An Easy Riff For Beginners – With Open Chords

When I was first learning guitar, a friend of mine wrote a song that had this cool passing note (an F#) in between the G chord and the Em chord. I thought it was the coolest thing ever, and practically forced him to teach it to me.

I’ve since discovered this is about as common as sliced bread, but I still use it frequently anyways, because it sounds cool.

The cool thing is, is that for a beginner it is very easy to learn how to throw these notes into your playing, and you get the satisfaction of hearing your playing sound like something more than the usual strum-strum. =)

(It’s been 15 years, but I still remember some of the early victories learning guitar!! =)

Anyways, here’s an easy riff for beginners. Don’t forget to tell me if you loved it or hated it! You can leave a comment just below the video. Enjoy…

Watch it on Youtube

For More Riffs Like This One, Click Here

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  1. These kind of little touches give depth to playing, throw these tricks at me anytime. I took the basics of this, changed the rhythm and am making a song out of it. Thanks.

    1. Hey that’s great to hear! I heard a cool bass riff earlier today and wrote a 12 bar blues around it this evening… there are just so many ideas out there waiting to be turned into songs!

  2. Its thanks to people like you Jonathan showing us these small changes to a basic strum pattern that can make a huge difference to us as newbies. By just mastering this subtle little change between chords makes us sound better and gives us the drive to move on and practice more. Thanks Jonathan keep up the great work.

  3. Thank You for explaining things Slowly and Completely……..
    Hope you don`t mind showing some of these to my Grandaughter who
    is 11 and just got a nice little Ibanez flat top, sounds pretty
    good (for Christmas)……… Thank You… She says it hurts her
    fingers… I told Her, Taylor Swift (one of Her Favorates) took
    quite a while for Her fingers to get Caloused up and stop Hurting
    but she kept going till they stopped hurting…. So we`ll see…

    Thank You…

    Wal of the`RAPIDS` `CEDAR`that is……………


  4. Hi Jonathon,

    The chords that are in this video are the ones that I can play. I’ll practice adding the riffs! Thanks for sharing,


  5. Cool lesson. When are you going to show me how to strum Gloria? E D A
    I am not to rhythmical for a white man. Ha Ha. No, I haven’t been practicing much. My fault. You make it look so easy.

    John Bradshaw

  6. hey johnathan thank you man im always thinking up cool little things like this to practice but its always nice when someone else can show you something cool to

  7. Jonathon,I wonder if you have any idea how really constructive and helpful these little tips are.Been to a lot of sites yet none compare to yours.Have a friend beginning to play and guided to your site.She’s tried lots of places but I’m sure this is the place she should be.Thanks again Jonathan.Great easy little riff

  8. I liked it – pretty cool. would be nice if you published the tabs – for lazy people like me, too.

  9. WOW Jonathan – what a cool transition!!! I am still pretty much a newbie but things like this make me sound like I actually know what I am doing.

    My brother is pretty much a pro and he is coming in next week and we are going to work together for a couple of hours. I think you might know him (Chuck from Ocala) as he has written a couple of testimonials for you on the I, IV, V series. Can’t wait to show him what I learned.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!! You make continuing to learn so much more fun!!!


  10. Thanks Jonathan. That was fun to play and I’ll practice it until it’s smooth. You started to say something about using the riff with D chords but you didn’t show details. I’m guessing that it’s the same three notes on the fifth string (A,B,C) as for the C chord. Is that correct?

    More generally, do you use the three notes on the sixth string for any (all?) chords with a sixth string root note and the three notes on the fifth string for any chords with a fifth string root note?

    Is it reasonable to use this riff to transition from a chord with the root on one string to a chord with the root on the other string (such as E and D)? If so, would you use the string corresponding to the chord you’re finishing or the one you’re going to?

    I don’t trust my beginner’s ear yet to reliably tell me which ones sound good, so I’d welcome your opinion if it’s not a hassle. Otherwise, I’ll just keep experimenting until my dog starts to howl. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Thanks again – I enjoy your lessons.

    1. I’ve been thinking about this some more… should the riff for a D chord be played on the D string (FED)? To my ear that sounds OK for a Dmin chord, but not for a D or D7.

