These guitar riffs are legendary and are a lot of fun to play. I’ve ordered the riffs by difficulty with the easiest to play starting first.
The 10 riffs are from these songs:
- “Seven Nation Army’” by The White Stripes
- “Lose Yourself” by Eminem
- “Owner Of A Lonely Heart” by Yes
- “Enter Sandman” by Metallica
- “Smoke On The Water” by Deep Purple
- “Beat It” by Michael Jackson
- “Crazy Train” by Ozzy Ozbourne
- “Pour Some Sugar On Me” by Def Leppard
- “Back in Black” by AC/DC
- “Limelight” by Rush
#1 Seven Nation Army (The White Stripes)
This may be one of the most widely recognized riffs of the 2000s. From sports stadiums to car stereos, this 5 note riff continues to be widely played. It’s a great riff for beginners. It will help you get the basics of picking notes and playing in time. Pay attention to the rhythm in order to get this riff right!
#2 Lose Yourself (Eminem)
This is the guitar strumming riff that opens the song. Use the palm muting technique when playing this in order to get it to sound like the original recording. The entire riff is three chords that you can continue to play on repeat.
#3 Owner Of A Lonely Heart (Yes)
“Owner Of A Lonely Heart” was a huge hit in the 1980s and is the band’s most famous song. This riff is made up of 5 chords that you’ll hear in the intro of the song. It’s an opportunity for you to work on your power chords as well as sliding in from one chord to another.
#4 Enter Sandman (Metallica)
The opening riff to “Enter Sandman” may be one of Metallica’s most widely recognized riffs. This pattern will cover several strings, but once you get it under your fingers you’ll find it straightforward to play in a loop.
#5 Smoke On The Water (Deep Purple)
“Smoke On The Water” is considered one of the most famous guitar riffs of all time. The entire riff is played using double-stop (two note) chords. The song was originally released in 1972, yet the riff continues to remain iconic and timeless in the guitar world.
#6 Beat It (Michael Jackson)
“Beat It” may be one of Michael Jackson’s most recognized electric guitar songs. The main riff and guitar solo in this song continue to stand the test of time. In the original recording all of the guitar strings were tuned down a half-step, so if you’d like to play along with the original recording be sure to tune your guitar strings to Eb-Ab-Db-Gb-Bb-Eb.
#7 Crazy Train (Ozzy Osbourne)
Before we had the “Seven Nation Army” riff blasting through sports stadiums, we had “Crazy Train”. This high-octane riff from the 80s is still instantly recognizable today. Use alternate picking when playing this riff and add in some palm muting for a nice effect.
#8 Pour Some Sugar On Me (Def Leppard)
This is another rocking riff from the 80s. “Pour Some Sugar On Me” is Def Leppard’s biggest hit and features one of their most recognizable riffs. Pay attention to the “ghost” note that they play throughout the riff. This is the 6th fret on the D string (G# note). It’s referred to as a ghost note because the note is not played at the same intensity as the other notes in the riff. It’s subtly added so it’s almost not audible (hence ghost note). While learning this riff you can exclude the ghost notes and add them in after you get comfortable with the riff.
#9 Back In Black (AC/DC)
After “Smoke On The Water” this may take the second spot for most iconic guitar riff. The song was released in 1980 and the riff still remains instantly recognizable today. This riff combines rhythmic playing using power chords along with lead guitar playing. It’s a great riff to work because of the variety of techniques it demands.
#10 Limelight (Rush)
One of my favorite riffs from one of my favorite bands. “Limelight” along with “Tom Sawyer” are probably two of Rush’s most recognizable riffs. Like “Back in Black” this riff will involve both lead and rhythm guitar playing. The last measure also includes an odd-time signature. So it may not be the easiest guitar riff to play, but it’s a great one to work up to!