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What is the Forbidden Riff?


What is the Forbidden Riff? Guitar riffs are the notes or chords from any song that may be played again to make the hook line or melodies of the song. They can also be played once, but these riffs are catchy, and the notes steal the song’s spotlight. Blues, rock, and jazz are all based on guitar riffs. Since they consist of repeating a single chord, riffs are the easiest thing for a novice to master. So what is the Forbidden Riff? Let’s discuss this in detail.

What is the Forbidden Riff?

What is the forbidden riff? Essentially, the prohibited riff is any overplayed tune that has been (jokingly) banned from being played at guitar stores. The list consists of numerous well-known yet simple-to-learn riffs and licks that guitar store staff are forced to endure daily. These songs are especially aggravating to guitar dealers because:

  • Virtually all beginner guitarists learn them
  • Every new guitarist thinks they’re the first to play them.
  • Most beginner guitarists perform them poorly.

Among the prohibited songs are Stairway To Heaven, Sweet Child O’ Mine, and Smoke On The Water, among many more. Below is a collection of numerous additional overplayed masterpieces.

Wayne’s World (1992), a comedy film, is a well-known example of the forbidden riff being parodied in the mainstream media. It is possible that this film alone popularised the concept of the forbidden riff. In the relevant scenario, Wayne (Mike Myers) is prevented from playing a prohibited song while test-driving his dream Stratocaster.

Not only were the stores sick of hearing the same old riffs repeatedly, but they also disliked the music for other reasons. In addition, it was believed that gamers who performed these riffs were the least likely to purchase something! If you want to be considered seriously while purchasing a guitar, you should probably avoid these songs.

From where did the “Forbidden Riff” arise?

What is the forbidden riff? It is widely thought that the concept of the forbidden riff originated in the 1970s as an inside joke on London’s renowned Denmark Street. Employees began to disseminate lists of songs they could no longer endure hearing played by (mostly novice) individuals attempting to play instruments. Over time, learning new and popular songs has become the norm for beginning musicians.

Which Songs Are Forbidden from Guitar Retailers?

Although no official list of banned music exists, the following songs would undoubtedly cause guitar store personnel to roll their eyes. This collection is also an excellent source of absolute classics that every guitarist should master; don’t perform them at your local music store!

Stairway To Heaven – is a song by Led Zeppelin.

Although many fans consider this song to be Led Zeppelin’s magnum masterpiece, it has become one of the most prohibited riffs that guitar sellers cannot stand to hear.

In fact, because to Wayne’s World (see above), Stairway is commonly known as THE forbidden riff. Learning Stairway to Heaven has become a rite of passage for young guitarists, so it’s easy to see why it’s performed so frequently.

It turns out that the staff of guitar stores are not the only ones bored of hearing this song on repeat. Robert Plant, the lead singer of Led Zeppelin, reportedly paid $10,000 to a radio station to prevent them from playing the song after stating he could no longer relate to its lyrics.

Smoke On the Water – Deep Purple

The famous riff from this classic rock staple is so straightforward that most novice guitarists should be able to learn it within weeks (or even days!) of picking up the instrument. And most do!

The song was initially released in 1972 and was inspired by a fire at The Casino in Switzerland the previous year. Deep Purple was watching Frank Zappa perform live at The Casino when the fire broke out. They were scheduled to begin recording their upcoming album at the venue the following day. After the fire was extinguished, a layer of smoke was over Lake Geneva. This became the song’s title, with the lyrics describing the struggle to record their album.

Wonderwall – Oasis

The fact that “Wonderwall” contains a similar joke to “No Stairway” speaks something about the prohibited nature of the 1995 Oasis hit. Due to its relative simplicity, many people learning guitar in the late 1990s and 2000s chose it as their first complete song.

In the awkward period between bringing your guitar to parties with only one complete song under your belt and learning enough songs for people to want you to genuinely bring your guitar to parties, Wonderwall is prominently featured on innumerable one-song setlists.

Similarly, it has a well-deserved place among the prohibited guitar riffs, even if its vocal line over a relatively simple chord progression is its most outstanding feature.

Sweet Child O’ Mine – is a song by Guns N’ Roses.

This Guns ‘N Roses absolute classic is another standard in the repertoire of many guitarists. It is one of several outstanding tracks on the band’s debut album, Appetite for Destruction, released in 1987.

Slash indicated that the riff was a goofy warm-up rhythm he was playing with before the band added to it. In 2019, the music video was the first from the 1980s to exceed one billion views on YouTube. Slash has stated that Sweet Child O’ Mine is the most covered song by the band.

This song is more difficult to master in general than the previous two due to the string skipping in the introduction riff. This implies that it is easier for newer players to kill and drive people insane! You may view the tabs here if you’d like to learn it yourself. To play along with the original music, you will need to tune your guitar down a half-step.

The House of The Rising Sun – The Animals

The guitar store staff had had to endure the oldest song on the list since 1964, when it was initially released! It is also the only song on the list that was not composed by the artist. It is mostly unknown where this traditional folk song originated, but the Animals made it a mainstream smash. Since then, other bands and individuals have covered the song.

We do not know the roots of The House of the Rising Sun. Thus we cannot state with certainty what the song is about. Both a brothel and a women’s prison were located in New Orleans, the sites of the two most prevalent hypotheses.

The primary riff consists of a series of simple arpeggios played over fundamental open chords, making the song easy for even novice guitarists to learn. It is simple to understand why so many guitar store staff have been subjected to this tune for decades.

