When you’re a beginner, it can be easy to look at other guitarists in awe. Will you ever be able to play some of your favorite songs? Are you ever going to develop the skills that make your favorite guitarists great?
Don’t fall victim to thinking you’ll never be good enough! The truth is, some of your favorite songs might have guitar riffs that are suitable for any beginner. Here’s a list to get you started on your journey.
“Sunshine Of Your Love” by Cream
One of the most iconic guitar riffs from the psychedelic haze of the late 1960s is this gem by Cream. This guitar part is played by none other than the guitar great himself, Eric Clapton.
For the most part, this iconic riff can be played on single strings. However, to get that full sound, especially during the verses, learn to incorporate the power chords.
The simple fact of the matter is that this song is insanely easy to play. Aside from the guitar solo, there isn’t anything too fancy about this song. You could take this as a lesson on the effectiveness of simplicity.
“Smoke On The Water” by Deep Purple
You’re probably not surprised at the inclusion of Smoke On The Water on this list. After all, you likely know that this song has become a bit of a meme amongst guitarists.
Why is this song the butt of so many jokes? Well, it largely has to do with the fact that it’s usually one of the first riffs that guitarists learn.
Quite often, you’ll find that this tends to be one of the most recommended riffs for beginners. You could suppose that its inclusion on this list is only perpetuating this cycle.
That sort of assumption could be correct. However, if you didn’t take the time to learn it, you’d miss the meaning of those epic guitar jokes.
Don’t write off this song purely because of its basis for jokes. Learning this iconic riff is a sort of rite of passage for any guitarist.
“Iron Man” by Black Sabbath
When it comes to metal music, Black Sabbath is often seen as the forefathers of the genre. Rock music, in general, was exploring many different avenues during the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Black Sabbath hit the scene with a sound that was just a tinge heavier than other bands at the time. Despite their catalog’s age, much of their music has held up quite well to today’s standards.
One of the most famous Black Sabbath tracks for beginners to learn is Iron Man. The song has a gnarly bend at the very beginning before busting into its iconic riff.
You won’t need to know too much in the technique and skill departments to play this song. Power chords and single-noted riffs are par for the course here.
If you love Black Sabbath, be sure to take the time to learn their songs. Much of the band’s catalog is pretty easy to play, even for a beginner.
“Heartbreaker” by Led Zeppelin
In terms of the sheer number of riffs in their catalog, Led Zeppelin is perhaps the leader of the pack. Each of their songs seems to be defined by some sort of signature Jimmy Page riff.
One prime example of this can be heard in the song Heartbreaker. Immediately from the track’s opening, Page’s iconic riff sets the stage for the listener’s ear.
Do consider taking the time to learn this song, as the payoff is more than the work required. By learning this song, you’ll understand how a simple riff can be very effective.
You’ll also learn how perfect a bend must be in order to hit the right pitch. The first note in every phrase of this riff starts out with a slight bend.
The solo might be another story, but you can always leave that for another day. Getting the foundation of the song will give you something to play and have fun with.
“Seven Nation Army” by The White Stripes
The White Stripes managed to earn an entry in the beginner’s guitar bible with their song Seven Nation Army. Even those who are beyond beginner stages love to bust out this song from time to time.
Who can deny that infectious riff that is so signature to this song? It’s become a facet of pop culture. Even those who don’t know the song by heart know this melody.
The main riff of this song follows the bass line that is prevalent throughout the song. Other than that, you’ll be primarily employing some basic power chords.
Seven Nation Army makes for a good entry into playing guitar solos as well. This solo is very basic, conveying the essential melody at a higher octave, without much flashy technique.
“Come As You Are” by Nirvana
When it comes to popular bands amongst beginner guitarists, Nirvana seems to be one of the most popular. Their songs seem to be very relatable for the typical teenager, with just enough angst and emotion.
Come As You Are is one of the most popular Nirvana songs in terms of mainstream success. Its opening riff is instantly recognizable with its watery chorus effect.
In fact, this song ticks off all the boxes that make it ideal for a beginner. Not only can a beginner learn the riff easily, but the verses, choruses, and solo are easy to master, too.
On an analytical level, most Nirvana songs are fairly easy to play. Much of this has to do with Kurt Cobain’s guitar techniques and the fact that Nirvana was a 3-piece.
As Cobain was primarily a songwriter, it forced him to play the proper accompaniment. Being a 3-piece meant that the music stayed fairly simple, but packed a powerful punch.
“Purple Haze” by Jimi Hendrix
The inclusion of a Jimi Hendrix song on this list might surprise some people. After all, Hendrix has a sort of “godly” status amongst other guitarists.
Hendrix did indeed influence millions of guitarists with his songs and playing style. You can hear his influence everywhere, especially in the work of Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Purple Haze is one of the most popular mainstream Jimi Hendrix songs. The song has a signature opening that features single-note octaves.
