huge part in influencing future rock artists. Originally recorded to sound a little more ‘blues’, but thankfully it was the more rock-orientated version we ended up getting. After the song’s release, it shot to the number 1 spot on the UK charts.
This is a perfect example of how just a few key notes (or chords) can produce a timeless and catchy riff. All you’ll be playing here are 2 simple power chords (with that added octave on the third string) and you’ll just be sliding between those chords. This is so easy it could be the first riff you ever learn on guitar!
Come As You Are by Nirvana
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One of the best things about Nirvana is that they always had a unique way of choosing the right notes for their riffs. Interesting and unusual yet somehow still accessible and memorable. This is one of the main aspects of their music that makes their riffs so enjoyable to learn and play. As one of their most popular songs ever, Come As You Are is considered an absolute must learn!
Played between the lowest 2 strings of the guitar’. Now while the riff doesn’t use every note of the guitar climbing up the notes chromatically does take the riff out of traditional diatonic harmony. So it’s great a great chance to get you thinking a bit more outside of the box!
Seven Nation Army by The White Stripes
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The White Stripes really made waves with this song, despite its simplicity it garnered the rock duo massive commercial success. Winning Best Rock Song at the 46th Annual Grammy Awards and even being used as the theme song for numerous sports teams, and even the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Needless to say, this is an iconic riff that everyone should try their hand at learning. Fortunately, it’s also super easy to play, using just single notes at the beginning, and then as the song progresses it plays the same note sequence using power chords. A very simple and effective technique to get more value out of a guitar riff instead of just simply repeating it.
Smoke On The Water by Deep Purple
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If you have played the guitar for longer than 5 minutes, there’s a good chance someone’s already shown you how to play this riff. But it’s an important one to include as it’s so common for people to play incorrectly. It’s considered one of the greatest riffs of all time written by legendary guitarist Ritchie Blackmore. It even ranked at the number 4 spot in Total Guitar magazine’s list of ‘Greatest Guitar Riffs Ever’.
People will often play this using either single notes or just power chords on the lowest strings. While not against the law (although it should be), the correct way to play it is using fourth intervals which means you play the same fret on the adjacent strings. Learn this correctly and you’ll be a step ahead of most guitarists!
Iron Man by Black Sabbath
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Not actually referencing the popular Marvel superhero. This song was actually named Iron Man because singer Ozzy Osbourne heard Tony Iommi play the riff and described it as sounding ‘like a big iron bloke walking about’. Of course, the song went on to be considered a classic, it was their highest-charting single and was actually used during the end credits of the aforementioned Iron Man movie.
While certainly iconic and memorable, the best thing about this riff is how easy it is to play. You’ll be holding the same power chord shape all the time and just sliding it around the fretboard, it’s a really cool and creative way of coming up with heavy riffs in a simple way.
Back In Black by AC/DC
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This was an absolutely monumental album from Australian rock titans AC/DC, it’s estimated that it’s sold over 50 million copies worldwide and is the second best-selling album in music history! It’s also their first album to feature singer Brian Johnson who was recruited after the tragic passing of Bon Scott.
While it’s the whole album that was successful, the title track itself was also a big deal, so we’re focussing on that. It has a powerful and memorable opening riff that will have you strumming some big open chords using heavy distortion followed by a little E minor blues pentatonic lick.
Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana
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To give you an idea of how iconic and essential this song is to be in every guitarist’s riff vocabulary, in 2001 it was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to be a part of the ‘list of Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll’. It’s been dubbed as an ‘anthem for apathetic kids’ which is why it resonated so deeply with Generation X and has gone down in history as one of the greatest songs of all time.
To play this riff you’ll just be using simple power chords, but rather than their two string version you’ll be playing the additional octave on the third string. There are also some rhythmic/percussive muted sounds in between the chords which you can easily play by just laying your left hand across the strings so nothing rings out.
Sunshine Of Your Love by Cream
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Yet another track that was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for being a song that shaped rock and roll. Guitarist Eric Clapton really produced some fantastic riffs for this album which ended up as their best-selling record. Sunshine of Your Love in particular has a timeless riff that really encompasses that psychedelic blues-rock vibe.
