In my private teaching business, I teach the fundamentals of guitar using musical examples that my students can relate to. Generally that means teaching my students popular riffs of songs. Its a quick and fun way to learn a short piece of music while developing the skills needed to play guitar.
Some think that you should learn full songs and that riffs are damaging to your playing.
Is learning a whole song good for you? Sure. Is it absolutely necessary? It depends. Can you make tremendous progress as a guitar player without learning entire songs? Absolutely!
Learning the memorable bits to classic songs is just a lot of fun, and within each riff are invaluable lessons that will help you develop as a player. And did I mention its a lot of fun?!
Think about the riffs you know and how you felt when you first learned them or still feel as you blaze through them. Classic riffs like Smoke on the Water, Iron Man, Cat Scratch Fever, Back in Black, Enter Sandman and Sunshine of Your Love give players confidence in their playing and motivates them to grow in their guitar playing.
Riffs are long enough to sound like something, but short enough not to overwhelm young players. Learning riffs will teach you a bunch of techniques and moves that will be transferable to other riffs.
Learning complete songs is, of course, a critical milestone in your development as a musician. Eventually we all need to learn how to play a full song. You learn to see the musical big picture by learning full songs.
But the key word is “eventually.” When you need to, you’ll learn a complete song. When you start a band with your buddies, or when you decide to play at that open mic, you’ll do it.
Believe it or not, learning a whole song is the easy part. Getting your fundamental skills down is the hard part.
For the less experienced guitarist, riffs are much more fun and much more economical: in the time it takes to learn one song, you can learn ten riffs!
So learn those riffs and when you’re ready, go ahead and study the rest of the song. No matter what, have fun and keep growing as a guitarist.