There are a lot of easy songs you can learn on bass where all you do is play a single note over and over. While those songs are important to help you develop your timing and technique, breaking out into a riff can be a lot of fun.
This lesson will walk you through some iconic and instantly recognizable bass riffs that any beginner can learn.
Some of these bass riffs you will be able to play straight away. Some of the other riffs will take some practice to get the timing or technique right.
I recommend learning every single riff covered in this lesson as each one will give you great practice at various techniques and styles.
If you want to get better at bass, check out these 6 Daily Bass Exercises for Beginners.
Note: this lesson uses both Bass TAB and Standard Notation. Learn how to read Bass TAB in this detailed guide.
Seven Nation Army by The White Stripes
You probably expected to see this song on this list as it’s such an instantly recognizable riff and very easy for beginners to learn.
This song doesn’t actually use a bass (the band doesn’t have a bassist), but it’s a great bass riff for beginners to learn. Guitarist Jack White uses a DigiTech Whammy pedal to pitch-shift his guitar tone down an octave. This makes his guitar sound similar to a bass.
I’ll give you two different finger positions for this riff so you can experiment with playing the same notes in different positions on the fingerboard.
This is the version based on how Jack White plays the riff on his guitar:
When you play this riff, think about which fingers make the most sense for each note. For example, which finger should you use for the very first note to make it easy to play the 10th fret note?
Experiment with using different fingers throughout the riff to figure out which feels the most comfortable to play. Learning how to figure out which fingers are best to play something is a skill you should start working on as a beginner.
Here’s an alternate version of the riff:
Both versions play the exact same notes, so they should sound the same when you play them. The big difference is how they feel to play.
In the first version, all the notes are played on the same string and you need to move your hand up and down the string. There is a reason Jack White plays it that way (because he uses an open-tuning), but this way may not be the best way to actually play it on bass.
With the second version, your hand stays pretty much at the same place and you jump from string to string. This is more in line with how some bassists would play a riff like this.
Play around with both versions to get a feel for what you prefer. Once you learn the notes on the fingerboard, you can learn to move notes around just like this for any song you want.
For practice, start with the first version and try to keep your hand around the 5th and 7th frets. Shift the other notes up or down the strings to make them easier to play.
Practice this riff along with a metronome (120 bpm) or a drum machine set to a quarter note bass drum pattern (just like the song).
Part of what made this song so popular when it first came out was the way the simple ‘bass’ riff paired with the thumping beat.
Practicing this riff with a metronome or drum machine is a great way to dial in your timing and develop a strong sense of rhythm.
Feel Good Inc. by Gorillaz
The bass riff is what drives this song, so it’s naturally a fun riff to learn. It’s very simple to play as long as you pay attention to your timing and rests.
Here’s how to play the riff with your bass tuned down a half step to Eb Tuning (Eb Ab Db Gb):
If you keep your bass in Standard Tuning and try to play the above riff along with the song, it won’t sound right. The actual song will sound a half-step lower in pitch.
To play this riff while keeping your bass in Standard Tuning, we can simply shift it up an octave.
Here’s how to play the riff with your bass in Standard Tuning:
When learning this riff, listen closely to how long each note is held. Some notes at the end of the riff are held for most of the bar, while other times the last note ends by the next beat.
Knowing how long to hold a note and when to stop it plays a big part in keeping a tight rhythm.
If you have never tried changing your bass tuning to anything else before, give it a go with this riff.
Use a tuner to tune each string down a half-step. This means the E string tunes down to Eb (E-flat), the A string down to A flat, D string down to D flat, and G string down to G flat.
The great thing about this tuning (called ‘E flat’ tuning or ‘half-step-lower’) is that everything is played the same way. You can play all your riffs in this tuning and while it will feel the same to play, they will sound different.
Some bands like to play in Eb Tuning as a way to get a slightly heavier or more aggressive tone. You’ll hear how the feeling behind songs and riffs slightly change when you tune down.
