There’s always been something special about playing a great guitar riff. Riffs that are memorable and get stuck in your head. Usually, the ones that everyone knows are actually, in many cases, relatively easy to play.
That’s because most people remember simple melodies that they can hum along to. I don’t think many people would be able to hum along to “Through the fire and flames”.
In this post, I’ve compiled a list of over 43 easy guitar riffs that are great for both beginner and intermediate-level players. Many of these guitar riffs focus on plucking technique (e.g. Heartbreaker by Led Zeppelin) although I’ve also included guitar riffs that are chord or power chord-based (e.g. You Really Got Me by The Kinks).
If you have trouble learning any of these songs then you might want to consider taking some online guitar lessons to help improve your skills.
This list is in no particular order so feel free to jump in wherever. Pick a song you like, and start learning to play it.
Happy guitar playing!
What Are the Best Easy Guitar Riffs?
Here is my hand-curated list of 43 easy guitar riffs that I believe are best for beginner and intermediate players.
1. “Heartbreaker” By Led Zeppelin
Heartbreaker is a song by English rock band Led Zeppelin, released in 1969 on their album Led Zeppelin II.
Below are the tabs for the intro (and what I believe) to be the most fun part of the song to play.
The riff was written by Led Zeppelin’s guitarist Jimmy page.
It’s pretty simple to play and doesn’t feature a whole lot of fancy technique besides a few bends and vibrato.
Heartbreaker is a classic example of Led Zeppelin’s signature sound and remains one of their most loved songs.
2. “Sweet Child O’ Mine” By Guns N’ Roses
There is no doubt that “Sweet Child O’ Mine” is one of the most iconic rock songs of all time.
If you’re not afraid of moving up the guitar’s fretboard and playing a riff that’s relatively fast, then you should give Sweet Child O’ Mine a shot.
The opening guitar riff is instantly recognizable, and the chorus is unforgettable.
Although this one is a bit of a workout for your fingers it shouldn’t take to long to get a grasp of once you’ve practiced for a while. I’d recommend using a metronome and start playing it slow before going full speed.
3. “Seven Nation Army” By The White Stripes
“Seven Nation Army” is a song by the rock duo the White Stripes.
With just a guitarist and a drummer you’d think that the song wouldn’t have a super rich tone to it. But this duo pulled it off and even won the best rock song of the year for it.
This song was released as the lead single from their fourth studio album, Elephant, in 2003. The song’s guitar riff has been described as “infectious” and “memorable”.
Jack White uses a pitch shift effect to emulate the sound of a bass guitar but you can just turn down the treble if you want a cheap alternative.
This is truly one of those songs that no matter where you play it, it’ll be instantly recognized and heads will start to bang. Although you won’t advance your guitar skills too much with this one, it will be an instant crowd pleaser.
4. “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” By The Rolling Stones
(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction was written by both Mich Jagger and Keith Richards.
The Rolling Stones are considered one of the greatest rock bands of all time, and “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” is one of their most iconic songs.
The guitar riff that opens the song is an attention grabber and the rest of the song is just as catchy.
The main guitar riff itself is only 3 notes: B, C#, and D.
There’s just something about the timing of how these 3 notes are played or maybe it’s the level of distortion Keith adds to his guitar – it all just works together to make this riff rock.
5. “Rock You Like a Hurricane” By Scorpions
I can’t really think of a more fun song to practice your power chords to as a beginner guitarist.
“Rock You Like a Hurricane” by Scorpions is one of their top hits and was number 31 on VH1’s top 40 greatest metal songs list.
This song is not only perfect for playing on guitar but also headbanging along to. It remains a staple of classic rock radio stations to this day.
6. “Crazy Train” By Ozzy Osbourne
Written in 1980, the song quickly became a metal anthem, thanks in part to its catchy riffs and Ozzy’s unique vocal style.
This song has quite a few parts to it and of course, one of the best solos ever created – thanks Randy Rhoads!
Learning this one from start to finish is definitely one that will impress everyone around you.
And while it may be over 40 years old, “Crazy Train” still has the power to get heads banging and hearts racing.
7. “Day Tripper” By The Beatles
The Beatles were one of the most successful bands of all time, and “Day Tripper” is one of their most iconic songs – although they’ve had to SO many.
Day Tripper is just one of those fun songs to play that almost doubles as a warm-up for your fingers.
George Harrison did a great job turning something simple into something extremely catchy. But that’s what The Beatles are known for – catchy songs that aren’t overly complex.
