Guitar riffs: learn these iconic riffs

Yousician team 8 min read

What makes a rock song memorable? Every iconic rock song is a sum of its parts, but for many, the highlight is most definitely the guitar riff. The great thing about guitar riffs is that you can learn to play them, even if the rest of the song is too difficult. Let’s look at some of the greatest guitar riffs in music and how you can play them!

What is a guitar riff?

A guitar riff is a catchy, repeated musical phrase. It often serves as the main theme or hook of a song. Guitar riffs can vary in complexity, from simple, repetitive patterns to intricate melodies that showcase technical and songwriting skills.

Many guitar riffs serve as the intro and are then repeated throughout the song. Although all great guitar riffs can stand on their own, other instruments and players in the band can complement the riff to add new layers to the song.

Guitar riffs form the foundation of many songs, serving as memorable motifs that capture the audience’s attention. Learning to play these riffs improves your finger dexterity, timing, and endurance, but it also serves as fantastic ear training. Knowing how to play guitar riffs is a crucial skill, whether you’re a rhythm guitarist or the lead guitar player of a band.

Learn new guitar riffs every day

As most guitarists can agree, the riff is the most iconic part of a song. Thankfully, you can learn a new riff every day. Head over to the Yousician app and check out today’s Riff of the Day!

Best guitar riffs of all time

What are the best and most famous guitar riffs to learn? Well, that’s up for debate, but here are a few to try. We scoured numerous lists and expert opinions to find the most iconic and—some might argue—the best guitar riffs of all time! Don’t just take our word for it; guitarists all over the world love these riffs

“Smoke on the Water”, made famous by Deep Purple

This riff, composed of straightforward power chords, shows how it’s sometimes best to keep things simple. The simplicity of this riff makes it ideal for beginners. As one of the most iconic guitar riffs in rock history, it is a gateway for many aspiring guitarists to the world of rock music. Not surprisingly, the intro riff of “Smoke on the Water” is one of the first things many beginners learn!

Learn to play “Smoke on the Water”

“Sunshine of Your Love”, made famous by Cream

Eric Clapton’s riff in this blues-rock masterpiece showcases a blend of technical mastery and emotive depth. The intro riff to “Sunshine of Your Love” may require some practice and experience on the guitar before learning it. This riff is an example of Cream’s groundbreaking fusion of blues and rock that has influenced countless guitarists.

Learn to play “Sunshine of Your Love”

“Enter Sandman”, made famous by Metallica

Get your distortion pedal ready, because we’re moving to something heavier! Kirk Hammett’s thunderous and aggressive riff in “Enter Sandman” demands precision and control from intermediate to advanced guitarists. The heavy main riff masterfully contrasts with moodier passages throughout the song. The riff’s relentless power and ominous tone helped define Metallica’s signature sound. It’s a staple in Metallica’s repertoire and a great introduction to heavy metal for all those who dare to give it a try.

Learn to play “Enter Sandman”

“Seven Nation Army”, made famous by The White Stripes

“Seven Nation Army” shows that you don’t need more than a single string to create a catchy riff. Jack White’s minimalist yet commanding riff is accessible to everyone, from beginners to seasoned players. This rock classic shows the power of good and simple songwriting.

Learn to play “Seven Nation Army”

“Sweet Home Alabama”, made famous by Lynyrd Skynyrd

“Sweet Home Alabama” embodies the spirit of the American South and cemented Lynyrd Skynyrd’s place in rock music history. This one might be too tricky for beginners, as the intricate picking patterns and rhythmic variations require some skill. However, the timeless main riff in “Sweet Home Alabama” is a testament to Southern rock’s enduring legacy.

Learn to play “Sweet Home Alabama”

“Walk This Way”, made famous by Aerosmith

Intermediate guitarists will find this riff challenging yet rewarding to master, as it combines elements of rock, blues, and funk. Joe Perry’s funky and infectious riff in “Walk This Way” helped propel Aerosmith to mainstream success and has influenced many aspiring guitarists ever since.

Learn to play “Walk This Way”

Tips for mastering riffs

Ready to start learning new riffs? Mastering guitar riffs takes consistent practice, so remember to put in the work – but don’t forget to have fun while you’re at it. Here are some tips to help on your riff-learning journey:

  • Learn from others. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel to play some truly impressive guitar riffs. Just look at what others have accomplished and learn from the masters of the craft!
  • Consistency is key to mastering guitar riffs. Regular practice sessions help build muscle memory and improve accuracy, speed, and endurance. Start with slower tempos and gradually increase speed as you become more comfortable with each riff.
  • Take care of your instrument. Regular maintenance of your guitar is key. For example, always make sure your guitar is in tune. If you notice the strings are loose, then retune your guitar.
  • Use tools and other aids to help you learn. Even if you play by yourself and don’t always have someone else giving feedback, you don’t have to rely on just your own ears. Yousician’s interactive music learning gameplay tells you if your timing is right and if you’re hitting the right notes. Another useful tool is a metronome, which helps you follow the tempo of a song.
  • Experimentation can also be fun and effective. Try variations of riffs and improvise as you play. This fosters creativity and allows you to develop your unique style and sound. Remember, the journey to mastering guitar riffs is a marathon, not a sprint.

Choosing the right guitar is an important step in mastering guitar riffs. A guitar that aligns with your preferences and budget can make a real difference in your learning journey. However, what matters more than having a state-of-the-art guitar is knowing how to use it. Although an expensive guitar can help you sound (and look) cool, you can produce some impressive riffs with a more modest setup.

Learn more cool guitar riffs with Yousician

Once you’ve picked a riff to learn, it’s time to practice some essential techniques, including fretting notes, picking, hammer-ons, pull-offs, palm muting, and strumming, which are fundamental for playing riffs. Knowing basic music theory concepts such as scales, chords, and rhythm can help you understand the structure of riffs and how they contribute to the overall composition of a song.

Learn all of this and more with Yousician’s fun and motivating gameplay! Get started with Yousician’s easy-to-follow lessons and learn with real-time feedback from the app. Explore over 10,000 songs and lessons to master your favorite riffs. Remember to check the Songs tab in the Yousician app for today’s Riff of the Day!

Ready to start playing?

Play the songs you love with Yousician.Try Premium+ free for 7 days. Sign up and start learning now.
Start your free trial

Learn the songs you love with Yousician

Whether you're a beginner or a seasoned pro,Yousician has the tools to help you learn to play any instrument.
Start your free trial