If you are interested in experimenting with Eb Tuning, check out this guide to Eb Tuning here. The guide is written for guitar, but it includes a list of songs in Eb Tuning you might want to learn on bass.
You Really Got Me by The Kinks
This riff is also included in my easy guitar riffs lesson and for good reason – it’s incredibly simple to learn.
If you’re just getting started learning bass, this riff is a good way to work on your basic technique and timing skills.
Notice that this riff starts just before the start of the bar. Listen to the song and you’ll hear how the second note is emphasized to match the start of the bar.
If you practice this with a drum machine set to a simple beat, you’ll get the most out of practicing this riff.
The song is fairly fast at 142 bpm, so you might need to spend some time gradually building up the tempo before you can play along with it.
Trying to play this song at full speed when you’re not ready to play at that tempo can turn this simple riff into a mess.
Use a metronome or drum machine and practice at a slower tempo until it feels easy. Gradually increase the tempo and give yourself time to build up your speed.
For Whom the Bell Tolls by Metallica
Cliff Burton wrote some fantastic bass parts that are a lot of fun to play. The intro to For Whom the Bell Tolls is a great example of his style of playing.
The intro riff will give you practice playing the highest frets, which is something a lot of beginners have never experienced before.
If you listen to the song, you’ll notice that the bass tone sounds different. That’s because he’s combining distortion and a wah pedal to create a gnarly and dirty tone.
Playing bass with distortion or a wah (or both!) can be some serious fun and a nice break from your usual tone.
If this riff is a bit too complicated for you right now, check out the parts in the rest of the song. It’s a great song for a beginner to learn and you can always come back to learn the intro riff later on.
Here are some other Metallica songs with great bass parts:
- (Anesthesia) – Pulling Teeth
- My Friend of Misery
- The Call of Ktulu
Check out the below video of Cliff performing this live and you’ll see him play around with taking this basic riff. You’ll hear the growl of the wah pedal and distortion as well as him throw in a few bends and trills.
It’s a great example of how you can start with a basic idea and noodle around with it. Once you master this riff, try noodling around with it and use it as a starting point for some improvisation.
This might seem extreme if you’re a beginner, but it’s something to keep in mind for the future if you like the sound of this style of playing.
Money by Pink Floyd
This iconic riff is in 7/4 time, but don’t let that scare you. The rhythm is simple, so just listen to the beat and you’ll find that odd time signatures are nothing to be afraid of.
You will need to think about which fingers to use as you move across the strings. There are some wide jumps in this riff, so planning which fingers to use is important.
The first four notes might feel awkward at first, but if you work on enough finger exercises, the stretch will eventually feel easy.
The rhythm in this riff is incredibly simple as it sticks very closely to the beat. Use a metronome or drum machine to get the most out of practicing this riff.
A key part of this song is using staccato right. Listen to the song closely and hear how long each note lasts. You’ll hear a bouncy feel to the notes thanks to the staccato used.
Use this song as a way for you to practice your staccato technique. Play a note, then immediately lift your finger off so the note cuts out. Get a feel for how much pressure you need to release for the note to cut out. Try varying how long you hold the note and hear how it changes the vibe of the riff.
Staccato is a crucial technique to master on bass, so spend some time playing around with it on this riff.
Try playing this riff without using any staccato on any note and you’ll hear how it seriously changes the feeling of the riff.
Which notes should you use staccato and which notes should you play normally? I purposely didn’t include any staccato notation in the riff to force you to listen to the song and think about it for yourself.
Experiment with adding in staccato to different notes and you’ll quickly get a feel for what works and what doesn’t.
Another One Bites the Dust by Queen
This simple riff will show how important rests can be to give a simple rhythm a tight and punchy sound.
Listen carefully to the song and take note of how long the notes ring out before being muted. How long you let those three open string notes ring out can completely change the vibe of the part.
If you try to play along with the song, you might notice that the tuning is a bit off. The tuning of the instruments in the song are about 1/4 pitch higher than standard.