The song was written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, and it was released as a double A-side single with “We Can Work It Out”. “Day Tripper” was an instant hit, and in the US it reached number five on the Billboard Hot 100.
8. “Do I Wanna Know” By Arctic Monkeys
This song is entirely built around its strong and in-your-face guitar riff.
When you listen to the recording they double-tracked the guitar and panned them hard both left and right. This gives a wide stereo image that is pleasing to the ear.
As for the riff itself, it makes use of the guitar’s top 3 strings, and implements slide and hammer-on techniques.
This riff is a bit longer than some of the other riffs on this list but if that doesn’t bother you then it’s a great one to learn.
“Do I Wanna Know” is a perfect example of Arctic Monkeys’ ability to combine catchy melodies with smart lyrics, resulting in a song that is both fun to play and listen to.
9. “Are You Gonna Be My Girl” By Jet
This song takes me straight back to the early 2000s.
Everyone was learning this song on guitar when it was released and I mean everyone!
“Are You Gonna Be My Girl” was released as the lead single from Jet’s 2003 album Get Born.
The song starts off with some tambourine, then comes the bass, then some thumping drums, and lastly the iconic guitar riff.
Again, this song is pretty simple to play although does feature a double string bend which may be challenging for complete beginners.
10. “Hair of the Dog” By Nazareth
“Hair of the Dog” is a song by the Scottish hard rock band Nazareth.
The title refers to the practice of using alcohol to cure a hangover, which is also known as “the hair of the dog.” The song has been covered by many artists, including Guns N’ Roses, who released their version as a single in 1993 on their album “The Spaghetti Incident”.
The riff itself is actually pretty similar to The Beatles’ “Day Tripper” so if you can play that one you should have no problem with this one either.
11. “Sunshine of Your Love” By Cream
“Sunshine of Your Love” was released in 1967 and became one of the band’s most popular songs.
The song features an easy guitar riff that is straightforward to play and only uses the top 3 strings.
The lyrics are about love and happiness. “Sunshine of Your Love” is a classic rock song that is easy to play and sing. It is a great song for beginners.
12. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” By Nirvana
“Smells Like Teen Spirit” is one of the most iconic songs of the 1990s. Nirvana released the song in 1991, and it quickly shot to the top of the charts.
This song makes use of 4 simple power chords: F, A#, G#, and C#.
If you’re just starting out, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is the perfect song to learn.
It sounds great if you add a ton of distortion, you get to practice chord changes on a very beginner scale, and you’ll no doubt have a lot of fun doing it.
13. “Enter Sandman” By Metallica
“Enter Sandman” is a song by American heavy metal band Metallica, released as the first single from their self-titled fifth album, Metallica.
Written by guitarist James Hetfield and drummer Lars Ulrich, the song was one of the band’s most popular singles.
It features a guitar riff that’s just 6 notes and has been described as one of the most memorable in rock music.
14. “Sweet Home Alabama” By Lynyrd Skynyrd
“Sweet Home Alabama” is a song by American rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd that first appeared on the 1974 album Second Helping.
“Sweet Home Alabama” has been described as a Southern rock anthem and an ode to the Southern United States.
The guitar solo in the song has been ranked one of the greatest of all time by publications such as Guitar World and Rolling Stone.
But the opening guitar riff is what truly catches everyone’s attention when played.
This riff uses a combination of picking and chord strumming so if you’re a complete beginner and up for a bit more of a challenge, try out this classic.
15. “More Than a Feeling” By Boston
Boston’s 1976 debut album is one of the most influential records ever made. The record’s success was driven in part by the massive hit single, “More Than a Feeling.” The song became an instant classic, due in large part to its catchy hooks and unique sound. Boston’s blend of rock, pop, and classical influences set them apart from other bands of the time, and “More Than a Feeling” is a perfect example of this musical fusion. The song features a massive opening guitar riff that is immediately recognizable, as well as intricate lead guitar work and soaring vocal melodies.
16. “Beat It” By Michael Jackson
When “Beat It” was released in 1982, it quickly became one of Michael Jackson’s most iconic songs. The song’s fusion of rock and funk elements was groundbreaking, and the accompanying music video featured some of Jackson’s most memorable dance moves. But “Beat It” also has a powerful message about overcoming prejudice and learning to accept others. This message is as relevant today as it was when the song was first released, and “Beat It” remains an inspiration to people all over the world.