      I’m still such a beginner that it all seems like magic so advice is welcome!

  11. Hey Fred, it sounds like you’re trying to relate this riff to chords, rather than to the scale. The riff comes out of the Em diatonic scale, and I’m basically just using the passing notes that are in the scale in between the root notes of the chords we’re using.

    For instance, if we started on a G, then the other note in the scale just below that is F#, and then next is E, which is where we wanted to go (Em).

    Best thing to do is checkout the scale ( – but you’ll have to transpose it down to Em) and then start looking at how your chords are a part of this scale.

    I’ll try and do a lesson that explains this in a bit more detail.

    Oh – and it doesn’t take me long at all to get my dog howling; he seems to love it when I play guitar. That, and when the ice cream truck drives by… He’s going to star in one of my videos soon I think ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Thanks Jonathan. Yes, I was trying to relate the riff to the chords. I guess I’m even more of a beginner than I realized. Down to basics for me then, so I’ve just downloaded your I-IV-V and scale patterns lessons. Wow, they’re big files. Looks like I’ve got some homework ahead. I’ll come back to this riff after I study those lessons for a while.

  12. Jonathan, I think this little lic is great. I’ve been practicing on the scales that you teach and I can’t figure out what part of the scale you can play as a fill in on the choras of a song which changes from the 1-4-5 chords. If the song is in the key of A major and you are messing around in the A scale what happens when the song changes to D and E ? Do you have to change to that scale or will the A scale fit in and sound ok?
    Thanks, I’m enjoying your teachings, I just signed up for the Bass teachings you offer.

  13. Hi Clifford – in that scenario you can stay in the A scale and be just fine. Because the notes in the chords of D and E (check it out) are all in the A major scale, you will be just fine and not have to change scales.

  14. Hi Jonathan, I just listened to the DVD “Decoding The Bass Guitar” all the way through; couldn’t stop. I’ve been piddeling around with my 4 string for about 6 months but really learned that things are a lot eaiser the way you teach it. I was wondering, the bass fretboard that is in the cheat sheets that shows the patterns seem to me that they are all in the Diatonic Scale. You never mentioned anything about the Penatonic Scale for the bass, does it not apply to bass or did I miss something??
    Thanks I’m really enjoying both the guitar and the bass instructions.

  15. Hi Clifford,

    I’m glad you liked Decoding the Bass! Yes, I focused mostly on the diatonic scale, although I’m pretty sure I put a short chunk in there mentioning the pentatonic scale. The pentatonic scale is found WITHIN the diatonic scale – have a look at it and you’ll see how it is just two notes short of the full diatonic. That is the reason I focused mostly on diatonic – once you get that, it is a very short jump to understanding pentatonic as well. I’m 97% sure there’s a short portion in there on pentatonic though…

  16. Hey Jonathan,
    This video was awesome and at my level for riffs. I was able to see where your fingers were going on them notes in the riffs. I have been able to do part of that anyway, but after I get more of this down I then can expand more as I feel like I am getting somewhere.
    Thank you very much. Keep up the great work.

  17. IN addition to this video, I would like to learn these small steps in the key of D and A as they are my two goodies at this point.

      1. That would be awesome if you could do that.
        I keep backing this video up time and time again, and the same as others trying to take it in.
        You really do add a lot to those trying to be a learner.

  18. Great little hint!. I used to use little riffs like this when I learned to play 30-some years ago, but when you put the guitar aside for that long, well, the ol’ memory starts to fade. Thanks again!

  19. Hey Jonathan! I use this little riff when playing the chorus in Elton John’s “Daniel” (Your eyes have died…). I forget what key the song is originally in but I transposed it to D for easier chords and my voice (blech!). Good tip!

  20. Excellent Jonathan. I’ll definitely try those riffs. Just to let you know, your tips and advice have really helped me to progress and stay motivated. I enjoy playing my guitar much more now, especially after learning the pentatonic minor scale. Thanks so much for your help.

  21. I have been playing for just over a year now. I haven’t been to your site for a while but I really like the changes, I’ll be back more often. I play mostly classic country and am interested in adding some of the small riffs to my playing. Can the same step down be used for all open chords?