So if your bass sounds a bit out when you play along with the song, don’t worry – it’s not you, it’s the song. There are ‘pitch corrected’ versions on YouTube you can use to play along with that have been tuned down to E Standard tuning.
A metronome or drum machine is a must when practicing this riff. You really want to make sure you get the timing of the first note of each bar spot on the beat.
If you’re a beginner, you might have a bit of trouble timing the notes leading up to the start of the bar. With enough practice, you’ll be able to properly time these notes so the rest of the riff flows properly.
Practicing this riff without a metronome or drum machine can potentially lead to bad habits or a poor sense of timing. A metronome or drum machine will make it clear whenever your timing is even slightly off. You’re unlikely to notice small timing mistakes when you play on your own.
While riffs like this are quick and easy to learn, they’re still great opportunities to work on and improve your rhythm and sense of timing.
Sunshine of Your Love by Cream
This pounding riff is a lot of fun to play, especially when jamming with a band.
The two parts shown below are good examples of how shifting up or down an octave can dramatically change the vibe of a part.
Once you get used to shifting some notes up or down an octave, you’ll be able to come up with better-sounding riffs or modify other riffs in interesting ways.
Playing this riff with a fuzz or distortion pedal is a lot of fun. While a lot of bass riffs and parts sound best with a clean tone, this riff is at its best when you add in some grit.
Check out the Electro-Harmonix Bass Big Muff pedal for a great option to try out. Learn more about fuzz in this guide.
If you know somebody who plays guitar, this is a great riff to use as the starting point for a jam. Start off playing the riff just like in the song, then start experimenting by shifting notes up or down an octave, changing the rhythm, or coming up with different variations.
Listen to how the guitar in the song changes up the riff for ideas on what you can do. If you had to come up with a bass solo for this song, what would you try?
Come As You Are by Nirvana
Most beginners should be able to play this riff almost straight away without any problems.
This riff will give you good practice at moving back and forth between two strings. Whether you play with your fingers or a pick, try to make sure the riff continues to flow properly as you shift between strings.
The bass and guitar in this song are tuned down a whole step to ‘D Standard’. This means you tune the E string down to D, the A string down to G, the D string down to C and the G string down to F.
Alternatively, you can play the entire song by tuning to Drop D Tuning (D A D G) and shifting the above riff down to match the correct pitch (see below for tips).
The bass in this song is tuned down a whole step. If you wanted to play along with the song while staying in Standard Tuning, how would you play it?
Learning how to transpose music and move parts up or down in pitch is a great skill to start learning now.
Hint: Think about how far down in pitch the song is compared to Standard Tuning. How many fret’s worth of pitch is it? How many frets should you move the part down to reach the same pitch?
Under Pressure by Queen
This ridiculously simple riff shows how important rhythm is for a song. There’s nothing complicated about this riff and it only uses two notes. It’s all about that rhythm.
Practice this part slow if you find that you get tripped up by the rhythm (especially if you’re plucking the notes instead of using a pick).
Think of this riff more of a rhythm exercise than anything else. You might even want to add it to your regular practice routine as a warm-up exercise.
Once you master this rhythm, try coming up with different patterns or variations and listen to how it completely changes the feel of the part.
Can you come up with a different rhythm pattern using these notes that sounds just as interesting?
Livin’ on a Prayer by Bon Jovi
This riff jumps back and forth between two strings and for many beginners will feel like a tongue-twister for your fingers.
If you find that you keep making mistakes, spend a few minutes memorizing the order of the notes without your bass in your hand.
Once you memorize the notes, you’ll find that you’ll play far fewer mistakes.
Think carefully about which fingers you use to play these notes. The finger combination you use might feel comfortable to play at a slow tempo, but can become awkward as you increase the tempo.
This type of riff can sound terrible or great depending on which fingers you choose to use for each note. Think about what makes the most sense and which fingers might get in the way if you were to speed it up.
