guitar riffs

10 Must-Know Rock Guitar Riffs

guitar riffs

Whether you’re a beginner or an intermediate guitarist, you probably have a few songs and riffs on your must-learn list. Well, it’s time to get to work! Here, Boston, MA guitar instructor Christopher S. brings you the 10 signature guitar riffs that every guitarist should know…

No matter which type of music you’re into, when you learn guitar, you’re entering a new, sometimes cult-like world. Like any pursuit in life, the more you know about that skill, the more you have to say about it. The cult aspect of guitar is that you have to be able to talk the talk and walk the walk.

Electric guitar is what many people want to explore when they begin guitar lessons. For this reason, I have put together a road map of easy guitar riffs that will help you navigate this new world. Having a good supply of well-known guitar riffs is a right-of-passage into the rock guitar players world.

Learn these 10 guitar riffs, and I guarantee, you’ll be accepted into any and all rock ‘n’ roll circles.

“Purple Haze” – Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix is one of my personal favorite rock guitar heroes. This opening line is one of the most well-known guitar riffs out there. Hendrix’s heavy use of the distorted guitar is a killer sound that makes this relatively simple guitar riff sounds awesome.

Learn to play this, and you’ll be well on your way to learning the life and techniques of the rock guitarist.

guitar riffs

“Layla” – Eric Clapton

This iconic rock song ranks at number 27 on Rolling Stone’s top 500 rock songs. The song was actually dually written by Eric Clapton and Jim Gordon, and first released by their band Derek and the Dominos. Clapton recorded it later in his career as an all-acoustic song.

Both versions are equally well-known in the rock world, but the original version has the awesome guitar riffs that make the song so incredible.

guitar riffs

guitar riffs

“Johnny B. Goode” – Chuck Berry

This song is a true classic and an excellent example of how blues music bridged the way for Rock “n” roll. The amazing bluesy intro gives this song an awesome start, and the fast vocals were a completely innovative way to sing the blues at the time.

The must-know guitar riff comes when Berry is shouting “Johnny B. Goode” in the chorus. This riff is an absolute staple for rock guitarists.

guitar riffs

guitar riffs

guitar riffs

guitar riffs

“Back In Black” – AC/DC

Speaking of amazing guitarists, while AC/DC’s guitarist is technically simple, he’s one of the most most rockin’ guitarists known to man. This list would not be complete without an amazing riff by the one-and-only, Angus Young.

The song “Back in Black” is one of the most well-known rock songs in the rock guitar repertoire. It’s such an easy riff to play, so why not learn it and show off your rock moves?

guitar riffs

“Stairway to Heaven” – Led Zeppelin

This guitar riff may not be as easy as the others, but it’s one you need to know! “Stairway to Heaven,” by the legendary Led Zeppelin, is at the top of several rock music charts. We have a lot to learn from the great Jimmy Page.

guitar riffs

guitar riffs stairway3 stairway4


“Rebel Rebel” – David Bowie

David Bowie was a huge influence on the rock scene and he made some exceptionally awesome songs. This is a cool song for all guitarists to learn.

Bowie uses this riff through almost the entire song; which means, if you learn this riff, you have practically learned the whole thing!

guitar riffs

“You Really Got Me” – The Kinks

The Kinks are one of the classic bands from London that came onto the scene with greats like The Beatles. They were soon part of the “British invasion,” and were active in the music scene from 1963-1996.

This song was a Billboard hit, and to this day, still covered by many rock groups. The riff is a true classic that every guitarist should learn. If you’re really ambitious, you can even learn the rocking guitar solo!
guitar riffs

guitar riffs

guitar riffs

guitar riffs


“You Only Live Once” – The Strokes

Besides the fact that this song is accompanied by a cool music video, The Strokes are an awesome rock band with some really fantastic guitar licks for the modern rock guitarist.

guitar riffs

guitar riffs2

guitar riffs3

guitar riffs

guitar riffs


“Paranoid Android” – Radiohead

One of the most influential rock groups of the century, Radiohead formed in 1985 and the band members are some of the greatest musical innovators of our time. This song, from their album Ok Computer, was one of their most popular songs in 1997.  To this day, this rock guitar riff is well-known among guitarists. It’s is one of the pivotal points that brings us into the true modern rock ’n’ roll of today.

The song begins with a harder fingerpicking pattern by Thom Yorke, however, this is the main guitar riff which appears in the second half of the song when it really starts to pick up. Learn this riff and watch other guitarists bow in awe of your skills.

guitar riffs

guitar riffs

“I can’t Get No Satisfaction” – Rolling Stones

Last, but certainly not least, one of my favorite songs by one of the greatest rock groups of all time, the Rolling Stones. This song is a must-know rock classic.