    1. Hi Lee, yeah, you can use this step down for a lot of different chords, though it changes a bit depending on your key. Best thing is to experiment with it a bit with whatever chords you’re working with.

  22. I am so glad that I stumbled across your website. I have only been playing for a few months but I was stuck just doing the chords with full strum from the ‘learn to play guitar’ book and dvd that I brought from the internet and was seriously thinking of forgetting the whole thing. But it is now a lot of fun again. Thank You!!

  23. Thanks for sharing that little riff. I always enjoy getting your email tips. I am self taught by ear picker and been using that thing for years. I just thought it was something I made up. Had no idea it had all the fancy names. I love the way you teach, very easy to follow.
    Thanks again
    “Humming and Strumming”

  24. Jonathon: Thanks for the handy little riff. It’s nice to get new things to play that are easy to pick up and really make my guitar playing sound so much better. Please post more easy riffs and suggestions to help us beginners.

  25. Very nice, it’s cool to add somthing extra instead of just strumming. Adds some flair to the chords, thanks for the lesson!

  26. Nice! Enjoy all the little tricks of the trade I can learn. Love em and am, usually work them in anything I write if I can. Do some finger picking as it seems to work better for me than straight strumming. Know lot of chords but timing still a pretty big issue. Thanks for the free-be

      1. Ok, I’ll see what I can do. In the meantime, checkout this video:

        It may give you some more ideas, and its a bit more advanced than the video on this page.

        Regarding playing country-style, that’s often just the tone or the way you hit the notes that makes the difference, you can play the exact same thing in different styles of music, but with tiny changes in the tone, you get country, or blues, or whatever… a good idea for another lesson though.

  27. You know, I have been receiving your messages for about 2 months now and just today opened the first one, this one on riffs. (sorry to be s honest and yes I am embarrassed to admit). I really liked it! I have been playing guitar since
    6th grade (I’m now 47) but never took formal lessons. I play on a worship team with my local church (love it) and this lesson is JUST what I need, and need more of to spice up the chord progressions I play. I won’t ignore the emails anymore. You are an obvious blessing ๐Ÿ™‚

    Thank you

  28. I have used those passing notes for year! What about some
    suggestions for passing notes at the Am and D in the

  29. thank you so much . I use to just strum chords. Your videos and tips have taught me to tie these chords togetther with notes and really boosted my skill level
    Thank u

  30. Nice little tidbit which I’ve probably doodled by accident many many times. Good to set it our on the tabletop in plain view like this. Now I’m gonna experiment with coming up underneath the root, and try to work in a Hendrixesque hammer-on just for fun.

    Nothing runs like a deere, per your shirt, but don’t you worry about finger / hand injury when you’re doing all that work yourself on the tractor? Fingernails way too dirty for what you’d expect in a serious musician, and it looks bad on the video too.

    Otherwise, thanks for the continuing pointers… too bad Al Gore didn’t invent the internet back when I was still a kid… all these pointers I could’a been somebody…

    1. Hi Scott – I’m not a mechanic, though I used to work (sales dept) in a John Deere heavy construction dealership.

      Try playing with the riff on the first string as well…

  31. Got home last nite and played with this idea and my little keyboard/drum machine… next I knew it was 8:00pm! I’ll bet half that time was a jam based mainly on the G/Em part of the clip… from that I branched out all up and down the neck, just on the acoustic! That’s what I meant with the “…set the idea up on the table..” comment – – – we have this simple little passing note riff that when we stick it dead in the front of our brain, and base some noodling on that, well, heh, now we’re having fun.

    Can you do a clip where you cover how to easily pick up and use the from-the-bottom-up connecting notes in a simple 1-4-5 blues progression… I don’t really know how to explain it, they’re the three or four notes that seem to come from underneath to key of the song, back into the 1 on the next go-round of the 1-4-5 progression? Everybody uses it?

