How to Play Crushing Open-Chord Riffs Like Tom Scholz, Angus Young and Brian May

(Image credit: Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

This time, I’ll show you how to play crushing open-chord riffs in the styles of five legendary classic rock riffmeisters.

The use of open power chords embellished with single-note melodic fills and quarter-step bends has provided a framework for some of the most powerful and enduring riffs of all time.

These types of riffs were pioneered by the blues-rock players of the Sixties and Seventies, like Jimmy Page and Angus Young, and refined further by the modern hard-rock styles of Eighties acts like Whitesnake.

Big and powerful sounding, these driving riffs serve as perfect examples of how to hot-rod your open chords and get that old-school, authentic blues-rock feel. Set your amp with the gain, bass and midrange controls halfway up, with a slight boost on the treble knob for a classic rock guitar “crunch” tone.

Accent the beats, using downstrokes for the eighth notes. Hold the pick firmly and let the motion come mainly from the wrist, with the arm relaxed.

Our first riff is built around an A open power chord, embellished with the sixth and flat seventh on beats three and four, giving a Chuck Berry–style rock and roll groove. Use downstrokes throughout.

This riff is based around an E5 power chord, with the move from the minor third to the major third on beat two imparting a blues-rock feel. Use downstrokes throughout, moving from the wrist and using the edge of the palm to mute the strings in front of the bridge.

This example is based around the G5, D5 and A5 power chords, with open-string pull-offs and quarter-step bends used as melodic decorations. The pairs of 16th notes are picked down-up and are muted with all four fret-hand fingers to achieve a percussive chuck-ka.

Here we have a riff based around an A5 power chord, with the C5/A and B5/A double-stops on beats one and two of bar 2 implying Am7 Dorian tonality. Use downstrokes on the eighth notes, bouncing onto the strings with your wrist and accenting the downbeats.

Our final riff moves between E5 and A5 power chords, with neat single-note connecting lines that convey a bluesy dominant-seven tonality. Use downstrokes, bouncing from the wrist. Memorize the riff slowly before approaching full tempo.

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