Slither by Velvet Revolver
This riff moves up and down the same string while keeping a constant eighth-note rhythm. It’s a simple riff from a rhythm point of view, which means you can focus your attention on moving your hand up and down the neck.
This song is in Drop D Tuning (D A D G). If you haven’t tried any alternative tunings before, Drop D is a great starting point.
Use a metronome to build up the tempo to full speed (142 bpm), then once you can play it perfectly without any problems, try to continue to push the tempo higher.
If you’re able to play the riff perfectly at 150+ bpm, when you go back to full speed, it will feel simple to play. Practicing a part higher than full speed is a great way to add a ‘buffer zone’ to your skills. If you can play a song perfectly at 110% tempo, you’ll feel far more confident playing it at 100% tempo.
Once you think you’ve memorized the riff, try to play it with your eyes closed. Playing this riff with your eyes closed is a great way to check how well you know the fretboard and how easily you can find the right frets by feel.
If you make a few mistakes while playing with your eyes closed, spend some time practicing playing with your eyes closed or without looking at your hands to work on this skill.
Come Together by The Beatles
This riff will feel very different compared to most of the other riffs in this lesson.
This riff has an unusual flow to it thanks to the way you slide in and out of a few notes.
With the slide at the end of each bar, you slide your hand down the string without landing on a particular fret. Mute the string as you slide down to give your hand a chance to move back to the tenth fret in time for the next note.
Think about which fingers make the most sense to play each note. The first slide will feel awkward if you choose to play it with a finger that makes it hard to play the next note.
Try moving this riff to a different area of the fingerboard and see how it feels. For example, what if you move the first four notes to a higher string? How does that change how you play the riff?
Even if you can’t find a more comfortable position to play this riff, it’s always a good idea to experiment with moving notes around. It’s a great way to feel more comfortable with the notes on the fretboard.
Killing in the Name by Rage Against the Machine
A lot of Rage Against the Machine bass riffs are easy to play and this song is a great example worth trying out.
This song is played in Drop D, so tune the E string down to D before you try playing the below riffs.
The first part of the song (the top part shown above) is at 114 bpm and the rest of the song is at 82 bpm.
If you have trouble playing the second riff properly, slow down and get your rhythm right before you increase the tempo.
Another great RATM bass riff worth learning is the intro riff to Bombtrack. It’ll give you great picking/plucking practice as well as jumping around the strings.
If you’ve never played in Drop D before, don’t be intimidated by it. All you need to do is tune the E string down to D, so it’s a great alternative tuning to try out.
There are a lot of songs in Drop D, so once you try out the Drop D riffs in this lesson, you can start looking up other Drop D songs.
If you play a five string bass, you might be tempted to just play the lower notes on your B string. That will give you good practice at moving notes around to different strings, but it will make some songs unnecessarily awkward.
You can play Drop D songs on your 5 string by tuning the E string down to D (B D A D G).
Back in Black by AC DC
AC DC songs are a great starting point for beginners looking for simple riffs to learn, so it makes sense to check one out as the last easy bass riff in this lesson.
Make sure you get your timing right and don’t hold the notes longer than shown below. You want to get a tight and punchy sound, so pay attention to the rests.
The last bar might feel awkward for many beginners due to the wide jumping back and forth. Take your timing learning the part and don’t rush. This riff sounds terrible when rushed.
Practicing with a drum machine or along with the song is crucial to get the most out of this riff. Listen closely to the drums in the song to try and lock in your timing.
Make it a goal to time the very first note perfectly with the first beat. It might take you some time to get used to anticipating the next beat, but it’s a crucial skill to learn. So spend as much time as you need to get it right.
After you learn this riff, go through some of AC DC’s other songs for a great range of simple bass riffs worth learning. Most of their songs are easily playable by beginners.
More Bass Lessons and Guides
Here are some useful bass lessons and guides worth checking out:
- How to Read Bass TAB
- 6 Daily Bass Exercises for Beginners
- Can Guitar Pedals Be Used For Bass?
- Can You Play Bass Through a Guitar Amp?