Guitar Riffs What Are They ?

guitar riffs

Guitar Riffs

This page is all about guitar riffs. Scroll to the bottom of this page to see me play through some.

What Exactly is a Guitar Riff?

This is a question that can have a subjective answer. What one might call a riff someone else might call a rhythmic idea or a lick. So for the sake of my own sanity let me explain what a Riff can be as I see them. Right or wrong.

I see them as powerful musical ideas. These are often short in duration and repeated many times over. For example; Led Zeppelin- Whole Lotta Love.

These ideas are often repeated with subtle variations. It is also common to have tag endings to them. Like the palm muted rhythmic figure at the end of Metallica’s- Enter Sandman idea.

You will find them in different styles of music like country or pop. The intros to the following are worth listening to;

The Eagles- Life In The Fastlane

Arctic Monkeys- Do I Wanna Know

The Beatles- Day Tripper

Yet, they always seem to stand on their own as ‘mini compositions’.

 

Riffin’ Is For Everyone

Riffs are not exclusive to guitar players. A couple of examples that come to mind are:

Stevie Wonder- Superstitious  (keyboard riff)

Michael Jackson- Billie Jean (bass riff)

I think of these as riffs, but hey you can disagree with me if you like.

Some may argue that the opening line to Sweet Child O’ Mine by Guns n’ Roses is a lick and not a riff. I stand on the side of it being a lick via melodic motif. Again you can disagree with me. Whereas I see the main guitar during the verses of Paradise City by Guns n’ Roses as a riff.

Some people may say The Kinks– You Really Got Me is not a riff and that it is just a power chord rhythm. But is it just that?

Guitar riffs can sound cool in different time signatures like the ones found in;

Pink Floyd- Money (which is in 5/4)

Tool– Schism (many time signatures)

No matter how you view them they always seem to always share common denominators:

  • Super Catchy
  • Short
  • Repeated
  • Often made up of single note lines

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Greatest Guitar Riffs

Here are a few videos that have some of the greatest and most famous guitar riffs ever. You can decide whether they all are a riff or not.

One piece of serious advice for you all is to back up your riffs. Kirk Hammett from Metallica found this out the hard way when he lost his iphone containing about 250 guitar riffs. It is likely that most of the ideas are gone forever!

I know from personal experience unless you have been working on a musical idea for a while. The chances of remembering your ideas exactly are somewhat near impossible. So losing an iphone or any other recording device is a tragedy! Hammett said that out of the 400 there might only be 20 great riffs.

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How To Use Them

The best places to use them is at the beginning of a song and then repeated again two or three times. Repeating them in tags or turnarounds or between verses & choruses is effective. Refer to the earlier song references listed on this page. Listen to the placement and the length of these guitar ideas. You will get a much better understanding of how effective placement and length are.

Check out my video of me playing the musical Ideas from this article. This way you can get a sense of what a riff is.

 

 

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