We at Gear Gods know that every guitarist needs to start somewhere. We think the best place to start is with stuff you can actually enjoy practicing. So if you’re sick of playing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” out of the Level 1 guitar book, take a break and break your neck headbanging while you rip through The 25 Greatest Metal Riffs for Beginners!
1. Judas Priest – Breaking The Law
“Breaking The Law” is maybe the most iconic Judas Priest guitar riff. A simple but incredibly catchy riff, “Breaking the Law” is an exercise in creating a single-note melody using the natural minor scale.
2. Iron Maiden – The Trooper
The grand-daddy of single-note, harmonized riffs, the intro and main riffs of “The Trooper” are fundamental to the DNA of heavy metal. Iron Maiden wrote many of the rules for the game, and this riff off 1983’s Piece of Mind is one of their most iconic. As a challenge, learn both the main melodies as well as the guitar harmonies – that will help with developing your ear to hear multiple guitar parts!
3. Van Halen – Hot For Teacher
This is definitely one of the tricker songs on this list, due to its mixture of fast-triplets and tricky picking, but it’s tricky in all the right ways that will push you as a player. Eddie Van Halen is often considered one of the most untouchable guitar players, but if you start with this riff, the language of Van Halen will make much more sense to you.
As a bonus trick, try learning the intro guitar tapping parts! They sound tough, but they’re not that hard – you can do it!
4. Megadeth – Symphony of Destruction
A classic song and riff, and one of the easiest riffs to learn on this list. This song is a good one to start out with if you’re tipping your toes into metal, and is a great example of how you can say a whole lot with music by saying very little. This riff is particularly good for practicing playing in time, as its razor-sharp cuts provide the tension between the bass and the drums.
5. Metallica – For Whom The Bell Tolls
The chorus riff of “For Whom The Bell Tolls” off Metallica’s classic Ride The Lightning is a great riff to help get your palm mute chops up. It’s particularly helpful because of its mixture of open chords and palm mutes, and will help you hear and understand how effective the use of palm muting can be in contrast to striking a chord.
6. Slayer – Raining Blood
One of the coolest riffs ever written, the main riff from “Raining Blood” is another good exercise in learning how to mix palm muting with open single-note lines.
7. Led Zeppelin – The Ocean
This is another of the tougher riffs on this list, but in my opinion, it is the greatest guitar riff ever written – so if you can master this, the rest will be easy-peasy!
Now the time signature in this song is a bit tricky, but try not to pay attention to that. The riff is actually pretty simple. And after you learn the main riff, you can practice your down-strokes by working on the verse riff. Just rely on your ear and you’ll do great!
8. Skid Row – Monkey Business
Skid Row’s Slave to the Grind is one of the most underrated metal albums of all time. Although it debuted at number 1, it’s been disregarded in favor of their more famous peers Guns N’ Roses, and by the shadow cast by Metallica’s Black Album.
But this is a great song and riff, and is a nice exercise in learning how to creatively use blues-based riffs to create heavy music.
9. Thin Lizzy – Jailbreak
“Jailbreak” is one of my all-time favorite songs. So much swagger and groove in such a simple riff! Like “Monkey Business,” this riff is also an exercise in using simple blues-based rock to create a cool, unique heavy metal sound.
10. Mastodon – Crystal Skull
You really can’t go wrong learning any riff off Mastodon’s Blood Mountain, one of modern metal’s most formidable riff-albums and my personal favorite. “Crystal Skull” is a good one to learn though, because the song is in 6/8, a common time signature and feel that isn’t 4/4, which you are probably most used to.
The entire song is good to learn too – there’s some tricky finger movements, and what Mastodon does with 6/8 time is pretty interesting.
11. The Dillinger Escape Plan – Milk Lizard
I know you’re thinking… holy cow, there’s no way I could play a Dillinger riff. But you’d be wrong as balls boy. Not only is “Milk Lizard” one of the band’s greatest songs – it’s also one of their simplest! Even the odd-timed “solo” break sections are based around an easy-to-learn riff pattern modelled around the song’s main riff.
Plus, this thing grooves!
12. Lamb of God – Now You’ve Got Something to Die For
Like “Milk Lizard” for DEP, one of the simplest riffs in Lamb of God’s catalogue forms the backbone of one of their greatest songs.
A chromatic lick, this song will also stretch your first forays into other tunings – in this case, D standard. For an added challenge, learn the verse and breakdown riffs and give your palm-mute technique some much-needed attention!
13. Clutch – Mercury
Clutch’s 2005 opus Blast Tyrant is full of killer, easy-to-learn guitar riffs. What’s that metaphor about hitting the Statue of Liberty with a baseball bat? This album is like that with riffs.
