10 Riffs to Learn as an Intermediate Lead Guitar Player (w/ TABS)
Once you’ve been playing guitar for a while you will likely be looking to learn some more challenging riffs. At some point playing the same simple songs you learned early on becomes monotonous. If you feel this way, it usually means you are in or are approaching your years of being an intermediate guitar player.
Since the “intermediate” skill level has no real definition this list has riffs of varying difficulty. All of the guitar parts tabbed out below require somewhere above a beginner level but below an expert level of competency.
Message in A Bottle – The Police
Think this one sounds too easy? Think again. On your first listen of this classic Police track, you may think that Andy Summers is just picking through some 80s sounding chords. Well, you’d actually be right about that, but the fingerings are what make this guitar riff intermediate. What we have here are some 9 chords arpeggiated over five frets. If you’ve never played this type of chord before the stretch will likely be a challenge for you. But once you get this part down you have a VERY easy I – IV - V power chord progression to play in the chorus.
Misirlou – Dick Dale
Did someone say drip? Yep, this riff is an absolute must-learn for any self-respecting surf guitar player. And actually, if you have ever played this style of guitar before it should not be too big of an endeavor. But for those unaccustomed, you basically just have to keep a 16th note drone on whatever string the riff is played on. So, crank up the depth on your spring reverb and get to work!
Under the Bridge – Red Hot Chili Peppers
The guitar intro of “Under the Bridge” is easily one of the best in the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s catalog. But in order to play it right, you have to get down some tricky hybrid picking and hammer-ons. These little Frusciante-Esque embellishments are what will get you really close to the original recording. So, take the time to really get all of the details down with this one.
Pride and Joy – Stevie Ray Vaughan
Anything S.R.V ever did is not going to be easy by any means. But “Pride and Joy” is one of his songs that many people are able to use as a gateway to Texas blues guitar playing. Additionally, this is one of his most iconic and well-known songs, making it well worth the time you’ll put into learning it. While it would take a lifetime to really sound the way Vaughan does, you can get in the ballpark by attempting this tune. (It’s worth saying that a tab can’t do S.R.V. much justice, this is a fine starting point, but if you’re looking to really learn this one you have to listen to the recording)
Thunderstruck – ACDC
This is an instantly recognizable song from Australia’s biggest ever rock band. If you start into this song nearly everyone around will know it on the spot. Now as for playing it, the main challenge is obviously the speed. Many people will see this as a simple hammer-on / pull-off riff, in fact, the music video shows it as such. Unfortunately to play it like Angus in the recording or live you do have to pluck every note. Just like with anything fast, take your time to get it perfect at a slow tempo, then work your way up.
Mr. Brightside – The Killers
The Killers' first single has one of the catchiest lead guitar parts out there. The main riff consists of one arpeggiated set of notes that only changes in the bass. With this guitar part you really only get a break from it in the choruses of the song, so stamina is the real challenge here. Also, this riff is not even worth touching if your guitar’s intonation is off, just FYI!
Life in the Fast Lane – The Eagles
Another really cool, somewhat underrated riff that you need to learn is the hook in “Life in the Fast Lane”. This Joe Walsh riff is a classic use of the 3rd position pentatonic scale in E (taking advantage of the open string). It is simple enough, a little fast, but the important part with this riff is the skipped beat at the end of each phrase. Make sure you are listening to the song as a reference for this.
Black Dog – Led Zeppelin
“Black Dog” has one of those riffs that define how a rock guitar part should be played; fast, with groove, and including all of the blues notes. Just like many other Zeppelin tunes, this riff changes with the 12-barre blues chord progression in the song. While learning this is definitely an accomplishment, try taking it to the next level by locking it in with a real drummer.
Master of Puppets – Metallica
Plenty of people can learn to play a part of this classic thrash metal anthem. What really makes this song so hard to master is the fact that nearly everything is played by down stroking 8th notes at over 200 bpm. Obviously, your main struggle here is going to be making it all the way through till the end.
Purple Haze – Jimi Hendrix
If you have yet to tackle a Jimi Hendrix song, “Purple Haze” is a great place to start. From the opening tritones to the groovy licks that follow, the guitar riff in this song is legendary and instantly distinguishable. It is a fairly simple part and played at a moderate tempo, but the real trick here is developing a feel like the way Hendrix played it. This is easier said than done but give it a shot regardless, this is a really great riff to have in your arsenal.