All new guitarists face a dilemma.
What do you play?
You’re not good enough for anything complex.
So you need something simple. But you want something that sounds good, too.
The best guitar riffs do just that. And they are also easy to learn.
Moreover, they teach you some aspect of the instrument you are learning to play.
That is perhaps most important of all.
All of the following guitar riffs sound great and are not hard to pick up, though the difficulty does vary. But all are great for helping you advance a bit in skill level.
Table of Contents
- 1 Best Guitar Riffs To Learn
- 2 Best Riffs To Learn On Guitar: Final Thoughts
Best Guitar Riffs To Learn
What is a guitar riff? It’s not as straightforward as you probably think, so read that article if you’re not sure. Then check out the different riffs below to see just how varied they can be.
Some of the following guitar riffs are incredibly simple, while others are slightly more difficult. They are not all meant for the same skill level, though all are for beginners. Simply find one that matches your skill and learn it. If you are an absolute beginner, start with the first one.
Central Theme Of Smoke on the Water by Deep Purple
Simple, catchy, and as groovy as can be, the main theme of Smoke on the Water has been introducing new generations to rock & roll for more than half a century.
You hear it on the radio, from bands when they’re warming up, and pretty much anywhere guitars are being played, so it wouldn’t hurt to learn the notes yourself.
On top of being one of the most recognizable riffs in the history of music, Smoke on the Water is a remarkably straightforward set of power chords that even the most inexperienced beginners could learn in a heartbeat. If you’re a seasoned guitarist, you already know at least half of Deep Purple’s discography.
Central Theme Of Barracuda by Heart
If you think that Barracuda is all about galloping, you aren’t wrong – that’s what makes it so fun to play. Until the very end of the riff, you won’t need to fret any notes. Just keep mashing the open E string in triplets and follow the click.
Learning the opening riff to Barracuda is something all guitarists should consider. Whether you’re into prog-metal, pop, or old-school rock, keeping a steady pace while maintaining tonal clarity can greatly help your playing skill.
Another reason Barracuda is a mandatory riff for all rock and metal guitar players is that it isn’t as simple as it may initially seem. The extra quarter note popping up when the singing part starts can derail your rhythm, testing your ability to return to the normal time signature.
Main Riff Of Slow Ride by Foghat
Before you jump into The Rolling Stones, Zeppelin, or AC/DC, you may want to “take it easy” with Slow Ride. The main riff of this tune introduced me to the nuanced playstyle of rock & roll guitarists. And, as the title suggests, its tempo is exceptionally forgiving to newcomers.
Note for note, Slow Ride is a plain R&R tune and its main riff is easy to pick up. However, this particular riff is supposed to loosen up stiff hands and prepare you for more complex challenges. It’s a special kind of warmup that is as great-sounding as it is effective.
Central Theme Of T.N.T. by AC/DC
The legendary AC/DC boasts a whopping 18 albums under its belt. With nearly 200 songs in the band’s discography, I’d argue that none is as recognizable and catchy as T.N.T.
It’s a tune that is as fun to play as it is entertaining to listen to, no matter what your age or musical preferences are. AC/DC is among the bands with the fewest lineup changes, which is part of the reason their tone is so similar on nearly all of their albums.
However, T.N.T. in particular, is a bit tricky to master, even if you know the band’s entire discography. This song requires you to have perfect control over the vibration of the guitar’s strings.
T.N.T. is an great riff to have in your pocket when warming up for a rock gig. It will test your tone and guitar sustain, as well as allow you to gauge precisely how much distortion is coming from the amp. Just before I power my entire guitar pedal chain, I have a habit of cranking a few reps of this tune. It works like a charm.
Third Riff Of Fade to Black by Metallica
I grew up on the ‘80s rock and metal, but it wasn’t until I heard the Ride the Lightning album that I was permanently hooked on heavier music.
Fade to Black in particular was the song that helped me realize that a perfect blend of melody and heaviness exists, which is why I so warmly recommend learning the main riff of the second part of this tune.
After the final refrain is through and James’ guitar starts bleeding into the mix with those sweet power chords, that’s when one of the most moving guitar riffs ever written begins.
Personally, this riff helps me test how playable the fretboard and neck of a guitar that I have never played are. Whenever I’m in a music shop searching for a new one, I usually play this riff a few times, because it allows me to feel and hear how good the guitar is, when it comes to power chords, slides, and galloping.
The Chorus Of Bleak by Opeth
In my humble opinion, no band blends hauntingly beautiful melodies with the pitch-black darkness and heaviness of a funeral as well as Opeth does. Their strongest attributes are embodied in Bleak, especially in the choruses, which can be very educational to guitarists from all genres.
Playing “regular” chords on a heavily distorted guitar is quite complex. Playing an entire progression with a few octave slides is even more difficult. However, this riff will help you learn how to use a high-gain tone as if you were playing an acoustic guitar.
Just when the first part of the riff is done, it goes on repeat but in modulation. Mikael made sure you couldn’t just learn the finger positions of a few basic chords to play this tune.
You need to transpose the first part a few semitones down the fretboard and make a couple of small adjustments. It’s brain food, great for muscle memory, and offers a surefire way to break through the plateau.
The Chorus Of Cemetery Gates by Pantera
A list of the best guitar riffs would be incomplete without one that showcases some of the best guitar squeals in rock and metal. The late, great Dimebag Darrell was a master innovator and the way he blended a couple of power chords with “power squeals” so that they would harmonize with Phil’s voice is just breathtaking.
A valuable lesson that this riff can teach you revolves around fretboard navigation. Playing the power chords on the open A (or fretting the fifth on E) is super-simple, but jumping to the high-pitched squeals and instantly returning to the start while keeping your tone clean, is a difficult, but highly rewarding, challenge.
We included another Pantera song from this same album on our list of the best opening riffs on guitar. Can you guess which one? Hearing that riff and this one here back to back really showcases Dimebag’s skill and versatility.
Best Riffs To Learn On Guitar: Final Thoughts
The best guitar riffs to learn are ones you can pick up fairly easily, but that sound cool when you play them. They also help you practice a particular skill or achieve some specific goal on the guitar.
All of the riffs above meet those criteria. But they are certainly not the only ones that do. If there is a riff you feel should have been included, or you don’t think one of the above riffs belongs on this list, please feel free to let me know in a comment below.
IF the riffs above are still a bit too challenging, check out our article of easy riffs for beginning guitarists. These are riffs you can learn even as a complete beginner. We also have another list of easy metal riffs here.