This opening then busts into that iconic riff that is so pertinent to Purple Haze. It’s raw, it’s gritty, and it is so effective in all of its glory.
Learn some Hendrix for yourself so you can add some of his ingredients to your spice rack of guitar tricks. Purple Haze might not be your favorite song, but it is a great place to get started.
“You Really Got Me” by The Kinks
The Kinks are often overlooked in the grand lexicon of classic rock. However, their track You Really Got Me is perfect for a beginner guitarist.
This song primarily consists of simple power chords to create its iconic riff. When you boil it down, this song has a very punk rock feel and sound to it.
If you’re into punk rock, you might find that learning this song will pay off in dividends. Many of the songs in that genre have similar compositions in terms of the guitar techniques being employed.
Of course, learning this song gives you a ticket to learning the famous Van Halen cover of this song. That version is a little more difficult, but you’ll have an understanding of the underlying mechanics and composition.
“Back In Black” by AC/DC
AC/DC was an absolute powerhouse of a band that helped to cement the rock ’n’ roll sound into existence. Their songs are the perfect emulation of what a rock song should consist of.
What are these typical components? Usually, you’ll find a hard-hitting chord progression, a driving beat, and lightning licks.
Of course, once you study more composition, you might find that most of AC/DC’s songs follow the same formula. As the saying goes, if it’s not broken, don’t fix it, especially if it brings success.
Back In Black is one of the most famous songs in the AC/DC catalog. It has a simple chord progression that gives a foundation for its signature riff.
“Beat It” by Michael Jackson
If you’re not familiar with Beat It, you might wonder what Michael Jackson is doing on this list. After all, he is more known for being a pop sensation rather than for having well-known guitar riffs.
This is true, there is no denying Michael’s significance to pop music. However, the song Beat It features a very infectious guitar riff that carries the song.
In fact, Michael Jackson employed a couple of well-known guitarists to help give the song its sound. These guitarists were Toto’s Steve Lukather and Eddie Van Halen.
This wouldn’t be the only instance that Michael Jackson would have famous guitarists on his tracks. Many other pop stars took inspiration from this and followed suit with their own pursuits.
Take your time while learning Beat It. The main riff is fairly easy and will get you (and everyone else) dancing. This song’s guitar solo is another story, and will definitely take some work.
“Crazy Train” by Ozzy Osbourne
Outside of Black Sabbath, Ozzy Osbourne has a number of songs that are standard fare for beginner guitarists. The most popular is, by far, his song Crazy Train.
It seems as if everyone who picks up a guitar at least knows this guitar riff mentally. This intro is probably one of the more epic intros within the classic rock of the 1980s.
Learning Crazy Train might be fairly simple depending on your skill level. Even if you’re not the most technically inclined, this song can teach you quite a bit.
One of the most beneficial aspects of this song is learning to play a riff that involves string skipping. This is a technique that often trips up any guitarist due to the space between the skipped strings.
Any larger gap than what is already present between 2 strings requires adaptation with the pick. It takes a little extra practice, but it’s a skill you’ll use for the rest of your life.
Be sure to learn this absolute classic. You might not be Randy Rhoads after learning it, but you’ll be a step in the right direction.
“Down On The Corner” by Creedence Clearwater Revival
Creedence Clearwater Revival has had quite a number of different hits throughout their time as a band. They have a very recognizable sound that is extremely unique, despite being simple on a fundamental level.
One of the band’s most simple and recognizable songs is Down On The Corner. This track has become a staple on classic hits radio stations all across the world.
The key to this song's success is largely due to the signature riff that plays throughout the entire song. This riff is doubled up, using both a guitar and bass to play the same line for extra effect.
This song is extremely easy to learn as the riff is the major bulk of the music. Other than that are 3 simple chords to provide harmonic context for the song.
Don’t let the solo trip you up. It’s essentially the main riff but harmonized. You can play the solo using 2 strings at a time with relative ease.
“My Girl” by The Temptations
My Girl has a number of different signature elements that make it an instantly recognizable track. The song’s opening bass line, played by the famed James Jamerson, sets the stage for the iconic guitar line.
When the bass and guitar lines are combined, the effect is unparalleled in many ways when compared to modern music. This is yet another example of the true effectiveness of simplicity.
My Girl’s signature guitar line is very simple to play. It essentially follows an arpeggio of C and F.
Once you learn this, it’ll be hard not to play. Just because it’s easy doesn’t mean it isn’t fun. Any audience you play this for will have just as much fun hearing you play it.
“Otherside” by Red Hot Chili Peppers
The Red Hot Chili Peppers have been a staple within rock music over the last few decades. However, their album Californication put them back into the mainstream spotlight after years of seeming obscurity.
Californication helped to define the band’s more modern sound, which is something the band has long run with since. Much of this has to do with the musical relationship between the band and guitarist John Frusciante.
