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Ten riffs every guitar player should know

Ten riffs every guitar player should know

Just when you thought it was safe, ……..I’m back!!

The guitar riff is one of the pillars of rock n’ roll. Classic riffs are basically masterpieces in their own right. That magic combination of notes that penetrate your soul. An immortal riff is perhaps the most solid way to become a legend. Riffs have defined bands, careers, and generations. There are so many great riffs that it’s hard to come up with such a short list. However, here we’ll try our very best. In no particular order, here are the ten riffs every guitar player should know.

(I can’t get no) Satisfaction

A simple yet extremely moving riff by the Keith Richards. Composed of only two bars of music and mostly single lines, it is a relatively easy riff to play. This would be a good choice for a beginner guitar player. But make no mistake, advanced guitarists can also learn a lot from the simplicity that encompasses so much punch. Released in 1965, “(I can’t get no) Satisfaction” is one of the Rolling Stones’ biggest songs. And it starts with a killer and unforgettable riff.

Smoke on the Water

There is a good chance that this is among the first riffs a guitar player learns. This says a lot about the staying power of this riff. Without question, it’s the most famous Deep Purple cut. Composed of a simple succession of power chords, this riff is super easy to play. As a matter of fact, “Smoke on the Water” is one of those favorite songs for young bands that are just starting up. Immortalized by the legendary Ritchie Blackmore riff, this song was released in 1973.

Back in Black

Few riffs are as powerful and punchy as this masterpiece by guitar legend Angus Young. It combines a few power chords with two licks, to give AC/DC the biggest song from their biggest album, also named Back In Black. This album is one of the biggest selling records ever, by any artist. Released in 1980, it has sold over 50 million copies.

Smells Like Teen Spirit

This is the riff that put Seattle on the map back in 1991. A series of palm muted bar chords by Kurt Cobain set off a revolution that put grunge rock on the top of the charts. Despite its simplicity, it almost sounds like a 180-degree turn from everything that came before. It is the most recognizable song and riff by Nirvana, and a very popular one with guitarists all around the globe.

Whole Lotta Love

Jimmy Page wrote this riff in the late Sixties and it still resonates profoundly today. It helped make Led Zeppelin, one of the greatest rock bands ever (the greatest, according to many). Recorded in 1969, this riff and song remain one of the most learned. Even though the entire Led Zeppelin catalog is a riff mine, “Whole Lotta Love” displays the power and finesse of one of the greatest guitar players ever: Jimmy Page.

Sweet Child O’ Mine

The story goes like this: Slash was fooling around with his guitar and started playing a riff. Drummer Steven Adler spoke up and told Slash to keep on playing it. And the rest is history. The riff for “Sweet Child O’ Mine” is an instant classic, based on outlining chords through some sort of arpeggio. It’s not an easy riff to play, but just like most things guitar-related, practice makes perfect. “Sweet Child O’ Mine” was released in 1987 and became Guns N’ Roses biggest hit and a classic rock anthem.

Purple Haze

No riff list would be complete without a Jimi Hendrix cut. And that is a fact. “Purple Haze” has become a guitar player standard tune at jam sessions and other scenarios. And this includes the likes of Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Slash, (not to mention Stevie Ray Vaughan’s classic version of this song). Released in 1967, “Purple Haze” is one of Jimi Hendrix’s best-known songs and features several classic riffs.

Iron Man

This classic song by Black Sabbath features the accompanying immortal riff by the great Tommy Iommi. It is probably the best-known Heavy Metal riff ever. It has the added benefit that the actual riff is also the main vocal melody line, as recorded by one Mr. Ozzy Osbourne. Recorded in 1970, it still sounds menacing and very heavy today. It is another favorite riff to learn by beginners as it is fairly easy and sounds so great.

Day Tripper

Released in 1965, “Day Tripper” features a classic riff that is both easy and fun. Like many riffs in this list, its beautiful simplicity is what made it a classic. No band had a stronger impact on music and culture than the Beatles. You could even make the argument that their influence is present in every riff in this list, even if by accident. The fab four have plenty of classic riffs in their repertoire, and “Day Tripper” is one of their best.

Enter Sandman

Kirk Hammett and James Hetfield are one the best-known guitar teams ever. In “Enter Sandman” it is clear why. This riff is extremely powerful and pushed Metallica into the mainstream back in 1991 when it was released. It is still a favorite riff to learn for many guitar players, although it is not particularly easy.

Wrapping it all up

There’s is nothing quite like a great riff. It can set off a mood and make your heart pump blood faster. Like in any shortlist, there will inevitably be some great ones left out. So please… don’t stop at 10. Learn as many riffs as you can. The modern music industry as we know it is largely dependent on riffs, and rightfully so.