17. “You Really Got Me” By The Kinks
You Really Got Me is a song written by Ray Davies and performed by The Kinks. The song is notable for its signature riff, which was created by accident. The result was a catchy, distorted sound that would become one of the most iconic guitar riffs of all time. You Really Got Me remains a timeless classic, and its impact on popular music cannot be overstated.
18. “Paranoid” By Black Sabbath
Released in 1970, “Paranoid” is a song by the English rock band Black Sabbath. Featuring a heavy metal sound and lyrics that deal with paranoia and mental illness, the song was an instant success, reaching the top of the UK Singles Chart. Drawing on elements of blues and psychedelic rock, the song helped to pioneer the heavy metal sound that would come to dominate the rock world in the 1970s. With its dark themes and aggressive guitars, “Paranoid” remains one of Black Sabbath’s most iconic and influential songs.
19. “Carry On Wayward Son” By Kansas
“Carry On Wayward Son” is a song by the American rock band Kansas. It was released in 1976 as the second single from their album Leftoverture. “Carry On Wayward Son” remains a popular song today and continues to be a staple of classic rock radio stations across the country.
20. “Funk #49” By James Gang
One of the most popular songs from the James Gang’s 1970 album Rides Again is “Funk #49”. The song features a simple, yet catchy guitar riff and some of Joe Walsh’s most iconic guitar solos. Despite being nearly 50 years old, “Funk #49” continues to be a popular song.
21. “Cocaine” By Eric Clapton
Though it was released almost 40 years ago, Eric Clapton’s “Cocaine” remains one of the most popular and influential songs in rock history. Though it is ostensibly about the dangers of drug addiction, the song’s easy guitar riffs and catchy melody have made it a favorite among both casual listeners and dedicated fans alike.
22. “Jessie’s Girl” By Rick Springfield
“Jessie’s Girl” by Rick Springfield is one of the most iconic pop songs of the 1980s. The easy guitar riffs and catchy chorus make it an easy song to sing along to, and its message of unrequited love is relatable to many people. The song was reportedly inspired by Springfield’s experience of falling for a friend’s girlfriend, and its lyrics capture the frustration and heartache of wanting someone who is unattainable. The song became a huge hit when it was released, and it has since been covered by many artists.
23. “Bad to the Bone” By George Thorogood
There are few songs that are as instantly recognizable as George Thorogood’s “Bad to the Bone.” With its catchy riff and swaggering attitude, the song has come to embody the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll. But what is it that makes “Bad to the Bone” so special? Part of it is certainly Thorogood’s bluesy vocal performance, which conveys both a sense of cool detachment and raw charisma. The song also benefits from a tight, energetic rhythm section that gives it a propulsive feel. But perhaps the biggest reason for its lasting appeal is its simple, straightforward message.
24. “Black Betty” By Ram Jam
Black Betty is a song composed by Lead Belly in the early 20th century. The song became popular in the 1970s when it was covered by the band Ram Jam. The double entendres in the lyrics help to create an atmosphere of both desire and danger. Black Betty is a classic example of the blues genre, and its popularity has endured for decades.
25. “The Ocean” By Led Zeppelin
Led Zeppelin’s “The Ocean” is a song that has always been shrouded in mystery. Few people know the meaning of the lyrics, and even fewer know the story behind the song. “The Ocean” is a perfect example of Led Zeppelin’s ability to create music that is both beautiful and enigmatic. It is a song that has inspired multiple generations of fans, and it will likely continue to do so for many years to come.
26. “Runnin’ Down a Dream” By Tom Petty
Tom Petty’s “Runnin’ Down a Dream” is a song about chasing your dreams and never giving up. The song is an ode to the strength and determination of the human spirit. It is a reminder that anything is possible if you stay focused on your goals and never give up. “Runnin’ Down a Dream” is an inspiration to everyone who has ever had a dream. It is a reminder that we all have the power to make our dreams come true, if we only believe in ourselves.
27. “La Grange” By ZZ Top
“La Grange” is a song by American rock band ZZ Top, from their 1973 album Tres Hombres. The song was written by guitarist Billy Gibbons and bassist Dusty Hill, and it is one of the band’s most popular songs. The song is named after a brothel in La Grange, Texas, which was frequented by the band members during their youth. “La Grange” is a classic example of the band’s signature Tex-Mex style of music, with a heavy groove and Gibbons’ distinctive guitar playing.
