Learn Guitar Riffs  


Click Here for Riff Master ProAs you become more skilled you are soon going to want to learn guitar riffs. A riff is a particular type of ‘ostinato’ specific to the guitar. An ostinato is a musical phrase which repeats persistently in the same musical tone and tempo; (ostinato is derived from the Italian for stubborn). When you learn guitar riffs these repeated phrases can be made up of chords, single notes or part chords and we’ll look at a couple of examples later on.  


The renowned music analyst and author David Brackett defines riffs as “short, melodic phrases” whilst award- winning songwriter Richard Middleton defines them as “short, rhythmic, melodic or harmonic figures repeated to form a structural framework”. Middleton has also stated “most rock musicians use riff as a near synonym for musical idea”.  


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The term certainly goes back to the jazz scene of the 1920’s but obtained more popular awareness following Charlie Parker’s 1945 recording ‘Thriving on a Riff’.  

So you can see when you learn guitar riffs there is quite a broad area of musical concepts for you to work on.  


A well structured guitar riff can provide the power to a song or set the tone for the song that’s to follow. A good example of this is the opening riff in The Who’s ‘Pinball Wizard’. Once that riff has kicked in you know a very powerful song is about to follow. This song is a good example of where chords are used to form the riff.  


Sometimes a riff will permeate through the entire song providing the ‘hook’ that the song relies on. When this is done well it is very effective and memorable. An example of this is the riff that runs through Deep Purple’s ‘Smoke on the Water’. If you listen to that song with a view to analysing the riff you may be forgiven to think that the riff is also created by chords and in fact in the numerous clubs and town halls up and down the country when this is played by wannabee tribute bands it is often formed with chords. However, listen to the original carefully and you’ll hear that it is only a part chord - only two strings are simultaneously plucked. Here is the tab for that riff:  



Finally, let’s look at an example of a riff created by single notes. One of the most memorable ones is quite long in sequence and sounds more like a lead melody but it does comply with the rules of repetition; the introduction to Led Zeppelin’s ‘Stairway to Heaven’. It is a great example to look at because although made up of single notes there are also part chords in the riff and it ends with those three distinctive chords. Take a look at the tab whilst you listen to it; (there are loads of videos on YouTube you can find).  And although memorable and effective in what it does for the song- it is not that difficult to play‚Ķ. have a go. Here is the tab: 




So you can see that if you want to learn guitar riffs, Led Zeppelin’s ‘Stairway to Heaven’ is an excellent riff to practice. 

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