6: Beginner Guitar Riffs

Finally! Now you’ve learned how to tune a guitar, it’s time to start playing some beginner guitar riffs. 

Before you begin this lesson, it’s vital that you take a look at our lesson on how to read guitar tabs.

Many guides will start by getting you to play chords at this stage.

But we think this skips a stage. There are some super simple tunes that you can play just on one or two strings. 

Learning these will get you playing something fun, recognizable and easy quicker than you would by learning chords. 

They’re a great place to start because they help you develop strength in your fingers and learn the basics of fingering.

Let’s take a look at a few of the easiest beginner guitar riffs:

How to play Smoke on the Water (Deep Purple)

This is one of the most instantly recognizable beginner guitar riffs of all time. It’s also one of the first things most people learn on guitar. That’s because it’s so simple. There’s a repeating pattern and there are only four different places to put your fingers.

Count a slow four-beat rhythm. This riff is played entirely on the D and G strings. Begin by playing them open. Then play both strings on the third fret, using your pointer finger, followed by the fifth fret using your ring finger. Each note should be played on the beat. Let the last note ring out over the fourth beat.

For the second bar, play the open strings again but half a beat sooner (before you return to one) move to the third fret within half a beat too and then add the sixth fret before quickly ending on the fifth again. The A should land on beat three.

The third bar repeats the first. For the final bar just play the A then let the G ring out.

If you’re finding holding down two strings difficult, then just play the riff on the D string to begin with.

How to play Seven Nation Army (White Stripes)

This whole song is almost entirely based around one riff. You can begin by practicing it on one string for the verse to begin with. Once you become more advanced you can upgrade to power chords.

This song is also easy because you can simply slide up and down one string. The structure of the song can be a little difficult to remember to begin with, but it isn’t complicated.

How to play (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction (The Rolling Stones)

This riff uses just three notes, but the rhythm may take some practice. You use your first finger on the second fret, third finger on the fourth and fourth finger on the fifth fret. As a beginner, you’ll find doing anything with your fourth finger really difficult. So to begin with, ignore the pull off and the slide and add them in once you build up strength and flexibility in your pinky. 

How to play Come As You Are (Nirvana)

This classic by Nirvana is actually played with every string detuned by a full tone to DGCFAD. You can still play it in E and it will sound fine—but make sure you tune down if you play along to the record! This riff is also special because it features a short intro bar that you only play the first time around. The thick vertical black line means you only play this section once.

It’s quite a fast riff and switching back and forth between the E and the A string can get confusing. But that’s why it’s a good one to get to grips with! 

Start by playing it really slowly and gradually speed up as you become more confident. If you have a metronome then set it for 60 bpm and gradually build up to the speed used on the record: 120bpm.

Next up: Basic guitar chords

Learning these beginner guitar riffs was fun right?! Next, you’re going to learn how to read guitar chord charts and play your first few chords. This will open up  whole world of possibilities for you!

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