The main riff of “Mercury” is one of the simpler licks on the album, and will be good for helping train your ear to hear the omnipresent influence of blues music in heavy metal. Clutch are the masters of modern-day blues-based guitar rock, and this is the album where it all starts.
14. Opeth – The Devil’s Orchard
The main riff of this song, off Opeth’s 2011 masterpiece Heritage, is one of the tougher ones on the list, but not impossible! It’s also quite an important riff to learn, because along with the intro riff and other sections of the song, utilizes the harmonic minor scale and its modes in creative ways. It may sound like it’s an exotic middle eastern scale, but it’s just minor! This scale’s sound is fundamental musical vocabulary, in metal or otherwise, so this is a good one to get in your head.
15. Black Sabbath – Electric Funeral
Sure, it’s basic as fuck. Sure, it’s easy as hell. But goddamn if it isn’t just crushing! Also a great excuse to work that wah pedal you’ve got sitting around. It’s got some really great slow chromatic movement that really makes you feel like you’re walking in thick mud.
The song takes a pretty drastic left turn in the middle, so it’s got some real dynamic value and there’s no proper solo so it’s pretty easy to get the whole song down without hours of learning.
16. Ozzy Osbourne – Crazy Train
Another basic metal jam, but if you’re just getting into playing metal guitar, that intro riff is an absolute must know. It’s one of the most iconic riffs in metal, and set the tone for a lot of metal to come (not to mention making a guitar hero out of Randy Rhodes).
17. Scorpions – Rock You Like A Hurricane
This one is one of those dead simple, catchy as all hell memorable riffs that I actively try to avoid only because once I hear it, it’s in my ear all day. Like the old standby Smoke on the Water, it blends just the right amount of on the beat and syncopated stabs to keep your brain guessing. If you can play power chords, you can play this riff.
18. Motorhead – Ace of Spades
At a cool 4 notes, the entry fee for this riff is set extremely low. The tricky part is getting the rhythm just right. And if you don’t get it just right, I don’t think Lemmy will mind.
The most important thing to realize about this one is that it starts on the 12th fret. Not the most convenient place to play it, but that’s where it’s at. Also, the thing that starts off the song is not guitar – Lemmy plays his bass through a Marshall guitar stack, so it sounds a bit like a guitar.
19. Dream Theater – Erotomania
I bet you’re thinking, “How is a DT song on a beginner riff list? I can’t play like John Petrucci!”. But the main riff for this song is within your grasp. Not only is it fairly simple and repetitive, it’s also a spectacular finger exercise/warmup.
The riff is in 5/4, so that’s a bit tricky to wrap your mind around at first. But it’s mainly just leaving the right amount of space between the two halves of the riff, which are basically a stream of eighth notes. Don’t be intimidated, just take your time and do it over and over while watching a Partridge Family marathon.
20. Ted Nugent – Cat Scratch Fever
Before he was a cartoon character of a ranch owner, Ted Nugent was a wild rockstar who could actually play his instrument. This riff consists mainly of fourths, which are real easy to play on the guitar with one finger (since the guitar is tuned mostly in fourths). If you’ve ever played Smoke on the Water, then this one is right up that same alley.
21. DIO – Holy Diver
I don’t know what the fuck Dio is singing about in this song, but he sings it so well I don’t even care. A great, galloping guitar riff fuels this song’s forward momentum, simple and relatively easy to play but tricky in the way it changes slightly – so LOOK OUT!
22. Pantera – Walk
In case you haven’t seen a pattern emerge yet, it’s that metal dudes like to do riffs that are apparently simple, but actually have a lot more going on than meets the ear. This is kind of an extreme example of that idea. The whole riff is like, 3 notes, but the swing feel, coupled with the way that it’s played (a bend on the first fret where the string is stiffest) and some syncopation make for an interesting challenge.
Don’t try it if you’re easily bothered by persistence.
23. Rooster – Alice in Chains
Just a handful of barre chords plus some open strings make up this song’s main riff, which despite being all major chords, still have an ominous sound. The depressing music video doesn’t hurt either. Alice in Chains was (along with Soundgarden) the heaviest of the grunge/metal bands, so we’re giving them a pass on this one. Plus, it’s nice and slow, which makes it fun to play along with.
24. Led Zeppelin – Whole Lotta Love
The reason I like this song for beginners is this – it’s perfect for practicing palm muted downstrokes, because the riff uses a bunch in a row, and then you get a little break every time around to play the two note tag.
Remember to use mostly downstrokes for this one, which is a crucial part of heavy metal guitar. You can bet your ass that James Hetfield played this song a lot in his youth.
25. Metallica – One
Although the opening riff for this song is far from their heaviest, it is pretty damn dark and ominous for being so clean. Some of the cleanest tones heard in metal until then and since (courtesy of the Roland Jazz Chorus) make for a crushing drop when the chorus hits.