23 Popular And Easy Guitar Riffs For New Players

What’s the absolute best way to start learning the guitar?

Playing along to music you love. Nothing about playing an instrument is more empowering than replicating the sound of a piece of music that made your hair stand on end. 

What’s the next best thing? Easy guitar riffs.

As someone who has been playing for more than 15 years, I can say with confidence that guitar players are always, always trying to learn new riffs and licks. 

And there are certain easy guitar riffs that everyone goes through. Almost as rights of passage. These are the jams that tell everyone you’re a player. 

Here’s a list of easy guitar riffs every guitar player should learn.

Seven Nation Army – The White Stripes

Why It’s an Easy Guitar Riff

One of our favorite easy guitar riffs: Seven Nation Army by The White Stripes.

The main riff is an iconic seven notes. Everyone knows immediately what it is and it’s phenomenally easy to play.

How to Practice 

This easy guitar riff is all about the timing. Just tap along with Meg’s drums to get the feeling for the song and then you can walk right down the scale.

What Might Trip You Up

When the song really kicks in, it does walk back up the scale a little bit, but you’re right in that pocket the whole time. It might feel intimidating, but follow the drums and you should be just fine.

Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana

Why It’s an Easy Guitar Riff

Just four power chords changed the landscape of music for the next 20 years or more. Nothing to sneeze at. But, you may have noticed, it’s really only four chords.

How to Practice

This is a song you have to play along with the record. The chord changes and riff are very easy if you follow the drum pattern to get the timing right. 

What Might Trip You Up

Kurt’s strum pattern is a little different here. It sounds messy, but it’s actually deliberate and precise. 

House of the Rising Sun – The Animals

Why It’s an Easy Guitar Riff

House of the rising sun sounds like a lot of intricate picking when you’re first learning guitar. Until you see it written down. Then you realize that all you’re doing is strumming very slowly through some of the earliest chords you’ll learn as a new guitar player.

How to Practice 

Learn all of your basic open chords in the key of Am. Then start slowly picking each note in the chord from the heavy E string down to the high E string and back. 

What Might Trip You Up

There’s a Dm in the song, a chord a lot of beginner guitar players struggle with. It’s that high F man…

Iron Man – Black Sabbath

Why It’s an Easy Guitar Riff

Tony Iomi’s evil sounding riff at the beginning of Iron Man is all 5th chord shapes moving up the neck. Two fingers. That’s it.

How to Practice 

Listen to the drums on the recording to get where the accents are for this riff. Then play it slow until you can speed it up. This is a good opportunity to get your pinky finger involved. Use it together with your to play the 5th chords.

What Might Trip You Up

The back and forth at the end of the riff isn’t actually being strummed. Iomi only strums on the accented down beat. The rest is done with his fret hand and a lot of sustain from his amp.

Beat It – Michael Jackson

Why It’s an Easy Guitar Riff

This instantly recognizable riff from the King of Pop, played by the King of Guitar, is a pretty simple arpeggio in the key of Em. And it’s slow enough to give a budding guitar player enough time to navigate the fretboard.

How to Practice 

Start as slow as you need to get the pattern into your working muscle memory. Then speed it up as you develop a comfort level.

What Might Trip You Up

The second time through the riff doesn’t have the 8th note. It has a pause before launching back into it. That can make it feel like the time signature of the song is odd.

Day Tripper – The Beatles

Why It’s an Easy Guitar Riff

It’s an instantly recognizable picking riff that’s slow enough for any beginner to pick up. We are in Orbison easy territory.

How to Practice 

Learn the succession of the riff in chunks and then listen to the recording for the timing. Pick a count pattern of single syllable numbers to help group the notes. 1, 1-2-3-4-5, 1-2, 1-2-3.

What Might Trip You Up

You notice that the count pattern isn’t a straight 1-4. That pattern can be a bit tricky to pick in time at the beginning.

Come As You Are – Nirvana

Why It’s an Easy Guitar Riff

Nirvana makes the list twice for good reason. This is a number one hit using a two-finger riff on the thickest strings of the guitar. That’s home base for new guitar players.

How to Practice 

Jump right in. There’s not a ton of technique to this. Slow practice makes perfect.

What Might Trip You Up

The effects on the record might make it seem like there’s more going on than there is. But if you catch an acoustic rendition, the starkness of the riff is evident. Might as well be bass. Bleh.

Blister In The Sun – Violent Femmes

Why It’s an Easy Guitar Riff

Blister In The Sun is a bouncy upbeat song that relies on a single finger of your fret hand and some basic picking technique.

How to Practice

This riff feels like dancing. Slow the metronome down until you get the feel for where the accented notes are. It flows the vocal melody. Make the guitar sing.

What Might Trip You Up

When you’re first learning it’s common to get lost in the picking. That’s okay, just reorient yourself to the vocal melody.

Smoke on The Water – Deep Purple

Why It’s an Easy Guitar Riff

This very well may be the first riff most beginners learn on guitar. You can get away with just the root note of the power chords that make up the riff. 