A great example of this is in the song Otherside. The song features a very simple guitar riff that is essential to the song’s overall sound.
However, the riff’s simplicity allows for the other instruments (namely Flea’s bass) to work together in a cohesive manner. This sort of relationship harkens back to the band’s younger days, especially on the album Blood Sugar Sex Magik.
Otherside is a great starting point for beginners who are fans of this band. However, the song will be much more fun if you have a friend who can play the bass parts.
“(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” by The Rolling Stones
Looking at the bigger picture, The Rolling Stones have been an absolute steamroller of success. No matter the era, the band has seemingly found a way to always stay relevant.
In the early days of the band’s career, The Rolling Stones took much influence from American blues artists. They found a way to crack into the mainstream pop charts using this influence to their benefit.
One of the band’s most successful songs is (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction. It features a signature riff played on a semi-fuzzed-out guitar.
This guitar riff is what makes this song so easily recognizable and infectious. In fact, you’ll be delighted to find that the riff is played on only 1 string. It doesn’t get much easier than that.
“Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynyrd Skynyrd
In terms of absolute signature riffs within classic rock, there are few that outrank Sweet Home Alabama. This riff has found its way into many facets of our lives, including being sampled for other music.
Sweet Home Alabama’s signature riff is a major part of the formula of why this song is so effective. It piques the ears’ interest for what is about to come.
On the whole, this riff might prove to be a little challenging for an absolute beginner. A beginner transitioning to intermediate levels may have a bit of an easier time learning this riff.
However, you shouldn’t let that deter you if you are drawn to learning this riff. In fact, like Smoke On The Water, this riff has become a rite of passage amongst learning guitarists.
Of course, the rest of the song does have its more nuanced complexities. Learn what feels comfortable with and revisit it when you have the skills to play the rest of the song.
Learning this riff isn’t going to be like climbing the mountain to learn Free Bird. But, like most things, learning Sweet Home Alabama’s riff is a step in the right direction.
“Whole Lotta Love” by Led Zeppelin
Remember how we said that Led Zeppelin is one of the masters of riff-based rock? You get another prime example of this with the song Whole Lotta Love.
Many beginners tend to be afraid to even attempt to learn a Zeppelin track. Much of this likely has to do with Jimmy Page having a sort of iconic status amongst beginners.
However, the song Whole Lotta Love can be an excellent primer in learning some of the band’s other material. Though the band doesn’t seem to follow formulas, this song has many of the band’s signature tendencies.
The first and most noticeable is by far the song’s guitar riff. This riff features a combination of single-stringed lines and simple power chords.
Learning this riff will teach you how to effectively employ the palm-muting technique when needed. It can take a little practice to palm-mute the power chords while playing the single-stringed lines normally.
But, like anything, with practice, you’ll be able to master this technique, and the riff itself. It will set you up with a skill that you’ll definitely be using throughout your lifetime as a guitarist.
“Thunderstruck” by AC/DC
You might not believe it, but Thunderstruck’s signature riff is ideal for a beginner to learn. It might not seem possible, but this is just your ears playing tricks on you.
This iconic riff is played on 1 string only. There seems to be some debate, though, on how it is actually played.
Many people will pick each individual note, which is how it sounds in the recording. Others will use picking with hammer-ons and pull-offs.
It might not hurt to learn it using both methods. Each will give you a usable set of skills derived from this one simple riff.
“Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana
Nirvana’s song catalog has a number of tracks that are extremely famous. None of them are as famous as Smells Like Teen Spirit.
Culturally, this is the song that put grunge music into nearly every household with a TV or radio. The band Nirvana essentially became a household name with this song’s release.
This was, no doubt, propelled by the song’s music video, which received large air time on MTV. Another major factor had to do with the power of the music within the song itself.
Musically, Smells Like Teen Spirit is extremely simple to play. Simple power chords are used in its iconic riff, with the verses featuring a 2-note sustain.
In fact, this song’s solo is also fairly easy and can be played by any beginner guitarist. So, if this song is so simple, what makes it effective?
A large part of its success has to do with the dynamics within the song. The intro starts fairly soft until the drums kick in, bringing in a punch of loudly distorted guitar with it.
Once the verses come around again, the music gets a bit quieter, only building in intensity up to the choruses. The solo itself is effective because it retains the melody and sustains the song's energy as needed.
Smells Like Teen Spirit is a must to learn if you are a Nirvana fan. The song will teach you concepts far beyond how to play the song itself.
Easiest Guitar Riffs For Beginners, Final Thoughts
Guitar riffs will forever hold an important place within rock music. Quite often, a guitar riff becomes a song’s most easily identifiable tag for recognition.
As you’ve likely seen by now, some of the most simple riffs can make a song that much more effective. You’ll find that this is something that exists within and throughout all music.
Last Updated on April 14, 2022.
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