When I first started teaching guitar, I quickly realised that if you try to teach students a lot of chord based strumming songs, (which seems like the typical way to teach new students) they would find it difficult and get frustrated. I quickly realised a great way to motivate the student was to teach them riffs – particularly easy, classic riffs.
Update: Since posting this article I have had huge demand for the video lessons to teach you how to play these riffs. As a guy who is keen to please, over the next few weeks/months I will be posting tutorial videos for all 50 of these riffs, so you can learn every single one of them.To keep updated as to when they are live, you can join the free mailing list here. Oh, and you get a free book.
By teaching the students riffs, they were able to play REAL music in a much shorter space of time. They loved playing more, they practiced more, and they got much better, much quicker.
The riffs were easier to play than chords. They were also more fun and as a great bonus they even helped the student to play the chords and improve finger dexterity, so it was a win win situation.
I then devised a list of 10 riffs to teach, they were enjoyed so I extended it to 20, then 30 and so on until I reached a list of 50 fantastic riffs that are great to learn and will take a new guitarist all the way from a complete novice that has never picked up the guitar to a professional sounding intermediate guitar hero who can blow away his or her guitar competition.
There is a big variety of riffs here. Above all, the majority of the riffs are not only recognisable; they are downright awesome riffs too. So here we are…
50 of the best guitar riffs for beginners
- Seven Nation Army – The White Stripes
- Breaking The Law – Judas Priest
- Sunshine of Your Love – Cream
- In My Life – The Beatles
- Oh, Pretty Woman – Roy Orbison
- Boys Don’t Cry – The Cure
- Redemption Song – Bob Marley
- China Girl – David Bowie
- Born Under A Bad Sign – Albert King
- James Bond Theme – John Barry (one of my favourite riffs on acoustic guitar)
- Daytripper – The Beatles
- La Bamba – Richie Valens
- Mr Tambourine Man – The Byrds (one of the best riffs on guitar ever?)
- Enter Sandman – Metallica
- Californication – Red Hot Chili Peppers
- Smoke on the water – Deep Purple
- Lose Yourself – Eminem
- Beat It – Michael Jackson
- Eye of the Tiger – Survivor
- Wonderful Tonight – Eric Clapton
- You Really Got Me – The Kinks
- Going Underground – The Jam
- Brown Eyed Girl – Van Morrison
- All the Small Things – Blink 182
- Since you’ve Been Gone – Rainbow
- Do I wanna Know? – Artic Monkeys
- Wild Cherry – Play That Funky Music
- Sex On Fire – Kings Of Leon
- Black Dog – Led Zeppelin
- Wanted Dead or Alive – Bon Jovi
- Everlong – Foo Fighters
- Bohemian Rhapsody – Queen
- Black Sabbath – Iron Man
- American Idiot – Green Day
- Van Halen – Ain’t Talking Bout Love
- Sweet Child O’ Mine – Guns N’ Roses
- Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana
- Whole Lotta Love – Led Zeppelin
- Alive – Pearl Jam
- One – U2
- Are you gonna go my way? – Lenny Kravitz
- Back In Black – AC/DC
- Walk This Way – Aerosmith
- Layla – Eric Clapton/Derek and the Dominoes
- Smokestack Lightning – Howlin Wolf (one of the greatest blues riffs on guitar, ever!)
- I See Fire – Ed Sheeran
- Sweet Home Alabama – Lynyrd Skynyrd
- Muse – Plug In Baby
- Purple Haze – Jimi Hendrix
- Johnny B Goode – Chuck Berry (simply one of the best classic riffs on gutiar)
Go through this list of the best guitar riffs for beginners in order starting at number one, learn them and check each one off until you can play them all. Believe me, you will saviour the moment when you are able to play number 50 comfortably.
It will take time to learn all these especially if you have never played before. This is a long term project. 6-12 months is an approximate time scale as long as you practice properly.
Blow the socks off your audience
The riffs are great party pieces.
After a few months of playing, a friend or family member will always ask a student what they can play. Instead of them showing their friend or girlfriend a half-hearted (because they can’t play it yet) rendition of ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door’, they blast through the riffs they have learned competently and confidently and the loved one is usually suitably very impressed.
Don’t underestimate how motivating this.
You will be a much better guitar player for learning these killer riffs
Even if you are an acoustic player, these riffs sound great too. Obviously, if you have an electric with a bit of overdrive or full on distortion they will sound that bit cooler, but many of my students play these on acoustic and love playing them just as much.
One thing I love to do, is challenge my students to play through the entire list of riffs one after the other with only a second or two break, getting all the way from 1 to 50. It’s an awesome challenge and one that takes times and lots of concentration.
This is very beneficial for more experienced players. New players will have to build up to this – just focus on learning one riff at a time!
One other thing – I’m a big fan of students learning songs from start to finish and getting into the habit of doing so. This goes for when learning harder riffs and especially when learning any easy riffs on the guitar.