Enter Sandman – Metallica

Time to channel your inner James Hetfield and become a god of down-picking with this enormous Metallica track! As a teenage metalhead, I was undoubtedly guilty of repeatedly playing this riff. Enter Sandman is the opening song and debut single from Metallica’s 1991 album The Black Album. The song deals with the concept of a child’s nightmares and nighttime noises.

The lyrics were initially about the far worse topic of crib death, which is the abrupt and unexplained death of an infant. Producer Bob Rock convinced Hetfield to rewrite the lyrics to make the song more mainstream-friendly. Kirk’s solo will require much more skill, but Enter Sandman’s core riff is relatively simple to pick up. Remember, only down-picking is permitted, hehe!

Sweet Home Alabama — Lynyrd Skynyrd

What list of overplayed riffs would be complete without Lynyrd Skynyrd’s irritatingly catchy tune? Sweet Home Alabama was the first tune on Lynyrd Skynyrd’s second album, ‘Second Helping,’ released in 1974. It is the band’s biggest hit to date and their first significant hit.

The song was initially created in response to a Neil Young song that implied southerners were predominantly racists with outmoded viewpoints. Instead, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s song discusses southern pride and all of Alabama’s positive qualities. Neil Young later acknowledged that he regretted the song’s lyrics.

Among the songs on our list, this classic will likely be the most challenging to master on guitar note for note. Even though many of the riffs are standard, you’ll frequently encounter challenging passages in which your fingers are positioned where they wouldn’t usually go!

Back In Black – a song by AC/DC.

Another riff has become nearly a rite of passage for aspiring rock guitarists! You cannot help but feel enraged as you unleash this formidable beast.

The lead single from AC/seventh DC’s studio album Back in Black. This record is currently the second best-selling album of all time, so it’s simple to understand why the lead single is so well-known! The song was a homage to the band’s former singer Bon Scott. Who died tragically in February 1980 from alcohol intoxication.

The introductory riff is sometimes the most excellent riff of all time. So it’s hardly surprising that so many guitarists have included it in their repertoires decades after its release. Additionally, it is effortless to learn!

Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana

The music that propelled Nirvana into the stratosphere is another awesome monster song that nearly every guitarist will master at some point. This is the opening tune and first single from Nirvana’s second studio album, Nevermind. It is frequently cited as the song that introduced grunge to the public.

Kurt Cobain revealed that he attempted to replicate one of his favorite bands, The Pixies when creating the song. He intended to compose the “ultimate pop tune,” which may have contributed to its fantastic mainstream success.

The song sounds enormous and is a lot of fun to sing. The main riff consists of only a few simple power chords and percussion muting, making it an absolute beginner’s dream to learn.

Seven Nation Army – The White Stripes

This delightful little tune is almost 20 years old, but it is still the most freshly composed song on this list! Does this potentially speak to the quality of contemporary popular music?

Seven Nation Army is the opening track on the 2003 album Elephant by the White Stripes. Jack Black revealed that he intended to save the riff in case he was asked to compose the James Bond theme song. However, he determined that was improbable and incorporated it into this song. Ironically, he was requested to compose a Bond theme five years later!

Jack White believed as a child that the Salvation Army was called the Seven Nation Army. The lyrics revolve around the subject of the band’s increasing popularity and the drawbacks that accompanied it. Although the song is relatively easy to learn on guitar, you must tune to Open A to be faithful to the original! Jack Black utilized an octave effect to make his guitar sound more like a bass in this instance.

Crazy Train – Ozzy Osbourne

Crazy Train was the first single to be released from Ozzy’s first solo album, Blizzard of Ozz, which he released after being expelled from Black Sabbath in 1979. The lyrics focus on the theme of the Cold War, and the song contains a warning against conflict.

Regarding the song’s title, Randy Rhoads and bassist Bob Daisley were enthusiastic model train enthusiasts. Daisley said that the sounds emanating from Randy’s amplifier resembled a “crazy train.”

The beginning riff is perhaps the most overplayed and annoying to guitar store personnel. However, the main verse riff is a belter! Both are simple to learn yet sound monstrous when the level is turned up.

Iron Man – Black Sabbath

“Iron Man” was released in 1970 as part of Black Sabbath’s second studio album, Paranoid. Depending on who you ask, Black Sabbath is either the first heavy metal band or a profoundly influential proto-metal group. “Iron Man” is uncomplicated but immensely weighty. According to legend, Ozzy Osbourne saw Tony Iommi play the riff during practice and described it as sounding like “a gigantic iron man walking.”

Geezer Butler, the bassist for the band, composed the song’s lyrics based on this concept. The primary riff, comprised of power chords that a beginner can simplify into a single-note melody, was meant to be put in the list of forbidden guitar riffs, precisely as “Smoke on the Water.”

It is an iconic song and considerably more beginner-friendly than Stairway to Heaven, making it easier for a novice guitarist to get tossed out of a guitar store for playing illegal riffs.



What is the forbidden riff? The concept of prohibited guitar riffs is ultimately merely an inside joke. Nobody will be kicked out of a guitar shop for annoyingly playing an obnoxious riff or a beautiful riff. Consequently, it is an inside joke based on the tastes of the guitar store staff.

The essential thing to keep in mind when visiting a guitar store is to be polite and not spend too much of the employees’ time before buying something or leaving. Still, it doesn’t harm to keep the idea of forbidden guitar riffs in the back of your mind, as it is a joke founded on truth.

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