How to Practice

Start with those root notes on the low E string while you listen to the song for timing. Once you’ve got your index finger well and truly worked out, add in the 5th and the octave to make the power chord. 

What Might Trip You Up

Power chords aren’t technically the way Deep Purple played the riff. But they wrote it, so bully for them. Alas, you might occasionally run into one of those “know it alls” who gives you a hard time about it.

Sweet Home Alabama – Lynyrd Skynyrd

Why It’s an Easy Guitar Riff

Even if you don’t like Skynyrd (and, who’s that, maybe Neil Young?) you know this riff. It’s a legendary piece of music. 

How to Practice 

Get comfortable with your barre chord form. The riff can be played by just manipulating the picking within that form.

What Might Trip You Up

The last strum in the riff is an open G chord. So switching between the barre form and open form of G can be a little tricky when you’re first starting out. The singer in our band couldn’t pull it off the entire time we played together.

That said, you can get away with just playing a very jangly barred G in a pinch.

Satisfaction – The Rolling Stones

Why It’s an Easy Guitar Riff

Much like Pretty Woman, this is a one-finger-should-you-want-it guitar riff that everyone on the planet will recognize. Rumour is Keith Richards dreamed this one up. Literally. So if it came from him sleeping, it should be doable awake.

How to Practice 

Best practice is to play this riff using your ring, middle, and pinky finger. Roll up the string to achieve rock immortality.

What Might Trip You Up

Satisfaction is deceptively easy. You might find yourself sliding into similar riffs inadvertently. Muscle memory kept forcing me into Bad Religion’s American Jesus, for example.

Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) – Green Day

Why It’s an Easy Guitar Riff

Ah… when Green Day sold out or whatever. It sounds complicated because Billy Joe messes up on the recording twice. But really, you’re only moving a couple of fingers.

How to Practice 

Plant your ring finger on the B string’s 3rd fret and let that be your anchor. Then play the chords until you feel familiar enough to accent the B string on the up stroke. Play along to the recording and you’ll hear it.

What Might Trip You Up

Strumming this one is fun, but getting that accent note of the intro’s riff can be an uphill battle. Stick with it and you’ll have new open-chord powers.

Sweet Child of Mine – Guns N’ Roses

Why It’s an Easy Guitar Riff

Sweet Child of Mine actually grew out of a practice exercise that Slash would do to goof off. So even if you don’t get this riff right the first time, it’s basically practice.

How to Practice 

Start very slow. 1-2-3-4-1-2-3-4. That double 1 to 4 count should be running through your head as you learn this riff as slowly as you need to feel comfortable.

What Might Trip You Up

What trips people up about this song is actually the rhythm chords. The riff begins and ends on D, so you have to pay attention to that.

La Bamba – Ritchie Vallens

Why It’s an Easy Guitar Riff

It’s a three-chord wonder with a riff over the top. You can play with two fingers, and everyone on the planet recognizes it.

How to Practice

Start with strumming the C, F, and G chords in time with the song to get the timing and feel. Then you can go back to the intro riff with the timing in mind. The riff is heavy on the ring finger, with the pointer finger picking up the excess work. 

What Might Trip You Up

The actual recording has some nuance that, as a beginner, you don’t really need. But, again, you might find someone who wants to be flashy and show off somewhere down the road. Let it go. Anyone who’s showing off with La Bamba has other issues going on. 

Wonderwall – Oasis

Why It’s an Easy Guitar Riff

If you find yourself at a college reunion for anyone around the turn of the millennium, you’re going to hear this song. If there’s an acoustic guitar there, there’s a 90% chance you’re going to hear it live. It was everywhere. It is everywhere. But it helps build your chord voicing, so it gets a pass. 

How to Practice

This song is all about the syncopated strum pattern that matches the vocal. Down, down, down, up, down, up, down, down. That’s the basics. Play along with the isolated intro until you get the feel for it.

What Might Trip You Up

Everyone “knows” this song. That is, everyone who has picked up a guitar can muddle through this song by getting close.

But Noel Ghallager is actually playing some slightly complicated chords. It’s a great opportunity to become familiar with how easy it is to change a chord’s tone with simple finger shifts.

Wild Thing – The Troggs

Why It’s an Easy Guitar Riff

A three-power chord riff that is all about timing and attitude. That’s the definition of an easy riff. But when it’s done right, you get something as timeless as Wild Thing.

How to Practice 

Hit those first two A power chords on the low E string. That gives you the feel for the song right there. After that, move the chord shape one string down. Then move it two frets up to complete the “L.” 

What Might Trip You Up

If you want to get fancy with the intro you can work on the first slide note on the G string. It might be the most difficult thing in the song and it’s also the first. Easy songs are like that. Gate-keeping notes.

Pretty Woman – Roy Orbison

Why It’s an Easy Guitar Riff

The intro riff is one of the most recognizable pieces of guitar music in the last 80 years. Plus, it can be played with a single finger if you should so like. Beyond that, the verse and chorus are the same.

How to Practice

Start with Orbison’s intro riff. Hum 1-2-3-4-1-2-3-4 to get the timing for your picking hand. Then just play it slowly until you can build up the speed.  