What I encourage them to do, is learn the whole song for at least ten of these riffs, so they can hear and understand how a song is fully constructed. When it comes to chord based songs, they learn the whole song and nothing less. Ideally, they would do the same with riff-based songs, but that isn’t always the case.
Either way, having 50 awesome riffs under your belt is a brilliant achievement and a great 1-year goal for new players. Learning all these riffs alongside complete songs is wonderfully motivating.
Experienced players love these riffs for guitar too
If you have played for a long time there is no shame in starting a number one. Doing so is a good thing. It will let you know where your progress is at.
By learning all 50 you will learn so much about the art and craft of writing a great guitar riff as well as techniques needed to play a huge variety of skills such as:
- Right and left-hand coordination
- String Skipping
- Alternate picking
What are the criteria for these 50 legendary guitar riffs?
When creating this list, I decided that:
- The riffs must sound awesome
- The riffs must be recognisable to the majority of guitarists
- The riffs must get progressively harder
A few things to keep in mind…
You probably won’t like ALL 50 riffs.
You probably won’t have heard of all 50.
You will probably wish there were other, more obscure riffs on the list.
A few of you may disagree with the order of a few riffs.
You might say riff 23 should be swapped with 22 as it is marginally easier, etc. You may find one riff, say riff 41 really easy to play, but this list is laid out in order of difficulty of playing the riffs PROPERLY.
Some riffs are all about the rhythm and not so much the difficult or crazy amount of notes they contain.
These riffs in guitar can be deceptive.
If you have played for a few months and don’t have great rhythm but can play power chords pretty well, you may find some of these power chord based riffs bit easier to play.
This list is out there for everyone, but don’t forget it is ordered in level of difficulty for the complete newbie.
They are not only the coolest but some of the most famous riffs on guitar of all time
I love those VH1/BBC T.V. shows that showcase the best riffs of all time and I have sat there many a time with my family growing up geeking out over them. I’m sure you have too. Some of the riffs shown on some shows made us shout at the T.V.
Mostly when it was Def Leppard on there!
Sorry DF fans!
Anyway, just in case you are unsure, unless stated, we talking about the main riff of a song.
The one that everyone knows the song for. The list is a culmination of my years of teaching this kind of thing. I’ve found that this is the order that most people learn these riffs well. It has been adjusted and tweaked many times.
Just imagine rocking up to jam with some experienced musicians and at that awkward moment when they ask what you know, you just start blasting through riff after riff from this list.
Have fun and get cracking learning them all. No matter how long or how little you have been playing, you will learn a lot from learning all these cool riffs on guitar.
are there any updates on this post? are any of these riffs available as lessons yet?
Hi Jason, this post will be updated very soon with video lessons coming for all 50 videos! Cheers. Dan
So…what’s number 50? Stairway?
Karl Vegar Larsen says
Love these riffs.
Is there any chance on the tabs on the ones you do as well?
I also would like to see the tabs.. any way to get those?
I may link to an accurate tab for the videos at some point soon or if I get chance I may create one big tab file for all the riffs
Thomas Lambert says
your sites great I’m a beginner and I’m loving it. The tab woukd be good.
Saith Paul says
Thank you for the the clear well-written article. Your recommendations supported with your personal experience was eye opening. Thanks so much
No problem, glad you have enjoyed it so far. Now, get rockin` those riffs! 🙂
This really helped me go from being bad at guitar to playing these awesome riffs like they are nothing ! Thanks a ton !
Awesome, really glad to hear it!
Hey Dan. I keep coming back to this list. I’ve shared many of these songs with other people, and I continue to go through the list myself. Still working on it. I have the page bookmarked and I’ve referenced this list in some of my own writing from time to time. Thanks for updating it too. Cheers.
Hey Tyler. Thanks for the comment. I use it myself with students often. Glad you are finding it useful too! 🙂
Karsisha Forsman says
Wow this is cool guitar riffs is the best for beginners I fully agree. Thanks for your very informative tips to learn guitar riffs.
Riff four here I come, lol. Been playing for abiut a month found your list at the same time and finally started it about 2 weeks ago now…thank you so much for this. I`m wondering would you mind if i was to compile it all into one large downliadable file and then upload it (with credit to obviously. I`m wanting to do that for my son mainly, as I think it`d make it easier for him to have it in a folder structure right there on his desktop. Cheers
Dan Thorpe says
Hi Rory, thanks for the comment and its my pleasure. When you say compile into one file, what do you mean, the text? Also, let me know where? Sounds like it would be a useful resource for many. Thanks.
I have to say that I am disappointed that Killing in the Name of didn’t make the list, its riff has to be one of my favorites.
It would be cool to have some riffs played/written by women on this list. I’m teaching a few beginner girls and they wonder why everything they play is by men lol