28. “American Idiot” By Green Day
“American Idiot” is a song by the American rock band Green Day. It was released as the lead single from the band’s seventh studio album of the same name on September 21, 2004. The song’s easy guitar riff and simple chord progression helped make it one of the band’s most popular songs, and it became a staple of their live performances.
29. “Smoke on the Water” By Deep Purple
“Smoke on the Water” is a song by English rock band Deep Purple. It was first released on their 1972 album Machine Head. The song is one of the most famous and instantly recognizable examples of the power chord, due to its easy-to-play guitar riff. The riff was actually inspired by a real-life incident in which a fire broke out during a concert by the band The Who. While witnessing the destruction, guitarist Ritchie Blackmore came up with the now-iconic opening riff. “Smoke on the Water” quickly became a staple of hard rock and heavy metal bands, thanks to its simple yet catchy melody and powerful guitar sound.
30. “Say It Ain’t So” By Weezer
Released in 1994, “Say It Ain’t So” was the second single from Weezer’s self-titled debut album, commonly known as The Blue Album. The song was written by frontman Rivers Cuomo and is based on a personal experience from his adolescence. “Say It Ain’t So” was an instant success, reaching number 16 on the Billboard Hot 100 and becoming one of Weezer’s most well-loved songs.
31. “Takin’ Care of Business” By BTO
Released in 1974, “Takin’ Care of Business” quickly became a rock staple, thanks to its catchy hooks and upbeat tone. Written by Randy Bachman, the song was inspired by his own experience of working long hours to make a living. Over the years, the song has been adopted by many as an anthem of self-reliance and determination. In recent years, it has also taken on a new meaning in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, with people around the world using it as a motivational force to get through these tough times. Whether you’re facing personal obstacles or global crisis, “Takin’ Care of Business” is a reminder that we all have what it takes to succeed.
32. “I Wanna Rock” By Twisted Sister
In 1984, American heavy metal band Twisted Sister released “I Wanna Rock”, a song that would become one of the most iconic anthems of the 1980s. Penned by lead singer Dee Snider, “I Wanna Rock” is a fist-pumping ode to the power of rock ‘n’ roll. With its driving guitar riff and catchy chorus, the song quickly rose to the top of the charts, cementing Twisted Sister’s place as one of the biggest bands of the decade.
Despite its commercial success, “I Wanna Rock” has also been praised for its positive message about the transformative power of music. In a world that is often filled with negativity, “I Wanna Rock” serves as a reminder that music can be a force for good. For generations of rock fans, this song is a powerful reminder that rock ‘n’ roll will never die.
33. “T.N.T” By AC/DC
“T.N.T.” is a song by Australian rock band AC/DC, released as the second single from their fourth studio album, High Voltage, in 1976. The song was written by guitarist Angus Young and bassist Cliff Williams, and produced by Harry Vanda and George Young. The opening guitar riff of “T.N.T.” has been described as one of the most memorable riffs in rock music, and the song’s chorus is considered to be one of the most recognizable in popular music.
34. “Should I Stay or Should I Go” By The Clash
Formed in 1976, the British punk rock band The Clash released their sixth studio album, Combat Rock, in May of 1982. The album included the hit single “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” which was penned by the group’s frontman, Joe Strummer. The song is widely considered to be one of The Clash’s most popular and well-known tracks. Whether you interpret the song as being about love or about The Clash’s own turbulent history, there is no denying that “Should I Stay or Should I Go” is a punk rock classic.
35. “Shine” By Collective Soul
“Shine” is a song by the American rock band Collective Soul. It was released in December 1993 as the lead single from their second album, Hints Allegations and Things Left Unsaid. It remains one of Collective Soul’s most popular songs and is often considered to be their signature song. The song’s positive message and catchy melody have made it a favorite among fans of all ages.
36. “Feels Like the First Time” By Foreigner
Foreigner’s song “Feels Like the First Time” is a classic rock anthem that holds a special place in many people’s hearts. The song was released in 1977, at the height of the band’s popularity, and quickly became a radio staple. The lyrics tell the story of a young man who is experiencing love for the first time, and the excitement and anticipation that comes with it. The catchy chorus is instantly recognizable, and the song has been used in countless movies and TV shows over the years.
37. “Whole Lotta Love” By Led Zeppelin
Led Zeppelin is considered one of the greatest rock bands of all time, and “Whole Lotta Love” is one of their most iconic songs. The song was released in 1969 on the album Led Zeppelin II, and it quickly became a fan favorite. The opening riff is instantly recognizable, and Robert Plant’s vocals are some of the best in rock history. The rest of the band is also at the top of their game, with John Bonham delivering a masterful drum performance. “Whole Lotta Love” is a perfect example of Led Zeppelin’s talent, and it remains one of their most popular songs to this day.