The band has been a rocking since 1962, and they’re still at it! This band has been known to have a long rivalry between who is better, the Stones or the Beatles. People say that if The Beatles were the white knights of music, then the Stones are the black knights. For the time, they were extremely controversial; filled with rocking lyrics and a stage presence that you would not want your mother to see, this band stormed the billboards with hit song after hit song.

I suggest that you learn this guitar riff, it’s really not that difficult!

guitar riffs

Remember, while you can try to replicate other artists, when it comes to guitar, the goal is to be yourself. Learn the songs and guitar riffs that you love, and develop your own way to play them.  Learn these 10 amazing guitar riffs, and you’ll be on your way to becoming a great guitarist and artist!

Post Author: Christopher S.
Christopher S. teaches bass guitar, guitar, and composition in Jamaica Plain, MA. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Humboldt State University and is currently attending New England Conservatory for his Master of Music degree. Christopher has been teaching students since 2004. Learn more about Christopher S. here!

Photo by Gabriel Pollard

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easy guitar songs

How to Play Guitar Like David Bowie: Celebrating A Legend

easy guitar songs

The best way to celebrate the life of music legend David Bowie is to remember his impact and play his songs. Here, guitar instructor Matt K. teaches you to play five easy guitar songs that Bowie made famous..

The recent passing of rock ‘n’ roll icon David Bowie sent a shockwave through the world. Bowie’s music and message meant so much to so many people. He had the talent to remain relevant within the entertainment industry since his big break with Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars in 1972.

He created 27 full-length albums, appeared in over 20 films and television series, and was a part of countless collaborations. He also wrote the famous “All the Young Dudes” for Mott The Hoople, just because he liked the band and they needed a hit to prevent them from breaking up. From “Life On Mars” to “Lazarus“, his music is a major reason why many, including myself, picked up an instrument and began to play.

I’ve compiled a list of five easy guitar songs, which are essential Bowie hits. Each song has the signature riff on guitar written in tablature, or the chords that shape it.

“The Man Who Sold the World” – 1970

I’m going to start with “The Man Who Sold the World” because many of you probably think Kurt Cobain wrote this for Nirvana. They did a cover of the song on MTV Unplugged in 1994.

It features a very simple riff that serves as a hook throughout the song.
E – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – }
B – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – }
G 2 2 2 0 2h3 2 0 2 2 2 0 2h3 2 0 2 2 2 0 2h3 2 0 2 2 2 0 2h3 2 0 2 }
D – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – }
A – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – }
E – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – }

You can find the rest of the tab here.

“Ziggy Stardust”

Ziggy Stardust was David Bowie’s alter ego that catapulted him to success in 1972. This was when the American public was first truly introduced to David Bowie.
G x D Cadd9 G Am
B|3——-x——-3—3—3—3—|–3—–3—–3—–3—–3—3-| G|0——-x——-2———–2—|0—0——-0—0—————| D|0——-x——-0—————|——————————–| A|2——-x———————–|3—–3—–2—–2—–0—0—| E|3——-x———————–|——————————–|

Get the full Ziggy Stardust tab here.

“Rebel Rebel” – 1974

Next, on our list of easy guitar songs, we have one of the most recognized guitar riffs in the history of rock “n” roll. Like “Ziggy Stardust, the following riff drives the entire song.


P = pull off

“Rebel Rebel” tab from Ultimate Guitar.

“Fame” – 1975

“Fame” was a popular song that was released at the height of Bowie’s popularity. He was an established rock star with several hits under his belt.

This song was co-written by John Lennon. He also provided backing vocals.


b =bend up
s = slide

Here is a great video that explains the song.

“Heros” 1977

“Heros” is the outlier on this easy guitar songs list. It doesn’t feature a signature riff like the previous four. The emotion belted out at the end of the song makes the song Bowie’s most inspirational.

Here are the chords and lyrics:

I – I wish you could swim
Like the dolphins – like dolphins can swim
Though nothing – nothing will keep us together
Am Em D
We can beat them forever and ever
Oh we can be Heroes just for one day

You can find the rest of the chords here:

If that is too much, try the bass line.:



There was  one song I left out from this list of easy guitar songs, “Space Oddity”, because it has a few techniques that may be new for beginners. If you want to learn how to play the David Bowie hit, check out this”Space Oddity” video tutorial.

David Bowie’s memory will live on forever through his music. Celebrate his life and learn to play his songs! 

Matthew KPost Author:
 Matt K.
Matthew K. teaches guitar, piano, and music theory lessons in Brooklyn, NY. He studied music composition at Mercyhurst University, and he has been teaching lessons for four years. Matthew is available to teach in-person lessons as well as online via Skype. Learn more about Matthew here!

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