The amount of guitar riffs you can play on one string is infinite.
While in many cases, guitar riffs played on a single string are simple and easy, this may not always be the case.
For instance, intro guitar riff to Sails of Charon by the Scorpions, is played on just one string, but it incorporates techniques, such as wide slides, as well as an interesting and complex rhythm, that make it neither simple nor easy to play.
In these 5 easy guitar riffs, I will introduce a new technique for each riff, since the aim of this lesson goes beyond teaching 5 guitar riffs you can play on one string but start getting aware of the possibilities you have when learning as well as creating your own guitar riffs.
Guitar riff 1 – Basic – no guitar phrasing technique applied.
This riff is just a simple tune you can repeat over and over again (what makes a riff, a riff, is that it’s meant to be repeated) to get you started.
Guitar riff 2: Introducing vibrato
While there’s nothing wrong with the previous riff, the fact that no interesting guitar phrasing technique is applied to the notes, makes it sound rather dull.
In the next riff, you’ll be applying vibrato technique to the notes that have a squiggly line above them.
To apply vibrato technique on guitar, bend the string slightly down and bring it to the original point again in rapid succession.
This is different from string bending, where the aim of bending the string is reaching the next note. With vibrato you’re still hearing the same note – it just sounds more melodic – if done right.
Learn more about different guitar techniques in this article.
Guitar riff 3: Slides
Sliding technique is one of the most important techniques on guitar, and is even more important if we’re playing riffs on a single string – since slides can only be applied to notes on the same string.
Start the next guitar riff with your ring finger on the 7th fret. Those notes that have a small line between them, as are the first and the second note of the riff, should be slid to by the same finger.
This means that your picking hand will be only striking the first note, which slides into the next note and lets it sound as a separate note until the next note is struck.
For the purposes of this lesson I tried to keep the slides short, but in reality, you can slide from any fret to any fret on your guitar fretboard.
Sliding technique is also very convenient when you’re trying to connect scale patterns on the guitar.
Guitar riff 4: Rests
If you’re playing guitar riffs on one string, you’re somewhat restricted in your choices.
Silence is a very important option that can make your guitar riffs more interesting if used in the right places.
The next riff, introduces no new technique, except for small periods of silence (rests) that make the rhythm more interesting.
To make the note go silent, just lift the left-hand finger pressing that note, but keep it touching the string. If your finger leaves the string, it will make a small sound, and you don’t want to interrupt the silence.
Left-hand muting is one of the techniques you will be developing as a guitar player. Start learning how to do it on one note, and have another option added to your bag of musical tricks.
Guitar riff 5: Using hammer on and pull off technique
By sliding from one note to another, you’re applying a phrasing technique that does not involve striking the second of two notes.
Applying hammer on technique is a different way of playing the second of two notes without striking it again with your pick.
Instead of sliding to it, you hammer it with the same finger that would have otherwise just fretted the note that needs to be heard.
A hammer-on is applied when the second note is higher up on the fretboard than the note that is struck. When the situation is in reverse, you apply its sister technique, the pull off.
To execute a pull off, the first note is pluck, while your left-hand finger takes the role of the pick and pinches the string to sound the second note.
The next riff uses both of these techniques.
Note: If you’re a beginner guitar player, keep in mind that this guitar technique, along with slides and a good vibrato, take time to develop.
If you’re trying these techniques for the first time and can’t do them right, don’t get discouraged. You have just embarked on the process of learning them – mastering them will take its time.
Where to go from here in your guitar riff learning process
As explained earlier the aim of this lesson goes beyond teaching you how to play 5 easy riffs on one string.
You want to have as many riffs as possible under your belt and these 12 easy guitar riffs that increase in the level of difficulty will add guitar riffs to your bag of tricks that go beyond just one string, as well as incorporate more techniques than used in this lesson.
The next stage would be creating your own guitar riffs.
There are two main reasons I suggest you start creating your own guitar riffs earlier on after you have just learned a few guitar riffs created by other guitarists.
1. Doing so, and consciously incorporating the techniques you are learning, will lead to mastery of those techniques.
It’s better, for instance, to practice hammer ons and pull offs (which can be a tough nut for a beginner guitar player) in real musical contexts, than repeating the same legato exercises for ages.
2. As opposed to the myth that some people are born creative while others are not, creativity can be trained.
By applying every technique you learn into a real guitar riff – no matter how simple or sloppy or bland or whatever your first riffs will sound – you’re not just learning a riff, or even applying a technique.
You’re also training your mind to come up with something melodic, something that sounds good.
That is creativity, and the sooner you start training it, the sooner you’ll develop it because whether you “ were born with it” or not, you could.
And you will, especially if you use the same mindset for every area of your guitar playing.
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