All you’ll need to do is play some fairly easy single notes that are outline the first position of D minor pentatonic, making use of that all-important blue note on the 11th fret of the A string. Then as the riff progresses it introduces a few chords and fourth intervals for a little more of that blues spice.
Enter Sandman by Metallica
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Metallica are the heavy metal band that people who don’t listen to heavy metal can still enjoy. Despite their less-accessible roots as more of a thrash band, by the time they reached The Black Album they were treading that line between heavy music while still being able to appeal to almost everyone.
Enter Sandman in particular with its catchy motif yet extremely heavy picking is something absolutely anyone can get into. And that includes beginner guitarists! Because it’s just single notes and a few power chords anyone can learn it, you just need to crank up your gain a lot and have fun!
House of the Rising Sun by The Animals
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What started out as a traditional folk styled song took on a new life when it was re-recorded by The Animals. It was a massive hit, charting at the number 1 spots on both the UK singles and UK Billboard Hot 100. It’s considered a classic of British pop music and was ranked by Rolling Stone magazine as one of the best songs of all time.
Guitar wise it does follow the chord progression of the original song, but this time it outlines them using arpeggios. But it doesn’t simply play them 1 note at a time, it changes the rhythm throughout, jumping from 8th notes to 16th notes quite often. Don’t fret though! It’s still fairly easy to play and something a beginner can master with a little practice.
Ain’t Talkin’ ’Bout Love by Van Halen
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Released in 1978 as the third single from their self-titled debut album. A fun fact about this track is that Van Halen originally didn’t think it was good enough to show his bandmates, and it was written to be a ‘stupid parody’ of typical love songs. Of course, after it was released it ended up becoming one of their most well-known songs and a standout track in the 80’s hair and heavy metal space.
While fundamentally it’s outlining some chords using a sequenced arpeggio (an arpeggio that isn’t just straight up and down but instead has a pattern to it). But what really makes this riff interesting is that he is very selective about which notes he is palm muting and letting ring out. If you can emulate that you will have mastered this riff.
Are You Gonna Be My Girl by Jet
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Although the song only hit the top 20 in most Western countries and only 29 on the US Billboard Hot 100. It was their highest-selling single and still wound up shifting over 1.3 million copies to date. This was in large part due to its high energy presented by the catchy opening guitar riff.
It instantly grabs your attention and with its playful use of the classic rock shapes you already know and love. All you’ll really be doing is jumping between the 5th and 7th frets which means you can leave your hand in 1 spot making it extra comfortable for beginners to play to.
Purple Haze by Jimi Hendrix
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Jimi Hendrix’s importance to the musical and guitar world cannot be overstated. Part of his album ‘the Jimi Hendrix Experience’ and really does a good job of showcasing how creative and innovative he was with his guitar playing. This signature style is one that would influence an entire generation of younger musicians and is something every beginner should try their hand at.
While the riff itself is super simple to play, just using single notes and a cool-sounding quarter note bend. The emphasis is really placed on his signature fuzzy tone, and also the kind of pick attack and vibrato he uses. This is where so much of his personality came from and is ultimately what made him so unique.
Sweet Child O’ Mine’ by Guns ‘N’ Roses
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Guns ‘n’ Roses really hit upon something special with the debut album Appetite for Destruction. It was the third single from that album and shot straight to the number 1 spot on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart (their first number 1 single). It’s now considered one of their signature songs and has sold nearly 3 million copies.
It’s a testament to Slashs’s ability as a guitarist that a fairly easy to play 8 note melody can become so iconic. It underpins the song and is really the main thing people take away after hearing it. The technical term for this is an ‘ostinato’, where there is a repeating melody and the chords move around it. The simplicity of the largely 3 chord song behind it also allows the melody to shine.
Sweet Home Alabama by Lynyrd Skynyrd
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A classic southern/country rock song that if you haven’t heard directly from their second album ‘second helping’, you have probably heard it at some point because of its prevalent use in various media. This includes the hit movie also titled ‘Sweet Home Alabama’, the very popular animated movie Despicable Me, and even for some video games.
One of the most important things about playing the opening riff for this song is actually in the tone of the guitar, it uses just a small amount of gain and there’s a lot of focus on muting the lower notes while letting the higher ones ring out. Try to listen to the song carefully you can emulate this as you play.