One last thing – take a few minutes to look up some guitar tab for these riffs, or even check out some YouTube videos.  Some of these iconic riffs may be a lot easier to play than you think!

Time’s up for this week. Stay tuned and…

Peace Out!

The Guitar Head.

What is a riff? Seven things you need to know

What is a riff? Seven things you need to know

We meet once again,

Oh, the guitar riff… the ever-popular, often mystified fragment of music that makes songs instantly recognizable. Or is it the musical phrase that can define a generation? Perhaps an immortalized series of notes you are proud to learn? Yes, yes and yes. A riff is all those things and so much more.

Part of being a guitar legend is to come up with those riffs. You could even make the argument that riffs are just as important to a guitar player’s reputation as his solos (if not more). And as a guitar player, you will definitely be playing lots of riffs. A riff might as well be the very first thing you learn on guitar. But… what exactly is a riff? There are many kinds and types. Here are the seven things you need to know…

A riff is a succession of notes or theme

 This succession of notes can be double stops, chord progressions and/or single notes. It often constitutes a central part of the song. Of course, a song might have more than one riff. A simple arpeggio pattern over a few chords can be a riff, like in “Paradise City” from Guns N’ Roses. An even simpler chord strum pattern can also be a riff, like in “Smells Like Teen Spirit” from Nirvana. In both cases, the riffs are instantly recognizable and could be considered a theme.

A riff can feature a combination of techniques

 Even though many riffs are composed exclusively of single lines or just chords, there are many others that feature both. As a matter of fact, you can basically use any infinite combinations of techniques to build a riff. For instance, the riff of “Back in Black” from AC/DC features a series of chords that alternate with two very specific single lines or licks. The first one on the high string and the second one the lower strings.

Another classic song that combines chords and single lines to form its main riff is “Purple Haze” by Jimi Hendrix. This happens in the very intro of the song. That riff, in particular, has become a popular choice for guitar teachers and students alike, as it is relatively easy, very recognizable and extremely cool as well.

A riff can also be a part inside a song

Let’s stick with “Paradise City”. Even though the main riff is a simple arpeggio pattern over a few chords, it is not the only riff on that classic song. Right after it happens, a new riff comes in:  a distorted series of simple power chords that step up the verse. This riff is not the “main riff” in the song, but it’s definitely a very important one as well.

This also happens in “Purple Haze”. That Hendrix classic employs different riffs throughout its structure, to create a guitar anthem and a must-know song if you play Rock guitar.

Riffs are a great learning tool

Riffs are a great educational tool for guitar players. Given that there are so many recognizable riffs, it should be fairly simple to pick something you like and that fits your playing ability. There’s also the immense added bonus of playing along with the original recording once you learn the riff.

This fact should not be understated, as it is a great tool to learn not only riffs but music in general. To play along with, say Jimmy Page and Led Zeppelin, or any other great artist, is a very useful tool. You can really try to emulate the players feel and intensity and play with an incredible rhythm section, if only for a moment. The benefits of doing this on a regular basis are immense.

You should learn riffs by ear

Because of today’s technology and the endless amount of information available, learning music by ear is not as common. This is quite unfortunate because the musician is missing out on great ear training. Learning riffs off a recording not only trains your ears but also develops the connections between brain, ears, and hands. The importance of learning by ear cannot be overstated.

Riffs also have a difficulty level

If you have never picked up a guitar before, try to steer clear from hard riffs. Trust me, if the first riff you attempt to learn is “Cliffs of Dover” by Eric Johnson, you will be very disappointed. Better start with something simpler and build up to the more complex stuff. Remember: to run, you first need to walk. And before that, you need to crawl.

Riffs can be found in all instruments

 Yes, yes, I know. At least in rock, most riffs are on the guitar. But that does not mean we have to stick to those exclusively. Take for instance the bass riff on “Under Pressure” by Queen/David Bowie. It is so instantly recognizable that Vanilla Ice decided to use it on his 1991 hit “Ice Ice Baby” (don’t kid yourself…you know that you liked it…).

For a more obscure reference, Dave Grohl does a killer drum riff at the beginning of Nirvana’s “Scentless Apprentice”. This makes the song instantly recognizable to any Nirvana fan.

Wrapping it all up

 Riffs are the bread and butter of a rock guitar player. They are a crucial stepping stone for learning and getting better as a guitarist. They can combine several techniques, happen in different parts of songs and run the gamut from easy to complex. The best way to learn them is by ear. And one of the best ways to practice them is playing along to the original recording.

That’s it for this week. Stay tuned and…

Peace Out!

