Armed with our encyclopaedic cornucopia of rock picking patterns, these 20 essential riffs (and three challenges) are designed to take your rhythmic precision and speed to the next level
We’re kicking off our Rock Rhythm Workout with a look at how your picking technique influences how you ultimately sound.
If you’re struggling with your rhythmic chops then these riffs are for you. We’ve grouped them into three categories: down-picking, down- and up-picking, and a mixture of the two with extra chords and trickier rhythms.
You can dive straight in at the start or delve into some of the harder riffs. There’s no right or wrong. There’s a challenge at the end of each section that you can measure your progress by.
Remember, your progress is best measured by playing to a metronome, mixing up comfortable tempo playing and also pushing your limits.
Riff name: Diabolus In Musica
This basic metal riff is designed to get your pick hand comfortable switching between palm mutes and down-picking. Vary the placement of the B b 5 for a challenge.
Riff name: Riffing With The Alien
This riff follows the theme of switching between palm mutes and normal picking at a higher tempo.
The powerchord rhythmic placement should provide a challenge.
Riff name: One May
The odd grouping of each phrase provides the greatest challenge here.
Count ‘1 2 3, 1 2, 1 2 3, 1 2, 1 2, 1 2, 1 2’ to keep time.
Riff name: Black Hole Fun
This grungey powerchord riff will test your counting skills due to its 6/4 time signature.
The challenge is playing downstrokes on the syncopated offbeats.
Riff name: Mötley Blüe
This typical hair-metal riff is based on a repeated open fifth string with moving two-string chords. Use your third and fourth fingers to play the chords.
Riff name: Audiowave
The syncopated second note of this Tom Morello-style riff can be a challenge. It’s on the last 16th note of beat 1, so it falls momentarily before beat 2.
CHALLENGE! Riff name: Justice For One
This down-picked riff ramps up the speed to a whopping 180bpm and also includes some fast fret-hand chord slides.
It will not only challenge your pick-hand speed, stamina and ability to switch from palm muting to standard picking, but also fret-hand accuracy too.
120-140bpm: Novice Noodler
Nothing else matters, bar nailing it at this speed
150-170bpm: Speed Demon
...And picking for all! You’ve got a hand like a jackhammer
180-190bpm: Thrash Legend
Move over Hetfield, it’s my turn to ride the lightning!
Riff name: Maiden Gallop
Follow the picking directions precisely and don’t cut corners. If you struggle, slow down and try recording your playing to see if it sounds in time.
Riff name: Reverse Gallop
The reverse of the infamous gallop is equally important. Gradually build up until you are comfortable switching between the two.
Riff name: Megariff
This riff will test your picking precision as you change strings. The eighth notes interrupt the 16th note flow, providing a challenge.
Riff name: Take Heed In Cumbria
The gallop rhythm here feels more like a short burst rather than a regular pattern, testing your ability to keep control as you go from fast to slow.
Riff name: Holy Punishment
The main focus of this Megadeth-style riff is on developing short alternate-picking bursts. Practise at a slower tempo in order to get this tight.
Riff name: Stonehenge
This QOTSA-style riff can be tricky because of the groupings of three.
Beats 2 and 4 will feel slightly off-balance since they begin with an up-pick instead of a down.
Riff name: Bring The Noise
This Anthrax-style riff is designed to develop two-hand coordination at speed. Start at a leisurely 100bpm, gradually bringing up the tempo as you develop.
CHALLENGE! Riff name: Going Crazy In Panama
Combining alternate-picked drone notes with a variety of three-string chords can be a challenge for any aspiring hard-rock legend.
Developing 16th-note accuracy and consistency on the fifth string is key, so build up the tempo gradually.
By Jovi! You’ve got the basics down
By now, you're on the crazy train
Audition for new über-band Ozzy Halen
Riff name: Metalriffa
It can be tricky to ‘land’ on a downstroke on beats 2 and 4. Try not to fudge any of the picking in the sextuplet rhythm; practise slowly and accurately instead.
Riff name: Phantom Riff
This riff will help you develop your triplet accuracy and there’s plenty of slowing down and speeding up in the pick hand.
Riff name: Attack Of The Killer Threes
This is the ultimate sextuplet challenge that will really help hone your picking skills. Your pick hand will ‘memorise’ the tricky rhythmic pattern over time.
Riff name: Dime's Trickbag
Make sure you play a very definite fret-hand mute for every rest in this Pantera-style riff. This will help you to anticipate the following picked offbeat note.
Riff name: Dime's Delight
This riff follows a similar theme to the previous riff but introduces quick 32nd-note bursts. At most song tempos 32nd notes are very quick, so practise slowly.
Riff name: Slipmat
This Slipknot-style riff can be played with straight alternate picking, but we’ve notated the method of always picking in the direction of the next note.
Riff name: One Second On Mars
This riff takes the previous arpeggio-picking pattern to the next level, with wide string skips to test your pick hand’s speed of movement and accuracy.
CHALLENGE! Riff name: Dream Seater
This tricky John Petrucci-style riff contains lots of funky offbeats and combines many of the difficult single-string rhythms we've looked at, including bursts, triplets, arpeggios and syncopated up-picks.
Don your cape and start picking
150-175bpm: The Great Progression
You’re a riffing wizard
175-190bpm: Professor Prog
Arise, the prog-rock picking master!