Satisfaction by The Rolling Stones
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Heading to the mid 60’s next with the English rock pioneers The Rolling Stones. This was really one of the earlier examples of where the guitar riff would be the driving force of the song and it went down in history as one of the all-time great hooks. The single in itself was also massively popular and even received an induction into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1998.
So this riff is by and large completely straightforward for beginners, there’s just 1 small detail you need to emulate in order to truly play this authentically. Certain notes are slid into before picking, for example on the second bar the 5th fret slides to the 4th, and then it’s picked after, essentially doubling up the notes.
Beat It by Michael Jackson
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We all know Michael Jackson for his creative dance moves and stellar vocal performances, but an often under-appreciated aspect of his music is the instrumentation. I’m not even talking about the guitar solo from Eddie Van Halen either, the main riff of this song is catchy, groovy and really drives the song.
There are a lot of good things to say about this riff, aside from being catchy it makes great use of slides, some key pauses to add groove, and even some dotted 8th notes to add a little rhythmic intrigue. On top of all of that, it’s easy to play too! This is a perfect example of a great riff that ticks all of the boxes.
Breaking the Law by Judas Priest
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It’s time to don our studded leather jacket and biker boots next with some classic, old-school British Heavy Metal. Breaking the Law is one of their best known singles, primarily because of that iconic riff. The song is from their 1980 album titled ‘British Steel’, the song was written during a period where there was a lot of strife in the country which caused numerous riots due to poor governance.
This is another riff that just uses single notes all based around the first few frets and strings of the guitar. This makes it very comfortable to play as it doesn’t require much hand movement. The real key here is to use a boatload of gain to make those notes really scream.
Chasing Cars by Snow Patrol
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Taking a short break from the rock and metal riffs and slowing things down a bit with the alternative rock group Snow Patrol. This is an incredibly catchy song with an easy to play opening riff that will definitely get stuck in your head. The song was massively successful and was nominated for both Best Rock Song and Best British Single. It was also the most played song of the entire decade in England.
This riff will have you simply alternating between the D and G strings, you’ll be holding the same notes for 4 bars and then need to start walking the lower notes around that D string a bit. It’s super easy and comfortable to play and is also a good opportunity to get you used to ‘outside picking’ which is where you will pick two adjacent strings from the outside.
Cocaine by Eric Clapton
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This song was originally recorded by the singer/songwriter J. J. Cale., but it was Eric Clapton’s version that was released as part of his 1977 album Slowhand that really brought it to the masses attention. Clapton’s version was specifically written as an anti-drug song, aiming to shine a light on the negative effects of drugs because of their addictive and deadly qualities.
Not a single note riff, this time we’ll be playing 3 note power chords, which is to say a regular fifth interval with the higher octave thrown in. They are used in small bursts or what we might call ‘rhythmic groupings’ which will require you to come back in after a pause on the correct beat. The song is at 105bpm and you can use a metronome to help you do this!
Day Tripper by The Beatles
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Back to the mid 60’s next with The Beatle’s single ‘Day Tripper’. The whole song centers around that catchy riff which they have said draws on the influence of American soul music. The single was released as a ‘double-A-side’ vinyl which is largely responsible for popularising the format, the difference being usually you’d place less important songs on the B side of a record, but in this case, they placed full-blown promotional singles on both sides.
Just a 2 bar long riff, it outlines a single-note motif that is super catchy and easy to play. You’ll be using a clean tone here, but one thing to note is that the sound is quite trebly, so as tempting as it might be this song will probably sound the most authentic if you play it on your bridge pickup instead of your neck.
Layla by Eric Clapton
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One of Eric’s most famous songs, originally recorded by Derek and the Dominos. But it was really this version which was written between Eric Clapton and Jim Gordon that added a lot of new elements and contrasting movements to bring the song up a notch. It was also famously made into an acoustic version which they received a grammy award for.
You can choose to play this either on electric or acoustic guitar, the riff is played the same way on both. It requires some simple use of hammer ons and pull offs, as well as some very cool sounding full bends which is a great way of easing into some more blues-like phrasing if you are a beginner.
Message In A Bottle by The Police
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You might also have fallen into the trap of calling this song ‘Sending Out An S.O.S’ as the lyric is so prevalently used during the pre-chorus. This is the lead single from their second album ‘Reggatta de Blanc’. It was a hit in the UK hitting the number 1 spot on the British charts, and Rolling Stone magazine ranked it as one of the best guitar songs of all time.
