10 Electric Guitar Riffs to Play With Your Distortion On

If you want to play or create electric guitar riffs, effects such as distortion, overdrive, and fuzz offer you a lot of options you don’t have on the acoustic guitar.

In this lesson, I won’t get into the differences between these effects, but will just advise you that the following electric guitar riffs are likely to sound better with distortion, though there’s surely no harm in experimenting with the other effects too.

In these 10 electric guitar riffs, I will try to use techniques such as palm muting, vibrato, and legato that tend to have more impact when played with the distortion pedal on.

Power chords will also be present in many of these riffs, since this particular chord (which is not exactly a chord, but a double stop) seems to have been invented with distorted electric guitars in mind (though it’s also used when playing the guitar clean, or on any instrument that can play two notes or more at a time)

Electric guitar riff 1 (succession of power chords)

The first riff is in fact made simply from a succession of power chords (the number 5 next to the chord name indicates it’s a power chord).

I will start introducing techniques to make these more interesting in the coming riffs, (but you may also learn more on specific techniques that make power chord riffs sound better here).

This riff, is thus, pretty bland, though it still has a catchy tune.

Electric guitar riff 2 (introducing palm muting)

By applying palm muting technique to your notes or chords, you literally alter the sound of the chord.

Palm-muting is responsible for the chug-chug-chug sound frequently heard in Punk and Heavy Metal.

The next riff is also made of a sequence of power chords, but since some of them have palm muting technique applied to them, this power chord riff has an added flavor to it.

Electric guitar riff 3 (power chords and single notes)

While power chords can make great riffs on their own, many riffs include a mixture of both power chords and single notes.

Electric guitar riff 4 (introducing semiquavers)

In the three riffs above, I kept the rhythm quite simple.

Each chord, or note, has the duration of one beat (crotchet), two beats (minim), or half a beat (quaver).

However, the beat can be further subdivided into four (among other possibilities), which is where the semiquaver comes in.

With semiquavers, we can create different rhythmic patterns, as we’ll see in some riffs later on, but for the next riff, I’ll only be using groups of four semiquavers (thus one beat) at a time.

Electric guitar riff 5 (Heavy metal gallop)

Semiquavers can also be played on their own, rather than in groups of four, or else, they are mixed with other divisions of the beat, such as the quaver.

One of these rhythmic patterns, or variations of it, is used extensively in Heavy Metal music that got it nicknamed the “Heavy Metal gallop”, though the same rhythmic pattern is also used in other genres of music.

Electric guitar riff 6 (more semiquaver patterns)

The above riff only makes use of one semiquaver pattern, the one mostly used in the Heavy Metal gallop but more rhythmic patterns can be created using a combination of quavers and semiquavers.

The next riff explores other options.

Electric guitar riffs 7 (introducing rests)

In the six riffs above, all you are playing comes in the form of sound.

Nothing wrong with that, but silence has its role in music too.

In the next guitar riff, mute the chords completely with your right hand for the duration of the rest.

Note: You can mute notes with both your left hand and your right hand. Though right-hand muting in this circumstance (and many others) is done by your palm, this is not to be confused with palm muting technique. With palm muting our goal is not to silence the note or chord completely but to get a different sound color from it. If there is a rest, on the other hand, absolutely no sound should be coming from your guitar.

Electric guitar riffs 8 (the drone method)

For an entire explanation of how the drone method can get you to come up with as many riffs as you want, click on this link.

This is just one of many riffs you can create using this method.

Electric guitar riffs 9 (vibrato technique)

If you don’t add vibrato to your bag of guitar riffing tricks, you will be missing a lot.

Vibrato is a very expressive technique caused by bending a string slightly and bringing it back to its original position in rapid succession.

Vibrato can be used on any note that’s fretted but is more likely to be found on notes of a longer duration, as in the guitar riff below.

As an exercise, I would also suggest you go to the previous riffs (or any other riffs you may have created yourself) and apply vibrato to some or all of the long notes in that riff.

Vibrato technique takes some time to master and may sound sloppy at first. But with some focused practice, you will gain the ability to make anything you play on guitar more melodic.

Electric guitar riffs 10 (legato technique)

Legato technique can be used on two or more notes on the same string in the form of a pull-off or a hammer on, a skill you should start developing if you’re an advancing beginner student.

Conclusion (learn a lot of riffs – come up with a lot of riffs)

If you can play at least half of the riffs above, it’s probably time to start thinking about writing your own riffs.

In this lesson on writing your first guitar riff, I show you a method you can replicate when you’re creating your own.

However, that lesson is only meant to get you started. You also need to keep learning more guitar riffs, analyze what techniques they use, replicate them, and come up with your own.

A note on creativity: Don’t ruin yourself as a musician by believing you’re not creative. “Lack of creativity” is not the problem. Believing you don’t have it “in you” is the problem.


Because creativity can be trained and cultivated. You may, or may not be musically creative today, but you definitely can become if you specifically train creativity.

And trying to come up with guitar riffs, now that you’re aware of quite a few options you can use, is an exercise in creativity as much as it is an exercise in guitar playing.

Do not worry if your first guitar riffs sound sloppy – they will!

Instead, listen carefully to what is making them sound sloppy.

Are you playing on time? Do you need to work more on your palm muting? Is unwanted noise is coming out from the strings you’re not playing?  Is there a specific technique you need to specifically work on before trying it in the riff?

If you ask quality questions and develop an ideal guitar practicing mindset you will learn things much faster since by going to the exact source of the problem or limitation in your playing, switching off the metronome and fixing it slowly with complete ease you will reach your goals way faster than someone who’s practicing a lot, but has no clear direction.

Someone who, above everything, is always worrying about the symptoms rather than identifying the causes.

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