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15 Easy Rock Riffs for Ukulele Beginners

Let’s put the simple chords and easy strumming patterns in the bin for a few moments. Get your neck ready for some moshing! In this article we are learning to play 15 easy riffs for ukulele beginners. 
If you are new to the ukulele, chances are that you know a few chords already. Maybe you even know a few diverse strumming patterns. Let’s not got it twisted, thats awesome and you should be proud of yourself.
 
But your’e not going to burst into your siblings room. Disturb your parents bath or record a YouTube video showing how you learnt to play a D maj chord.
 
However, been able to play the riff for Sweet Child O Mine by Guns N Roses, might justify that.

What is a Riff Anyway?

A riff is a short series of notes that create a recognisable melody throughout a song. It can be considered as the same level of importance as the chorus depending on the genre of music. Often these types of songs are called “riff driven”. Think Smoke On The Water by Deep Purple or You Really Got Me by The Kinks.

The term riff originated as a slang term for a musical idea back in the 1920s. 

Lets Learn Some Ukulele Riffs

To learn to play all these riffs, we will be using tabulature. 

Not sure how to read ukulele tabulature? My easy to follow guide takes 10 minutes to read and will have playing ukulele tabs in no time!

Let’s get ready to rock and roll and start learning to play these 15 rock riffs for ukulele beginners. 

15 Riffs For Ukulele Beginners

Hells Bells

AC/DC

This is a fantastic riff to play on the ukulele. It sounds super full when the open note on the C string rings out. You can see a video of me playing this song and grab some more AC/DC tabs here.

Playing Tips

To make this riff easier to play, we are going to play a two note chord. Place your first finger on the 8th fret of the E string. Then your ring finger on the 10th fret of the A string.

After you have played the first three notes. Use your first finger to cover the 8th fret on both the E and A string. That is going to set us up to move that finger down to the 6th fret for the next set of notes. Then we would move back up to the 8th fret again.

acdc hells bells riffs for ukulele beginners

Do I Wanna Know

Arctic Monkeys

Indie heroes Arctic Monkeys combined with the ukulele has been a big hit with fans of this website. I have arranged everyone of their albums for the uke. You can see my medley of AM here.

Playing Tips

This riff uses a technique called hammer ons. Thats the “h” sitting in-between two numbers. Hammer-on means you pluck the first note. Then place your finger on the next note without plucking again. This creates a smooth transition between notes. 
 
Similarity, we have some slides “/“. Instead of using a new finger, we use the same finger and slide up (or down) to new note without plucking again.
arctic monkeys do i wanna know ukulele riff tab

The Chain

Fleetwood Mac

For anybody reading this from the UK. Chances are, you first heard this song on the formula one soundtrack. Regardless of where you first heard it, its sounds great on the ukulele.

Playing Tips

This is straightforward riff to play and probably one of the easiest on this list. The opening A minor chord makes the transition from chords to riff an easy one.

Fleetwood mac the chain riffs for ukulele beginners

For guidance in playing this riff, you can watch my medley of the rumours album below. The Chain starts at around 1:58. You can also grab some more Fleetwood Mac tabs here.

American Idiot

Green Day

The first riff on this list that based all around chords. check out my full arrangement of the American Idiot album and some more Green Day ukulele tabs too.

Playing Tips

What makes this an easy riff to play is that we remain in the same chord shape throughout. Its a barre chord and we are using 3 fingers on our fretting hand.

Place your first finger across all the strings on the 3rd fret. Then use your ring finger for the 5th fret oF the G and your middle finger on the 4th fret of the E. 

When Billie Joe plays this on his guitar. He uses all down strums. Thats fine if you want to do that too. However, if you want to skank it up abit. Try using the strumming pattern above the chords.

Sweet Child O' Mine

Guns N Roses

Would this riff list be complete if it didn’t feature one of Slash’s masterpieces? I created a full medley of the Appetite For Destruction album too!

Playing Tips

When you look at the tab, this could be considered an imposter on this list. Maybe not one of easy riffs for ukulele beginners but lets give it a go anyway.

We are using lots of notes and also every string. It’s one of those riffs that once you get the hang of it. It’s going to play
really nicely.
 
This is a fingerpicking riff and it translates very well to the uke.
 
You will notice that the last 6 notes of each section are the same. So each part has 2 opening notes and then we are repeating ourselves. Thinking of it that way will make it much easier for you to play.
guns n roses sweet child o mine riffs for ukulele beginners

Breaking The Habit

Linkin Park

With the amount of instruments that Mike Shinoda is able to play. Im surprised he never incorporated the ukulele into Linkin Parks music. Check out my uke arrangements of Hybrid Theory, Meteora and Minutes To Midnight.
 

Playing Tips

This is another fingerpicking style riff. The benefit of fingerpicking this riff is that it allows the notes to ring out. It makes the entire song sound fuller.
 
