How To Simplify Iconic Riffs (ft. Sultans Of Swing, Sweet Home Alabama, Brown Eyed Girl, and more!)

0:00 – Intro
1:06 – Sweet Home Alabama
3:46 – Smells Like Teen Spirit
6:05 – Brown Eyed Girl
8:59 – Sultans Of Swing
14:35 – Black Dog
18:11 – Outro
19:12 – Ayla’s challenge

When you first picked up the guitar, was there a specific riff that inspired you? If there was, then you’re like just about every other guitar player out there. The problem is that most of the time these iconic riffs are incredibly hard to pull off. And playing that legendary lick note-for-note could take years of practice.

But what if we told you that you can actually simplify many complicated guitar parts so that even a beginner can play them? In this lesson, Ayla takes five of the most famous guitar riffs ever and makes them completely beginner-friendly. These simplified riffs are a great way to break away from monotonous exercises and actually start having fun playing something your family and friends will recognize.

Sweet Home Alabama – Lynyrd Skynyrd

The thing that makes this riff particularly hard is the ghost notes and the fills. So we’ve gone ahead and taken those away so that it’s mostly just chords. Give it a try and as you get comfortable with it you can start adding back some of the nuances of the original.

Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana

There’s nothing like a good grunge riff! The thing that beginner guitarists struggle with here is the extended power chord shapes and the muted strums. If we remove the octave from the power chords so they only contain two notes each and leave out the muted strums, this riff becomes pretty easy to play.

Brown Eyed Girl – Van Morrison

Here’s another lick that sounds pretty easy but actually poses quite the challenge. This lead line uses something called double stops. These double stops are two notes played at the same time in harmony. To simplify this one, we’ll remove a few of these secondary notes and focus on the melody. As you improve, you can add some notes back until you’re playing the real thing!

Sultans Of Swing – Dire Straits

Nailing all of the nuances in Mark Knopfler’s original riff from Sultans Of Swing takes some pretty advanced technique. We’ll scale this one down a lot by removing the fancy fingerpicking and the bar chords. Instead, we’ll focus on playing open chords and playing the foundational pieces of the riff. 

Black Dog – Led Zeppelin

For the last riff of this lesson, we’ll strip away Jimi Page’s bends and trills so that the riff focuses purely on the melody. We’ll keep the little bit of chromaticism and pentatonic shapes so it’ll still sound familiar.

And that’s it! You may want to play the riff just like the recording from the get-go, and that’s totally okay. This lesson is more for those of you that are happy to play something recognizable and work towards playing the real thing over time. Happy playing!

3 thoughts on “How To Simplify Iconic Riffs (ft. Sultans Of Swing, Sweet Home Alabama, Brown Eyed Girl, and more!)”

  1. Joey M. Delgado

    By playing my favorite iconic riffs in simplified form keeps the enthusiasm alive and makes the goal of playing them in their original forms very reachable. ?

  2. “Recommending” how to play the open Dm chord is one of the gentlest instructions I’ve ever heard ? The world needs talented young people and it needs considerate young people — you are both. And thank you for endorsing the “feel over accuracy” approach that informs my amateur playing. It actually got my son interested in the guitar as a kid and he’s now capable of shredding Mastodon songs while I’m still simplifying Black Sabbath… we’re both very happy with our respective skill levels!

  3. Jesse James GGBR

    Whoa… slow down the reverb! Great lesson for players of all levels!!!
    Never underestimate the power of having a few iconic riffs in your tool bag. Even if they aren’t perfect, it gets the point across and opens up all kinds of jamming possibilities. Well done.

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