So you’ve just got your first guitar and you’re eager to start shredding it up like your idols.
Slow down, tiger! You first need to learn the basics.
Try learning some easy songs, and some of the simple riffs in the article. They’re a mix of rock, metal, and random ones (ahem…the tune from the Godfather).
- 1. Guns N Roses – Sweet Child ‘O Mine
- 2. Deep Purple – Smoke on the Water
- 3. Pantera – Walk
- 4. Black Sabbath – Iron Man
- 5. Linkin Park – Numb
- 6. Led Zeppelin – Stairway to Heaven
- 7. Mason Williams – Classical Gas
- 8. Nino Rota – Theme from the Godfather
- 9. The White Stripes – Seven Nation Army
- 10. Snow Patrol – Chasing Cars
1. Guns N Roses – Sweet Child ‘O Mine
The intro of this song is built around a simple four note pattern, with a few changes here and there. There are two ways you can play it, high up on the fretboard as per the original, or the super easy version which lets you take advantage of the open strings. You’ll develop string skipping, alternate picking, and playing speed.
You’ll need to drop your tuning in Eb tuning, which incidentally makes string bends easier.
2. Deep Purple – Smoke on the Water
There’s a reason it’s so undyingly popular amongst beginner guitarists. It lets you practice the power chord which is absolutely essential to metal and rock music, and if you crank up the overdrive it sounds badass.
3. Pantera – Walk
Much like the above, but with a little more complexity in the rhythm. You’ll be able to work in palm muting, a technique where you muffle the sound of the strings by resting your picking hand very lightly against the strings. This is found everywhere in music, from classical styles to death metal. The solo also features a lot of string bending, which is another essential technique to learn.
4. Black Sabbath – Iron Man
Another heavy metal classic that will teach you all about how to use hammer-ons and hammer-offs. All that’s involved is plucking a string once, and then using your fretting hand to forcefully switch notes. This is another ubiquitous technique found in all kinds of music that you’ll need to be very comfortable with before you can stop thinking of yourself as a beginner.
5. Linkin Park – Numb
If you’re really just starting out, sometimes chords and the like can be a bit much. This song is much easier, with the most recognizable riffs being on two strings and fairly slow paced. It’s important that you’re able to get a smooth transition between each note and have consistent speed when you’re first practicing. It’s also a good introduction to natural harmonics, which gives your guitar a beautiful bell-like tone.
6. Led Zeppelin – Stairway to Heaven
If you’re ready for something that sounds great, is instantly recognisable and lets you make full use of your guitar then this is a great choice. Once you’ve mastered this you’ll be looking to move past the beginner stage and onto something more advanced. It’s a good test of a lot of your skills, but isn’t so difficult as to be an impossible challenge for somebody who’s only been playing for a few weeks. The intro is perhaps the easiest part, and will introduce you to using all six strings whilst playing.
7. Mason Williams – Classical Gas
If you’ve ever watched somebody playing fingerstyle guitar you probably couldn’t fathom how they can keep track of so many fingers. Classical Gas is the perfect way to start learning how to do plenty of techniques used in this style of playing guitar. Although the whole song may be beyond you, it has a lot of easy guitar riffs for beginners that will help you decide whether you want to pursue this type of playing further as you advance.
8. Nino Rota – Theme from the Godfather
If you want to learn something that has an emotional punch without being too technical, the Godfather theme has exactly what you’re looking for. This was one of the first full songs I taught myself to play on guitar and it was after this that I went completely solo in my quest to get better. It sounds best when played slowly, with legato. Let the notes ring out for full effect.
9. The White Stripes – Seven Nation Army
Another great riff for beginners because you can easily learn to play this by your third day of ever owning a guitar, and maybe even sooner than that. With an instantly recognizable riff, this classic is a big favorite of ours.
10. Snow Patrol – Chasing Cars
This song has a very recognizable intro guitar riff that’s pretty easy to learn thanks to being fairly repetitive, but you’ll make use of the full first octave throughout the song whilst still being fairly restricted in the number of strings you’re using. It’s not a fast song, so you’ll be able to pick up the basics quite quickly whilst your muscle memory of what note is where on the fretboard develops.
There are many guitar riffs for beginners, so if you don’t like our selection because of the songs, then there’s no need to stick to these.
The trick to improving is to challenge yourself, practice the techniques and having the patience to play slowly to develop proficiency before trying to show off with more complex riffs that can be discouraging.
Ged is Founder and Editor-in-chief at Zing Instruments. He’s a guitarist for London based gypsy jazz band ‘Django Mango’ and a lover of all things music. When he’s not ripping up and down the fretboard, he’s tinkering with his ’79 Campervan.