Breaking Down 5 Classic Rhythms and Riffs

Breaking Down 5 Classic Rhythms and Riffs

Now that you’ve reached the end of this mini series on rhythm, it’s time to take the building blocks from part 1 and the techniques from part 2 and put them into some classic rhythms.

Let’s break down 5 big riffs and rhythms with your new found rhythm skills.

Bob Dylan – Knocking on Heavens Door

Bob Dylan

This classic strum-along uses just 4 chords. G, D, Am and C.

The rhythm is straight eighth notes with a pair of sixteenth notes on the tail end of beats 2 and 4. You would count this rhythm as:

1 & 2 & a 3 & 4 & a

The rhythm stays the same throughout the whole track so once you can play this loop, you can get through the whole song.

AC/DC – Back In Black


This classic AC/DC riff uses 3 simple chords. E, D and A.

You’ll be using some rests in this riff so keep those chords sounding choppy. Don’t let them over ring.

You’re playing on the 1 beat, then pausing. Then there is a pair of sixteenth notes on the “& a” of the second beat before landing on the 3. You repeat this idea from the “& a” of the fourth beat, going back into the next bar.

Count this as:

1 & a 3 & a 1

The Kinks – You Really Got Me

The Kinks

This power chord riff is straight eighth notes but it comes in on the & of the fourth beat. It has a slightly rushed, ahead of the beat feel.

You’re moving between the F and G power chords and then putting a rest in from the 3rd beat until the & of 4 in each bar.

Count this as:

& 1 & 2 &

The Clash – Should I Stay or Should I Go

The Clash

This riff uses just a D and G chord but it also puts an open string hit in there between chord changes. The rhythm for this is fairly straight and the open string hits that fall in between chords actually allow you to have a little extra space to nail the changes quickly.

Starting on the & of the first beat, you’re playing straight eighth notes for the bar. The open string hits come on the & of the second beat and the & of the fourth beat.

The second bar has a single chord and 3 percussive hits on the strings.

Riff is then repeated before finishing with a quick hammer on from the 5 to the 8 on the E string.

Count this as:

& 2 & 3 & 4 & | 1 2 3 4 | & 2 & 3 & 4 & | 1 3

Rage Against The Machine – Killing In The Name

Rage Against The Machine

The final rhythm is more riff based. This is in Drop D tuning so you now need to tune the low E string of your guitar down a full tone so your guitar is tuned DADGBE.

This riff might look complicated on paper but once you start breaking it down it’s just a combination of eighth and sixteenth notes across the bar.

The first beat is the open D string plus a hammer on from 3 to 5 on the A. This counted as:

1 & a

The second beat is straight sixteenths. The 2 e beats are muted notes and the & a is a hammer on between 3 and 4 on the D string. Count this as:

2 e & a

The third beat is a pair of eighth notes. Count this as:

3 &

The fourth beat is a hammer on from the 2nd to the 3rd fret power chord on the D, A and D strings, before ending on the 2nd fret power chord once more. Count this as:

4 e &

Break this one down beat by beat and it’ll sound great in no time!

About The Author

Leigh Fuge is a professional guitar player from Swansea in South Wales that has written and created content for many high-profile guitar brands and publications such as PMT, RSL Rockschool, Trinity College London, and more.

He works with to provide high quality guitar content for guitar players of all abilities from around the country. To date, has successfully generated over 32,000 student enquiries for their network of music teachers around the country. Find a local teacher in your area today.