Practising Guitar Ear Training - 10 Fun Riffs to learn by ear

Guitar Ear Training - Guitarist


A skill that has taken me ages to learn, and that I put off from learning for years is Guitar ear training, and I still have a long way to go. Learning songs from ear. Note Sheet music, no Tablature just being able to listen to the song and work it out. It is a skill that everyone assumes is really tricky and hard, and it can be. The more you do it, the easier it becomes. It is really hard to explain but you just get a sort of sixth sense for it.

Where most people go wrong is when they try to learn by ear for the first time, they choose a hard song, with complex riffs and chords. They find it hard to learn and end up going to sheet music or tab, Both of which have their place. What you should do when starting is choose simple riffs that are very familiar. To help you, we have created a list of 10 Fun riffs to learn by ear. Riffs you will all know and will be able to work out and learn easily.

1. Rolling Stones – I can’t get no Satisfaction (Main Riff)

We are looking at the main Riff to this Rolling Stones song. This is a classic riff that everyone would off heard. It is also a simple riff to work out. A great starting point as the main riff is fairly isolated at the start of the track. Giving you a better chance of working out the riff itself. A great starting point for any beginner. If you want to get started with Guitar ear training. This is the perfect Riff.

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2. The Kinks – You really got me (Main Riff)

This is a classic riff! All guitarist have heard this riff and know this riff! As with the rolling stones, this is a famous and simple riff. Very easy to learn by ear as the riff is once again isolated at the start. A Great riff to play for Guitar Ear Training!

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3. Cream – Sunshine of your Love (intro Riff)

Eric Clapton is one of the greatest guitars ever. Some of his songs and licks will and have gone down in history as the greatest riffs ever! Including this one, sunshine of your love! As with the other two riffs, it is also isolated at the start making easier to work out. It’s a fun lick to work out.

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4. Crazy Train – Ozzy Osbourne (intro Riff)

This one is a killer of a riff! Personally one of my all-time favourite riffs! As with the others, it is fairly isolated at the start, however, this one is a bit tricker than the others. A little bit faster and more complex so might take a bit more time to figure out. A great riff to sit down and learn!

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Guitar Ear Training - ES-335 Guitar

5. Killing in the Name off – Rage against the Machine (heavy Riff)

This one is a killer of a riff! Personally one of my all-time favourite riffs! As with the others, it is fairly isolated at the start, however, this one is a bit tricker than the others. A little bit faster and more complex so might take a bit more time to figure out. A great riff to sit down and learn!

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6. Can’t Stop – Red Hot Chilli Peppers (Main Intro Riff)

Another great riff. The great John Frusciante is an incredible songwriter and riff writer. This Riff is a fairly complex riff due to Frusciante playing style. It is what I would call “Loose and Bluesy”. Lots of string skipping and lots of Dead strings/notes so again, a little step up but still worth learning. 

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7. Monkey Wrench – Foo Fighters (Intro Riff)

The intro riff to Monkey wrench is just insane! Great fun to play even to jam with friends! The song is just straight-up rock and roll! It is a fairly simple song to work out. Again, it is in a full mix and performed at a very fast tempo might make it trickier, but will massively help your ability to learn by ear.

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8. Breaking the Law – Judas Priest (Main Riff)

Judas Priest is one of the leaders and pioneers in Heavy Metal/Rock! This is one of their classic songs. Breaking the Law! A great song with a fantastic riff. It is a fairly simple riff to learn but just feels so amazing to play. A Great riff to start when practising guitar ear training.

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9. Rock you like a Hurricane – Scorpions (Intro Riff)

Another riff from the 80’s Hard Rock/Hair metal days. This riff is based around power chords and not single notes but is still fairly simple to work out. As with the above, it is a great riff to start learning by ear. Crank that distortion, delay and reverb and this riff will always put a smile on your face!

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10. Heartbreaker – Led Zeppelin (Intro Riff)

Our last song if from Music legend’s Led Zeppelin! Now, almost all Led Zeppelin songs are good to work out by ear but we chose this one because not only is it isolated at the start of the song, but it is also single notes. No chords to work out just simple single notes across a few strings. Great starter riff.

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Now there are a few tips we can give to help you learn songs and riffs by ear. A few tips that will help you in your Guitar Ear Training journey.

Listen and learn to sing/hum the song 

The biggest tip I can give to playing the guitar by ear is to know the song! Make sure you can sing the riff or hum it, this way trying to figure It out will be a lot easier with a mental note on what it should be. This tip will help you work out songs without having to even listen to them. If you can sing the song you will be able to work it out Huge tool in your Guitar Ear Training.

No harm in guessing, great starting point

When you are first learning, listening to a riff and trying to work it out can be a bit, daunting. What’s the best way to get started? Take a guess! Find a note on the Fretboard (I tend to go to C) and listen to see if it is to flat or sharp, then go from there! You will soon pick out the notes and be able to figure the fingering and phrasing out.

Watching Live Videos will help you

If you get stuck, then looking at videos of the band performing the song live will help you hugely, I still do this! It is great because you can see where about on the neck he is, fingering patterns etc. Always a great backup if you get stuck.

Learning Scales and Keys will help you work out chord progressions and Riffs

A bit of music theory can go a long way, learning Keys and chords in those keys as well as Scale will help you learn a song or riff. Knowing what key a song is in means you know what notes or chords to looks for. Taking out a lot of the guesswork. You will also find that certain genres favour certain keys.

Patience & Practise!

It will take time, at the start it will seem like you won’t ever ben able to figure out that riff. However, the more you do it the easier it becomes. You will be able to pick out notes and chords faster the more you do it. Guitar Ear Training can take a while to build up and learn, you just have to power through it. We have put together an article all about practice and how to improve. You can check it out here!

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