What Are The “Forbidden Riffs”?

Sujan Tamang 

Have you heard of the “forbidden riff,” which is said to be best avoided?

In actuality, there are several of these riffs, and some of them are truly prohibited in record shops all over the world.

However, certain guitar chords are off limits, and what’s the backstory of them?

Allow this article to briefly transport you back to the 1970s.

The Origin

The origin of the term “forbidden riffs” can be traced back to a London guitar store in 1973.

Like now, customers would frequently visit the stores and test out different instruments before purchasing. Like with all instruments, though, many guitarists never go past their beginner level. As a result, many people are limited to knowing only a few beginner-friendly riffs.

These inexperienced guitarists frequently performed it again and frequently badly. The owners of guitar stores have also observed that beginner guitarists who are playing these riffs are probably only experimenting and won’t even purchase a guitar or any other instrument from them. Having to listen to them repeatedly caused store owners to become frustrated.

It appears that a good thing can have too much of itself.

Guitar retailers find these tracks especially annoying because:

  • Almost every new guitarist learns these forbidden riffs
  • Almost every new guitarist thinks they are the only one to ever learn them
  • Almost every new guitarist plays them badly (but still looks around looking for recognition of their smokin’ hot skills)

What Actually Is The Forbidden Riff?

As was just explained, there are a lot of riffs that are prohibited right now, and there might be more in the future.

However, “Stairway To Heaven” by Led Zeppelin is the song that most people think of when they mention the prohibited riff.

Despite being regarded as one of the best tunes ever composed, beginners tend to overplay it. Stairway To Heaven is an easy song for beginning guitarists to get an incredible sound out of their instrument, which is why customers frequently hear it played in the stores.

With almost 3 million plays on the radio, it was also one of the most overplayed songs. It’s safe to assume that the song was already well-known to most people given the combination of that plus the fact that Led Zeppelin was a hugely successful band with over 37 million copies of their record sold.

It continues to be regularly played on classic rock radio stations worldwide, much like they do now.

In any case, listening to a beginner play it repeatedly grew tiresome, and there was a running joke that it should never be heard when auditioning guitars.

Then, in 1992, Wayne’s World popularized the concept of the forbidden riff; you may watch the video below to see it:

The concept of the banned riff is largely a joke among guitarists these days, and playing it is probably not going to get you fired. Most likely.

However, this does not mean that you won’t face criticism from more seasoned guitarists for using the forbidden riff or any of the other forbidden riffs I’m going to share with you. Our opinion about it?

Play any kind of music you desire. Accept that you can only play a few basic riffs.

Ultimately, you’re not here to play; rather, you’re here to feel the instrument and discover a sound you appreciate.

Other Forbidden Guitar Riffs

What additional riffs are alleged to be off-limits? It’s likely to be on the list if it’s simple and overdone. Nevertheless, the following particular songs are a good fit:

Smoke On The Water – Deep Purple

What makes Smoke On The Water a forbidden riff?

The famous introductory riff from this classic rock mainstay is so easy to learn that most beginning guitarists should be able to pick it up within a few weeks (or even days!).

Enter Sandman – Metallica

It’s time to channel your inner James Hetfield and use this incredible Metallica song to become a down-picking god!

We were guilty of playing this illegal guitar riff at my neighborhood guitar shop far too often when we were a young metal guy.

The opening tune and first single from Metallica’s 1991 album “The Black Album” is called Enter Sandman. The premise of the song is things that go bump in the night and nightmares that children have.

Originally, the song’s lyrics focused mostly on the considerably darker theme of “crib death,” or a baby’s unexpected and unexplained death.

In an attempt to make the song more widely accessible, producer Bob Rock was able to persuade Hetfield to write additional lyrics.

Enter Sandman’s primary riff is quite easy to learn, while Kirk’s electric guitar solo will take a lot more skill to master. Just keep in mind—down-picking only, please!

Sweet Home Alabama – Lynyrd Skynyrd

1974 saw the release of Sweet Home Alabama as the lead single from Lynyrd Skynyrd’s second album, “Second Helping.”

It is the group’s greatest hit to date and was their first major hit.

Actually, the song was composed in response to a Neil Young song that implied most people from the South were racists with outdated ideologies.

Instead, the Lynyrd Skynyrd song extols southern pride and all that is admirable about Alabama. Later on, Neil Young acknowledged that he had regretted the words to his song.

Of all the songs on our list, learning to play this iconic song note for note on the guitar is most likely going to be the most difficult.

Back In Black – AC/DC

The lead single from AC/DC’s self-titled seventh studio album was titled “Back in Black.”

Right now, that record is the second-best-selling album ever! It’s understandable then why the lead song is so well-known!

This rock song was composed in memory of the band’s late lead singer, Bon Scott, who passed away tragically in February 1980 from alcohol intoxication.

Many people claim that the initial riff is the best riff ever! Therefore, it should come as no surprise that in the decades after its publication, so many guitarists have added it to their repertoires.

It also helps that learning it is so simple!

Some other songs that are considered “Forbidden Riffs” are given below.

  • Wonderwall – Oasis
  • Seven Nation Army – The White Stripes
  • Sweet Child O’ Mine – Guns N’ Roses
  • Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana
  • Iron Man – Black Sabbath
  • Nothing Else Matters – Metallica


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