How to play three classic Red Hot Chili Peppers riffs

John Frusciante
(Image credit: Olivia Hemingway/Redferns)

There’s a strong argument to be made that John Frusciante is the secret spice in the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ fiery funk-rock recipe. His second outing with the LA quartet (their fifth album), Blood Sugar Sex Magik, broke the band into the big time. 

After the commercial disappointment of 1995’s One Hot Minute (recorded with Jane’s Addiction recruit, Dave Navarro), Frusciante's return to the fold in 1998 saw the band on a path to global recognition, with three increasingly successful albums culminating in 2006’s Stadium Arcadium, which topped charts worldwide. 

Here we’re looking at some of our favourite Frusciante-penned Chili Peppers riffs. Can’t Stop will test your ability to groove. Scar Tissue offers Beatles-y chords with a fiercely tricky string muting technique. And, bringing proceedings right up to date, we’re looking at the Hendrix-tinged shapes of 2022’s Black Summer. Plug in and let’s get funky!

1. Can’t Stop

Appears at: 0:00 - 0:34

Tempo: 90 bpm

Key/scale: E minor

Main techniques: Fret-hand muting, accenting, 16th-note strumming

Since it dropped in 2002, Can’t Stop has become one of the Chili Peppers’ biggest tracks, racking up hundreds of millions of streams on every platform and becoming one of their most gigged songs. 

It kicks off with a repeating motif played at the 5th and 7th frets on the fifth string. Now, remember, this is the easy bit! Just remember to play the line eight times and you’re good. 

The real action begins at 0:21, with a deceptively tricky riff from Frusciante. We say ‘deceptive’ because the repeating treble notes (on the 7th and 9th frets of the third string) make it sound like it’s going to be simple; however, there is another element to master: a moving bassline on the fifth and sixth strings. 

And while Frusciante’s aggressive pick attack and wide strumming motion propel the track with urgency, you’re left having to keep five idle strings quiet as you navigate from string to string. Practice slowly at first, and keep in mind that your first finger will be doing most of the string muting. 

TG Tip: Try using your thumb to fret the notes on the sixth string. This allows you to play the entire riff without changing hand position.

2. Scar Tissue

Appears at: 0:00 - 0:11

Tempo: 90 bpm

Key/scale: F major

Main techniques: Fret-hand muting, string skipping, sliding, melodic lines over implied chords, pull-offs 

We’re looking at another Chilis mega-hit here, specifically the Beatles-y, Blackbird-esque two-note shapes that open Scar Tissue

Frusciante uses the root and 3rd intervals of F, C and D minor chords, but, instead of playing pure 3rds, he adds an extra octave in between each pair of notes, covering a wider register to outline the chord progression while still making room for melodic variations. 

If that sounds like a lot to take on board don’t worry! There are only three shapes to learn. The real challenge comes from the rhythm and picking. 

On the recording Frusciante singles out each individual note (downpick the root note; up-pick the high note), but note that in live shows he tends to strum, keeping the fretted notes ringing out over each other with the idle strings dead quiet. It’s ninja-level fret-hand muting, and it’s well worth practising the song this way to hone your own technique. 

TG Tip: Use your second finger to fret the sixth string to allow your first finger to get a better position to mute the idle strings.

3. Black Summer

Appears at: 0:00 - 0:09

Tempo: 105 bpm

Key/scale: E minor

Main techniques: Hammer-ons and pull-offs within a barre chord, slides, and regular string changes. 

Frusciante's 2022 Chili Peppers comeback track, Black Summer is drenched with Hendrix-esque decorative runs right from the top – and we’re looking at the intro riff here. 

It’s based around a 7th position E minor barre chord with hammer-ons and pull-offs included on the second, third and fourth strings. You’ll need a steady barre so that every string in the chord shape continues to ring out as you hammer and pull. Fluff your barre and it’ll all sound a bit thin! 

After the hammer-ons and pull-offs comes a sliding phrase on the second and third strings. You’ll be starting at the 8th and 9th frets and sliding up to the 10th and 11th. Just like the barre, this is another case where you need to keep your finger pressure consistent. Get it right and these two-note shapes will sing. Finally, note that Frusciante tuned to Eb standard here, but we’ve stayed in E to save you having to retune.

TG Tip: Use a chorus pedal with the rate set to pulse at an eighth-note triplet rhythm, and with mix and depth set to medium levels. 

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