What Might Trip You Up

Again, the bridge is a little bit tricky. But like a lot of other songs where the verse and chorus are the same, all you have to do is learn the chords and ring them out. So you have lots of time to change your finger positions.

Dead or Alive – Bon Jovi

Why It’s an Easy Guitar Riff

This is a song that Jon plays on guitar, so you know it can’t be too hard. 

How to Practice

Once you’ve learned the chords for this song, get ready to play them on repeat with the song. It sounds like the verse and chorus are different, but they aren’t. The pattern’s the same, only the time is changed. The vocal just makes the changes seem different. 

What Might Trip You Up

That timing in the chorus feels a little awkward because Jon and Richie play the chord changes twice as fast as the verse. So the pattern is the same, but your hand has to move quicker.  

Enter Sandman – Metallica

Why It’s an Easy Guitar Riff

If there’s a metal riff that every guitar player knows, it might be Enter Sandman. For the main part of the riff your hand doesn’t move around the neck, so it’s a good practice riff for fingering accuracy. 

How to Practice 

Tap the notes out percussively with your fingers to get the feel for the timing of the riff before you jump into it. Listen to the accents of where Lars builds the drums up in the beginning of the song.

What Might Trip You Up

When the main riff starts over there’s a quick E on the A string followed by an open ringing E string that rings into the riff again. If you don’t have the timing down from practice, that can feel a bit weird to sneak in.

Free Fallin’ – Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

Why It’s an Easy Guitar Riff

It’s a song everyone knows and it’s the same chords throughout the song. Verse, chorus, bridge… same thing. 

How to Practice 

Start with ringing the chords out along with the recording.  The riff is putting a pinky finger on the third fret of the high E string. It’s just finding the timing to do that.

What Might Trip You Up

Because this one is so simple, you’ll run across players who play Free Fallin’ quite a bit differently. But this song is about being free. So, play the easiest version imaginable. 

Closing Time – Semisonic

Why It’s an Easy Guitar Riff

Another song that is just four chords throughout. Aside from the bridge, but we’ll touch on that. If you’re feeling particularly cheeky, you can switch from open chords in the verse to barre chords in the chorus. But, this is not, strictly speaking, necessary.

How to Practice

This song’s feel comes from the strum pattern. That’s what gives it the attitude. The first and third chords are all down strums with the second and third chords giving some up strum flourishes. Listening to the intro will help since the guitar is by itself. 

What Might Trip You Up

The bridge. The bridge is completely different. It’s only four chords as well, but it changes keys a half step and is really obvious if you miss it. Just use power chords and ring them out. Nothing fancy.

Everlong – Foo Fighters

Why It’s an Easy Guitar Riff

The only riff on the list in drop D tuning. The alternative tuning means David Letterman’s favorite song has several chords that are played with a single finger.

How to Practice 

Dave Grohl thinks of the guitar as if it was a drum set. So listen to the subtle downward strum pattern of the intro to get a feel for the changes. 

What Might Trip You Up

The first chord in the chorus is a barred B on the A string for no reason other than to sound fuller. When you’re first starting out, stick with the B on the deepest string.

All The Small Things – Blink 182

Why It’s an Easy Guitar Riff

Why this song was an enormous hit, I don’t know. But as a guitarist from San Diego, I’m required by law to include this in any discussion of easy guitar riffs. 

How to Practice 

Turn your maturity level down a few notches and brush up on your power chords. The poor man’s barre chord. You’re living in power territory the whole time.

What Might Trip You Up

The trickiest part of this song is actually the first two notes. The song counts in the 8th beat with a quick G to F before launching into the first beat of the main riff on C.

Hey Ya – Outkast

Why It’s an Easy Guitar Riff

Another four-chord wonder. This was such a universal piece of music that NPR was gushing about it back around the release. It’s a party anthem that you can pull out of your back pocket when you need an upbeat piece of music that isn’t guitar rock.

How to Practice 

If you’ve seen the video for this song, then you know what to do. Sit down with an acoustic and strum away with the recording.

What Might Trip You Up

There’s not a lot to go wrong here. When you’re first learning there’s enough production on the song to lose the chord changes because you stay on the C for quite a while. Keep coming back to the bass.

Conclusion

Every guitarist needs to memorize a few easy guitar riffs that they can bust out at the drop of a hat. You never know when you’re going to find yourself with a guitar in hand. 

And there’s nothing more obvious than the gulf between someone who can play a lick everyone knows, and the guy just strumming chords.
A good article to read next to get those riffs down faster would be our best tips on learning guitar the right way.

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Image Credits

The White Stripes image: Fabio Venni from London, UK; modified by anetode, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons; The Rising Sun image: Bartlomiej Markiewicz, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Michael Jackson image: DrewFromNY at en.wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons; The Rolling Stones image: Jim Pietryga, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedi a Commons; Guns N’ Roses image: Raph_PH, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Oasis image: Will Fresch, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Roy Orbison image: David Shoenfelt, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Metallica image: DallasFletcher, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Semisonic image: Andy Witchger, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Blink 182 image: Drew de F Fawkes, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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