  32. Thanks Jonathan, I really enjoyed this lesson and the way you present it. I’m a 68 yo beginner and though I’ve received ads from you this is the first of your lessons I’ve ever seen. I’v been kind of stuck for a while but now I have hope that I might really learn to play. I haven’t tried this yet due to available time but I will this weekend. I signed up for your weekly newsletter and if I can make this work I may actually buy some material from you. ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks again

  33. jonathan, always enjoy your lessons. even the simple riffs. i am self taught with little advice and tips. these tips are great to get even if i sometimes see you do something i alresady know by accident or just playing around. shows me im on track once in a while.. and i didnt even know it. im need to learn the scales better, but it all takes time.something that is hard to find. thanks a bunch for the free tips

  34. Great John!,

    Thanks it’s really getting good for me now! I have the I-IV-V and it’s the light at the end of the tunnel. BUT. I’m a new guy and tabs for some of this would HELP SO MUCH.

    Thanks, Stan

  35. That was great and now all I have to do is learn it. I think it will Help the sound lots for me and break up the monotony. Could use some more examples like that and thanks a lot for all your help. I really enjoy all your tips even though I do not have a clue about some of the scale names you use but I do hope to in the future. Again thanks.

  36. Thanks Jonathan! These little tips are nice. Something for newbies to build on. Thanks again! Actually doesn’t sound to bad nice little strum. CYA

  37. Thanks. Very helpful to me. First time I understood how these notes are placed between chords. A breakthrough in my guitar understanding!

  38. Just an fyi- the scale this comes from is the diatonic Major G scale— the diatonic minor (harmonic/melodic) does have an F#, but all G minor scales have a Bb. Hope this helps.

  39. Jonathan…
    I am pretty new to lessons
    .. but this tip was awsome for me. I tried variations such as down down then down up down – single string – and different combinations
    Thanks. It was a simple idea that I took off with


  40. Hi…cool beginng riff. How about adding some Tab next tme. This way we can use it for our students or even ourselfs. Either way, it was way cool!! Thanx

  41. Hi Jonathan,

    Great lesson, I like how you keep it at a level where a beginner or
    a intermediate level player can follow. I like this approach because you are able to learn and not get frustrated and ย you are able to see progress in your playing. I purchassed your unlocking 1-4-5 course and guitar scale patterns course and would recommend it to anyone starting out or for someone who has been playing for sometime but needs to learn why they are doing what they are doing. The courses opens up possibilities you would not see otherwise. The courses have opened up my mind to be a better player.I have ordered other courses from other musicians but without your courses I would not be able to follow correctly and for me personally it would be a struggle. I believe we need a good understanding of the basics which includes courses like yours.


  42. Thanx Jonathan. I’m still very much a beginner so some of your videos are above my capabilities. Never the less, I save each and every little nugget you send me for the day I can use them. ๐Ÿ™‚ย 

  43. Nice to apply these simple note breaks between chords…. I have used these naturally since learning all majors and minor chords….

    Nice to share this easy to do’s….

  44. Very useful lesson, but I sure learn quicker if I can SEE the riff written out.
    Hope you can find time to add tabs to your vids. Thanks.

    1. Hi John, this particular “riff” is just a single note… If you’re watching the video closely it should be adequate without tab. That said, in my newer premium lessons I do include tab, but going back and adding tab to over 100 free youtube videos would be a rather large task.

  45. your teaching is great. I am a real beginner but love your riffs. could you please post the tabs to these. Thanks Roger

  46. That G to Em walk down is really cool and addictive. Loved the way you show and explain. Useful for me as beginner since the key of G is my easiest. Thanks and keep them tips coming.

  47. Thank you I really like that sound and it’s so easy, also want to thank you for I IV V that is such a great explanation of something that had been so hard for me to understand. Don’t lose that white board it really helps in your explanations

  48. Once again a really good lesson. I like to keep that beginners mind also because there are things that you can always learn from it to help push you forward. Thanks and lets keep on rocking.

  49. Hey Jonathan
    A bit late in responding but like many others have said this sort of stuff/tips are great for beginners like myself – & encourage me to try things with other chord patterns. So please don’t ‘put yourself down’ about throwing in these kind of tips. They’re brilliant for all of us. A big thank you Jonathan

  50. I’ve been wanting to learn some of that stuff; and have been playing for quite some time, thank you for the lesson.

  51. That is so F^%(^%G cool!!!! Ooops, how un-lady like..sorry. But, even a little southern gal, after 6 months, can now sound like a pro..well, almost. Keep’n coming Jonathan

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