The opening riff of this song uses some arpeggios which are outlining some sus2 chords, these are essentially chords that have had their major or minor third removed so they don’t necessarily sit in a major or minor key giving them this unresolved, hanging, or ‘suspended’ feel.
One by Metallica
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Metallica really hit upon something special with The Black Album, striking a great balance between melodic, heavy, and even some ballad tracks. Despite its length, One has been a favorite amongst fans and really passes through a journey, opening with a totally clean riff with soft singing and progressing to the point where Lars is actually having to play the drums properly.
Because of the song’s popularity, this opening riff is a great one for beginners to learn, it’ll get you on a nice clean tone, holding some shapes that require careful finger placement so you can really hear what you’re doing.
Money For Nothing by Dire Straits
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This is a single from Dire Straight’s fifth album titled ‘Brothers in Arms’. Aside from the classic opening guitar riff, this song is mainly known because it’s their most successful single. It hit the number 1 spot on the US Billboard Hot 100, won a Grammy Award, and was nominated for a second. Also interestingly this song was parodied by famous comedic musician Weird Al Yankovic.
This is probably one of the most unique riffs in terms of the technique required to play it, we still think it’s doable for beginners but it’ll definitely take you out of your comfort zone. You’ll be playing a distorted electronic guitar riff but this time using a staccato-style fingerpicking technique.
Paranoid by Black Sabbath
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As you have probably guessed by now, Tony Iommi wrote a lot of great riffs. Not only great but actually important to the development of the heavy metal genre. Paranoid is from Black Sabbath’s second album of the same name and while only charting at the number 4 positions on the UK singles chart, it’s a song that has a lot of cultural importance and has stayed relevant as each new generation of guitarists look back and learns these classic riffs.
Overall a very easy riff to play, but there’s one small inflection to be aware of which is at the start of the riff where the 12 fret is picked on the low E and A strings, there is a quick hammer on to the 14th fret which quickly turns it from a fourth interval to a fifth (or power chord).
Owner of a Lonely Heart by Yes
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Another super catchy power-chord based riff from the British rock band Yes, this is a single taken from their eleventh studio album titled 90125. It was the first single released from the album and immediately garnered them some commercial success, although it was the only song to do so, it did the number 1 spot on the US Billboard Hot 100.
Just using 4 power chords (with the octave included) that climb up the second, third and fourth strings. Super easy to play and the only thing you as a player need to be conscious of is muting the chords nice and quickly so it sounds tight.
Plush by Stone Temple Pilots
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By far one of the biggest and most successful singles from the American grunge band. It’s a very unique song that incorporates a ton of unusual and interesting chord voicings to great effect. Singer Scott Weiland has mentioned that the song was lyrically based on an article he had read about a girl who was kidnapped in the early 90s and was found to be dead.
As interesting as these chord voicings are, the nice thing about playing them, and what makes it so easy for beginners is that they all sit on the higher three strings and are all loosely played around the first three frets. It’s a great chance to expand your chordal vocabulary a bit!
Rebel Rebel by David Bowie
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This song has been described as David Bowie’s final foray into the glam rock space before exploring his more alternative styles. It’s the lead single from his album Diamond Dogs and was even produced by David himself which is extremely impressive. Not only that, it was a massive commercial success being able to hit the number 5 spot on the UK Singles Chart.
The song makes use of a lot of open strings, requiring you to hold the fretted notes down in such a way as you don’t choke or mute any of the ringing notes. It’s not only a fantastically catchy riff it’s also a great opportunity for any beginners to work a little on their chordal playing and become a little cleaner.
Redemption Song by Bob Marley
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Finally, we have another classic song from reggae/folk legend Bob Marley. This song holds a great deal of weight, importance and marked a quite unique musical turn for him stylistically. This was largely influenced by the fact he had just been diagnosed with cancer. It’s also uniquely a solo acoustic piece which adds a greater emphasis on that opening riff.
Despite the story behind the song, the riff itself is surprisingly upbeat, major sounding, and is also super catchy and easy to play for beginners. Requiring you just to play a few notes on the lowest strings on the first few frets. Try to pay attention to the little hammer on’s he does which add that extra level of personality to the riff.