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Learn The 13 Forbidden Riffs

forbidden riff

The forbidden riff – sounds ominous, doesn’t it? As if something out of the deepest darkest part of guitar history. Fortunately (or maybe, unfortunately), it isn’t anything grand like that. “The Forbidden Riff” is a humorous tradition originating in 1973. This list comprises songs strictly off-limits to be played in a guitar shop. 

The songs on this list are often considered “overplayed riffs,” and they tend to be popular choices among beginner guitarists who want to showcase their skills, to play in guitar stores.

These novice musicians aim to demonstrate that, despite their limited experience in the music world, they can already master some of the most iconic guitar solos in history.

But Why Are the Forbidden Riffs Banned?

The forbidden riffs were banned because the novice guitarists in question frequently indulged in playing these iconic riffs on multiple occasions, often with less-than-ideal proficiency. Moreover, keen-eyed guitar shop proprietors began to observe a pattern among these fledgling musicians.

A significant number of them seemed more interested in casually strumming these well-known riffs than in actually purchasing a guitar or any other musical instruments from their stores. 

It was this recurring scenario that gradually wore down the patience of guitar store owners, leading them to develop a sense of exasperation with these familiar riffs. Consequently, to maintain a more productive and harmonious environment within their establishments, they made the collective decision to prohibit the playing of these riffs altogether.

Where Did The Forbidden Riff Concept Originate?

The concept of the forbidden riff is often attributed to its origins in the 1970s, emerging as an inside joke within the renowned guitar stores of Denmark Street in London.

In these stores, staff members began sharing lists of riffs that had become unbearable to hear, primarily because of the influx of novice guitarists trying them out on instruments.

As time passed, these lists expanded as fresh and popular songs became the go-to choices for fledgling players looking to demonstrate their skills.

Is Stairway To Heaven Banned In Guitar Stores?

Not technically, at least not everywhere. Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven, a classic rock song, is often considered one of the “forbidden riffs” in many guitar stores. Novice guitarists trying out instruments play Stairway to Heaven too frequently. This is why some guitar shops have implemented a ban on playing this song.

The iconic opening arpeggio and guitar solo are so well-known that they have become a common choice for aspiring guitarists testing out guitars in stores, but apparently, even its creator Robert Plant is tired of it; it is rumored that he once paid a rock radio a huge sum of money to refrain from broadcasting the song.

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What are the other Forbidden Riffs?

There is no official list, of course. But examples of other songs having sections that are considered forbidden riffs are:

“Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple

This legendary riff, originating from the early ’70s, is widely recognized as one of the most iconic in rock history. Revered for its simplicity and enduring appeal, the opening notes have been strummed countless times by aspiring guitarists testing instruments in music stores.

Its infectious quality often makes it the first choice for those eager to explore the fretboard.

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“Sunshine of Your Love” by Cream

Eric Clapton’s bluesy, wah-wah-infused riff in “Sunshine of Your Love” is emblematic of the psychedelic rock era. Its infectious groove and distinctive tone have made it a standout riff that frequently finds its way into the hands of curious players seeking to emulate Clapton’s prowess.

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“Enter Sandman” by Metallica

The hauntingly powerful intro riff from Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” is a testament to the band’s prowess in crafting heavy metal classics.

Its brooding melody and heavy distortion make it a prime choice for aspiring guitarists aiming to unleash some metal magic while testing out instruments in a guitar store.

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“Sweet Child of Mine” by Guns N’ Roses

Slash’s virtuosic opening guitar riff in “Sweet Child of Mine” is an embodiment of rock and roll glory. Its soaring melody and intricate fingerwork have made it both a beloved and frequently attempted piece by those eager to channel their inner rock star.

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“Seven Nation Army” by The White Stripes

The simplicity and catchiness of the bassline played on a guitar in “Seven Nation Army” make it an irresistible choice for novice players. Its infectious quality has turned it into a go-to riff for those embarking on their musical journey in guitar stores around the world.

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“Black Dog” by Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin’s illustrious catalog features several riffs that have left an indelible mark on rock history. “Black Dog,” with its intricate and dynamic guitar work, often emerges as a favorite choice for aspiring rock guitarists eager to showcase their skills in music stores.

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“Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana

The grunge anthem’s dissonant yet compelling riff is an embodiment of the ’90s alternative rock sound. Its raw and rebellious nature attracts countless beginners seeking to recreate the angst-driven magic of Nirvana’s music.

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“Iron Man” by Black Sabbath

Tony Iommi’s heavy, sludgy riff in “Iron Man” epitomizes the essence of early heavy metal. Its crushing power and dark ambiance make it a perennial favorite among novice players looking to delve into the depths of heavy rock music.

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“Day Tripper” by The Beatles

Although The Beatles are renowned for their melodious compositions, the catchy riff in “Day Tripper” demonstrates their versatility. Its infectiously upbeat character has made it a popular choice for guitarists eager to explore the band’s rock-oriented side.

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“Back in Black” by AC/DC

The thunderous opening riff from AC/DC’s “Back in Black” is a quintessential example of rock guitar mastery. Its electrifying energy and driving rhythm often entice budding guitarists, prompting them to unleash their inner rock god in music stores worldwide.

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“Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynyrd Skynyrd

“Sweet Home Alabama” is a Southern rock anthem released in 1974. The opening riff, played by guitarist Ed King, is instantly recognizable. This riff, a blend of major and minor pentatonic scales, evokes a sense of the American South with its infectious groove and catchy melody.

The song’s riff is a testament to the power of simplicity.

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“Nothing Else Matters” by Metallica

“Nothing Else Matters” is a departure from Metallica’s usual heavy metal sound, displaying the band’s versatility and emotional depth. The opening arpeggio in “Nothing Else Matters,” composed by Metallica’s lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist James Hetfield, is both melancholic and melodic.

It contrasts sharply with the band’s more aggressive tracks, showcasing their ability to craft dynamic and introspective music. Well, maybe it is working out too well, as the opening arpeggio is often called a forbidden riff.

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Now that you know about the forbidden riff

These riffs, parts of the greatest rock songs have etched their mark in musical history, and continue to captivate and inspire musicians of all levels. However, their popularity and accessibility have also led to their demise; being overplayed in guitar to the level of earning the name a forbidden riff.

While you’re free to learn these cool beginner-friendly riffs, make sure you don’t get caught playing the forbidden riffs in a guitar store!

The Forbidden Riffs FAQ

Sabih Safwat

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