You can keep your fingers in the same position. Use your ring finger for the 4th on the C string. Then place your first finger on the 2nd fret of E string. Lastly put your middle finger on the 3rd fret of the same string.
 
Setting up like this means you can just lift your middle off the 3rd fret each time you need to play the 2nd. Thats going to allow all the notes ring out.
linkin park breaking the habit ukulele tab riff

Kids

MGMT

One of the most iconic riffs of the late 2000s! Featured on the Oracular Spectacular album, you can learn some more MGMT songs here.

Playing Tips

This is another one of those easy riffs for ukulele beginners. If you are familiar with this song you should be able to pick it up quite quickly. You can either use your thumb to pluck the notes or your fingernail to amplify the sound.

mgmt kids ukulele riff tab

Starlight

Muse

Its fair to say that Matt Bellamy is a riff god! He has consistently churned out amazing guitar work on the Muse albums. One of them is Plug In Baby, I put together a video tutorial and tabs of how to play that here.

Playing Tips

The song opens up with a chord so let’s get prepared. Use your first finger on the 6th fret of the C. Middle finger on the 6th fret of the A and your ring finger on the 7th of E. Then its a case of following the notes, and picking out the rest of the melody.

muse starlight ukulele riff tab

Come As You Are

Nirvana

The first instrument Kurt Cobain learned to play was a ukulele! How cool is that? If you are ready for some more Nirvana on a uke. I put together arrangements of Nevermind, Bleach and In Utero.

Playing Tips

Again, if you know this song. Is going to be super easy to follow.
 
I would use your first finger on the 4th fret and then add a finger for each further fret. You should have your ring finger on the 6th fret of the C at this point. Thats going to free up your other fingers to play the rest of the notes.
nirvana come as you are ukulele riff tab

Hard Times

Paramore

Hayley Williams and co have gone from strength to strength will their music. Hard Times from their album After Laughter is one of the stand out tracks.

Playing Tips

For this song, we can make it easier for ourselves by using just one finger.
 
Place your first finger across the 6th frets of the E and A strings. Then it’s just a case of moving it up and down for the first 3 sections. Use your middle finger for the last note.
paramore hardtimes ukulele riff tab

No Suprises

Radiohead

One of the more melancholic songs on this list. Me, Radiohead and the ukulele have been super busy. I have arranged Kid A, The Bends, In Rainbows, The King Of Limbs and A Moon Shaped Pool.

Playing Tips

This could be tricky if you are using a soprano ukulele. Often they run out of frets after the 12th. Other than that, it’s another very simple lick to play.

radiohead no suprises ukulele riff tab

Bombtrack

Rage Against The Machine

Its just another BWOMBBTRACK! Rage Against The Machines debut album is laden with riffs.

Playing Tips

To replicate the sound of the original song, we are going to use a technique called palm muting.
 
This involves placing the palm of your plucking hand across the strings. Put it about 1cm away from the bridge of the uke. This is going to dampen the sound and make the notes sound more sudden and sharp.
 
rage against the machine riffs for ukulele beginners

Today

Smashing Pumpkins

Im calling it now, this is the easiest riff to play on this list. Check out my Siamese Dream arrangement here.

Playing Tips

For this riff we can help ourselves by placing our first finger across the 5th fret on both strings. Then its just a case of using your middle finger for the 7th fret and your pinky on the 9th.
 
For the plucking, I use my thumb on the E string and first finger on the A string.
smashing pumpkins today ukulele riff tab

12:51

The Strokes

This is guitar riff sounds like it was played on a keyboard. Its actually just some studio wizard from producer Gordon Raphael. This tab is taken from my arrangement of the Room On Fire album.

Playing Tips

This is a straight forward riff to play. Just follow along to the song to get the timing.

the strokes 12 51 ukulele riff tab

Lane Boy

Twenty One Pilots

You made it to the end of the list and we are returning to finger picking for this one. Tyler Joseph is a huge fan of the uke. Arguably he has been one of the key people in its rise in popularity over the past few years.

Playing Tips

Although this may look confusing, its very simple to play and we are only using one finger.

Place your first finger on the 2nd fret of the C string. After the first note, move your finger up to the 5th fret. Then instead of just fretting the C string, place your finger across the bottom 3 strings. 

 

Repeat this process for the 7th, 9th and 12th frets.

For the plucking hand, we need to assign a finer per string. Use your thumb for the C string, finger for the E and middle finger for the A string.

twenty one pilots lane boy riffs for ukulele beginners

Summary

There you have it, 15 easy to play rock riffs for ukulele beginners. Some of them may have tested you more than you may have liked. Its important to know that pushing ourself the one of the key aspects of practising a musical intrument. 

Want to increase your speed at playing these riffs? I spent 20+ hours putting together this guide and video. I guarantee it will make you a faster ukulele player.