38. “Walk This Way” By Aerosmith
“Walk This Way” is a song by the American rock band Aerosmith. It was released in 1975 as the lead single from their third album, Toys in the Attic, and quickly gained popularity, eventually reaching the top ten on the Billboard Hot 100. “Walk This Way” has been covered by many artists, including Run-D.M.C., who had a hit with their version in 1986. The song remains one of Aerosmith’s most iconic and popular tracks, and it continues to be widely heard on radio and television.
39. “Born to Be Wild” By Steppenwolf
Few songs are as Iconic as “Born to Be Wild” by Steppenwolf. The opening riff is one of the most recognizable in rock history, and the lyrics perfectly capture the feeling of freedom and rebellion that defined the 1960s. “Born to Be Wild” is an anthem for anyone who has ever dreamed of hitting the open road and discovering new horizons. It’s a timeless classic that continues to inspire people of all ages to seize the day and follow their dreams.
40. “My Generation” By The Who
“My Generation” is a song by English rock band The Who, released as a single in December 1965. The song is credited with helping to popularize the term “generation gap.” The lyrics are about the frustrations of young people in the 1960s, who felt that they were being left behind by the older generation. The Who’s lead singer, Roger Daltrey, was just 18 years old when he wrote the lyrics. He later said that he had no idea how prophetic they would turn out to be.
41. “Rockin’ In the Free World” By Neil Young
“Rockin’ In the Free World” by Neil Young is an anthem for those who believe in freedom and the power of music. The song speaks to the struggles of everyday people and the need for solidarity in the face of adversity. The opening guitar riff is both catchy and defiant, setting the tone for the rest of the song. Young’s lyrics are full of hope and determination, calling on listeners to “stand up for your rights.” The chorus is an empowering call to action, urging people to “keep on rockin’ in the free world.” “Rockin’ In the Free World” is a song that speaks to the best of humanity, and reminds us that we all have the power to make a difference.
42. “Ocean Pearl” By 54-40
54-40 is a Canadian rock band that formed in the early 1980s. 54-40 is known for their catchy hooks and sing-along choruses, and Ocean Pearl is no exception. Overall, Ocean Pearl is an enjoyable and well-crafted album that will please longtime fans and newcomers alike.
43. “Rocky Mountain Way” By Joe Walsh
“Rocky Mountain Way” is a song by American rock guitarist Joe Walsh. The song was released in October 1973 as the lead single from his second solo album, The Smoker You Drink, the Player You Get. Written by Walsh, Bob Ezrin and Bernie Leadon, “Rocky Mountain Way” peaked at No. 16 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and remained in the top 40 for six weeks.
43 Easy Guitar Riffs [Infographic]
What Exactly Is a Guitar Riff?
A riff is a repeated sequence of notes or chords used in a song. How riffs are used isn’t always the same. Some songs use riffs as the basis of the entire song while others use a riff for just a short section of the song.
A great riff is memorable and easily identifiable. That’s exactly what each of the songs in the list above have, they’re guitar riffs that most people would recognize.
However, this brings up the question of how does a lick differs from a riff? Well, a lick is usually a short phrase or sequence of notes used to add a bit flair or color to a section of a song. These are typically used in accompaniment with the main melody and typically aren’t repeated like most riffs.
Which Riffs Should You Start Off With?
When looking at the list above, it may be a bit overwhelming to see 43 guitar riff song suggestions. You may not know where to start depending on your skill level. Below, is a shortlist of 5 songs you should start out with and learn the main riffs of as a beginner guitarist as well as 5 songs you can start with as an intermediate guitarist. Once you’ve learned these, feel free to head back up to the list above and start learning others as you wish.
- Walk This Way
- Enter Sandman
- Seven Nation Army
- Funk #49
- Beat It
- The Ocean
- Do I Wanna Know
- Crazy Train
Hopefully, this list of easy guitar riffs has provided you with some ideas of memorable riffs you can learn as a beginner or intermediate player. The great thing is, that there are tons of resources out there to help you learn all of these songs. Depending on which medium you prefer to learn from (written, audio, or video) links to each are included above for all songs.
If you think I may have missed any great easy guitar riffs in the list above, don’t forget to leave a comment below. Let us know what your favorite guitar riff is!