There are thousands of easy Rock guitar riffs you can find on the Internet. In this lesson we’ll take an approach that’s a bit different and go beyond adding a few more riffs to your vocabulary.
I have created 10 Rock guitar riffs that start from very easy and get pretty complex by the end. With each riff come new elements of theory and technique to show you some of the options you have when it comes to creating your own riffs.
Note: If you’re a beginner on the guitar you may want to focus on learning riffs more than creating them. However it’s still a good idea to be aware of what musical elements are being used in the riffs you play.
First of all because you will keep noticing these same elements used in different forms and variations in other Rock guitar riffs you will be learning. Thus, learning riffs will become easier since learning a different application of a technique is much easier than learning it from scratch.
Secondly, because creating your own guitar riffs is a goal worth pursuing. Not only is it fun (and an asset if you want to play in a Rock band) but it leads to mastery in the application of theory and technique. In this lesson I show you how to come up with your first guitar riffs.
Riff 1: Very simple, uses vibrato
The first rock guitar riff is very easy to play, however it makes use of vibrato technique which is not easy to master.
You should spend time on developing this technique on its own since without it your guitar riffs, as well as your licks and your solos, risk sounding very dull.
You execute vibrato with rapid small bends on a note, which gives the note a very emotional feeling.
When practicing vibrato, make sure you bend the string to the same position, and bring it to the original position, each time.
Your bends can be wide or they can be narrow. Experiment with this, but make sure that each time you’re being consistent.
When practicing vibrato, the ultimate judge should be your ear. Does the vibrato sound melodic and emotional, or dissonant and messy? If it’s the former, you’re doing it right. If it’s the latter, you need to change something.
Another thing to notice in this riff is the use of rests (silence). Many beginners in guitar riffs tend to ignore this but if you study the greatest riffs you will notice that many guitarists use silence strategically to increase the impact of the riff.
Riff 2: Power chords
The power chord is one of the most effective tools in the Rock guitarist’s toolbox.
Though not technically a chord but a dyad – two notes played at the same time – the power chord is so popular in Rock music that it usually gets treated like a chord.
The next riff is made of a series of power chords. It may sound a bit simplistic or bland because we’re not applying techniques like palm muting. We’ll be doing so in the 4th riff in this lesson.
Riff 3: Sixteenth notes, string skipping
There are two takeaways from next riff:
- Sixteenth notes: In the first two riffs the smallest subdivision of the beat was an eight note (quaver), a quarter note (crotchet) divided in two.
The next riff makes use of sixteenth notes (semiquavers), that is, a quarter note divided in four.
There are many new rhythmic patterns that can be derived from sixteenth notes but for now we’ll limit ourselves to four sixteenth notes played in succession.
- String skipping: While it may come as natural to play notes from adjacent strings, you will significantly increase your note choices once you consider skipping strings as an option.
The next riff uses string skipping on the first beat of the first three bars.
Riff 4: Palm muting
Palm muting is a very popular option Rock guitar players use, especially in the heavier genres of Rock music.
You execute palm muting by lightly touching the strings with your right hand near the bridge.
This will dampen the sound of the notes/chords but rather than make them silent it will give them a rhythmic “chug-chug-chug” sound.
Palm muting can be used on every note/chord in the riff or only on some of the notes/chords as in the next example.
Riff 5: Sixteenth and eight note grouping
In Rock guitar riff 3 we used four successive sixteenth notes as a rhythmic pattern.
We get more rhythmic opportunities when we combine sixteenth notes with eight notes in the same grouping.
In the next example a rhythmic pattern of two sixteenth notes and an eight note is found on the last beat of each bar.
Riff 6: Slides
The next riff is not hard to play but introduces a new technique that’s very common in rock guitar riffs – the slide.
In order to play the first two notes, put the ring finger of your left hand on the 5th fret and slide it to the 7th fret. Likewise with the two notes of the second beat.
Riff 7: String bending
Another powerful guitar technique we haven’t explored so far is string bending.
The bends in bars 1 and 3 in this riff are called bend and release, which means you bend the string until you reach the target note (two frets higher in this case, since it’s a full bend) and then release it back to the original note.
The bends in bars 2 and 4 are upward bends, which means you bend the string until you reach the target note, and then go to the next note, without releasing the bend.
In this lesson I give you a set of exercises to explore the different types of bends you can use on the electric guitar.
Riff 8: Legato, triplets
The next riff introduces two new things:
- Hammer ons and pull offs: To execute the first three notes of each bar strike only the first note with your pick. The second is hammered on by your left hand finger, and then pulled off to get the third note.
In this lesson I give you a set of exercises to help you master this technique.
- Triplets: In this rhythmic pattern, (which is used for the first beat of each bar and for the entire third bar) each beat is divided into three instead of two.
Riff 9: Palm muted drone, staccato
Drone guitar technique refers through the sustained use of a note or chord through the entire riff. This note can be in the bass, in the middle, or on a high note.
In the next Rock guitar riff, the drone note is the low open E string and has palm muting applied to it.
Another technique used in this riff is staccato technique on the notes of the second beat of the second bar. This is marked by a dot below the note and means that rather than held for its entire duration, the note should be cut shortly.
Riff 10: Integration
The last riff introduces no new techniques.
Use it to learn how to integrate the techniques you have just learned in this lesson.
Conclusion: Build a vocabulary, create your own
Building a vocabulary of Rock guitar riffs will take you a long way, however I wouldn’t stop there.
If you’re able to play even half of the riffs in this lesson you can start thinking of creating your own, using the elements you already know, while building your riff vocabulary at the same time.
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