The Guitar Head

Seven simple facts about chords

Seven simple facts about chords

Guess what?  It’s me again…

As a guitarist, you will probably be playing chords about 80 percent of the time, if not more. Even if you end up being the lead player in a band, chords will take up most of your playing time. In other words, there’s no way around this one. A guitar player that can’t play chords, might as well give up the instrument.

That being said, chords can be extremely fun to play. They appear in killer riffs, sweet accompaniment for songs, and everything in between. Like most things guitar-related, practice is key when it comes to chords. For now, let’s get more familiarized with them.

Here are the seven simple facts about chords – but we are going to look at them a little differently.  I’m not going to show you a ton of chord charts (you can find those anywhere on the internet).  These facts are more like ‘background info” so that you know what a chord actually is, and what makes them what they are.

A chord is a combination of notes

The simplest definition of a chord is: two or more notes played at the same time. As simple as that sounds, it is nonetheless an accurate definition. Double stops? They are chords. Power chords? Obviously chords. Complex extended harmonies? Yes, those are chords as well. Whenever you strike two or more notes at the same time on your guitar, you are playing a chord.

Chords are related to scales

Even though a chord can be made up of any random combination of notes, randomness is not commonly associated with chord construction. So, what is? Intervals, or the distance between two notes. Take for instance a C major chord on its simplest form. It is composed of the root, the third and the fifth. This might sound complex, but if you attended kindergarten, you can comprehend it. Remember your C, D, E, F, G, A, B? Well, that’s a C major scale. Take the first note of that scale (C), the third note (E), and the fifth note (G). Now play them together. That’s it, that’s your C major chord! And this is exactly how chords are constructed.

Want to play a C major 7th chord? Well, then just put the root (the first note), the third, the fifth and the seventh. That would be C, E, G and B. That is your C major 7th chord. Of course, we are using the easiest scale with the simplest chord quality. But once you learn a bit of theory, you can figure out what any chord is, note by note. And that applies to very complex chords as well.

Power chords are for guitarists

Even if you don’t play rock, chances are you will play power chords any time you have distortion on. So… what are power chords? They are composed of the root note and the fifth. Back to our C major scale, that would be C (root) and G (the fifth). No more, no less. These chords are almost always played with some kind of saturation. That could be anything from warm overdrive to screeching distortion. Power chords are a lot of fun and lend themselves well for riffs on electric guitar.

And here comes the fun part. Power chords are not major or minor (or dominant seventh for that matter). Because they don’t have a 3rd (the note that dictates the chord quality, i.e. major or minor) power chords can be used for either one. Think of it more a bass note. So how does the song get its sound then, you might ask. The quality of the harmony is going to be present regardless, even if you use only power chords. But that is a topic for a more advanced harmony article.

Chords can be played in many ways

It is quite amazing that chords can take so many shapes and forms… literally! They can be power chords, double stops, inversions, extended harmonies, and even arpeggios. Don’t know what all those terms mean? Don’t worry. With time and practice, you will come to dominate these ways of playing chords and many more. The point here is to illustrate that chords can be played in a wide variety of ways.

So, if you are bored with playing that open C chord over and over, know that there are other ways to play it. However, it is important to note that how you play a chord will depend on the style and context. For instance, a C major open position chord is not automatically interchangeable with a C major 7th chord or even a power chord. Again, only practice and studying will reveal when and how to use a particular way of playing chords.

Chords are found in all styles

It doesn’t matter what style of music you play – unless you’re B.B. King, you’re gonna have to play lots of chords. So, you might as well master them. Rock? You’ve got your power chords and more. Jazz? Then extended chords and beyond will be your friends. Country? Triads and open chords will be your thing. Oh, please don’t get me wrong. Just because you play rock does not mean you don’t have to learn extended chords. And vice versa.

Let me state it very clearly – the more chords you know, and the more ways of playing them you can master, the more complete guitarist you will be. You should learn all kinds of different voicings and ways of playing chords. This will make your playing stronger. It will also make music much more fun to play.

Chords are not exclusive to guitar players

Simply put, chords are present in harmony. And harmony is always present in the music. Even instrumentalists that cannot play more than one note at a time know chords. In-demand sax or trumpet players typically have a deep understanding of how harmony/chords work. They also tend to play a chordal instrument, typically piano.

Wrapping it all up

Chords and harmony, in general, are a central part of the music. This is true of any style, from rock and blues to country and bossa nova. As an accompanying instrument, guitarists are expected to be able to play chords. This is true even for a beginner guitar player. If you are at a birthday party and someone hands you a guitar to sing “Happy Birthday”, chords are what you will be playing. Remember to have fun and dedicate some time daily for practice.

That’s it for this week. Stay tuned and…

Peace Out!

The Guitar Head