Favorite examples of riffs that are neither obviously "chord-based" nor "single note"?

Hi everyone!

Recently, I’ve been thinking about how I’m always fascinated by riffs/solos that seem to be somewhere “in between” an obviously chord-based style and mostly single note melodies, but I can barely remember any great examples off the top of my head. So, I figured, it would be nice to ask the community for good ones to remember and hopefully learn.
Not sure if I can get my point across well just with words, so I’ll try to do it more clearly with an example.
Think, say, Hendrix’s “Little Wing” intro. Once you try to play it, the underlying chordal structure becomes quite obvious. However, upon first listen it may seem (at least it sure did to me!) that there is some sort of magic going on with the switching between chordal and melodic playing (which essentially happens to be based on embellishments around the chords - but at first it sounds like more than this).
So - do you guys have any favorite examples of such riffs fluidly switching between chordal and melodic playing?

// just to be clear - I only picked Little Wing in hope that it’s a universally known example; I don’t mean to limit the topic to blues-rock or any other style!

Perhaps what you’re trying to get across is “chord-melody” riffs? If that’s the case, here are personal favorites:

(I can’t find the original version on YouTube anymore)

I’ll post if I remember others. But you should look for the R&B-inspired players out there.

There’s a lot in there


Yes, the first part of EJ’s vid (until he reaches the full-blown distorted solo) pretty much exactly hits what I’m looking for.

Oh wow, there’s definitely a lot here! Amazing stuff!

Yeah - lots of people associate that sound with John Mayer these days (“Slow Dancing in a Burning Room” being a prime example), and before that, if you played something in that vein people would tell you "hey, that sounds like Pearl Jam’s “Yellow Ledbetter!” I always thought of it as a Jimi Hendrix thing (Little Wing, especially SRV’s unbelievable rendition, Wait Until Tomorrow, Castles Made of Sand, even Hey Joe to a degree, Wind Cries Mary, etc) but really that was already a well established style of R&B guitar before Jimi brought it into the rock vocabulary, with Curtis Mayfield being the influence Jimi would always cite. I don’t know Mayfield’s music well enough to point you to specific songs, I’m afraid.

Also worth a look - this wasn’t limited to Jimi’s clean toned playing only. Purple Haze’s iconic intro and then dramatic use of a E7#9 gets the most attention, but listen carefully to what he’s doing on the G and A chords, fretting the bass note with his thumb and then adding higher accents and extensions on the treble strings.

Also, shameless plug, one of my tunes was written around this approach. :wink:


Yes! Castles Made of Sand, how could I forget that?

A small nod to our own guitar studies: these riffs display the importance of studying the CAGED system througout the whole fretboard. :wink:

4 posts were split to a new topic: Simplest explanation of what CAGED is, and what problem it addresses

That’s gotta be a candidate, one of my fav riffs ever!

This one is a short one, but if you transcribe it (or listen carefully), you’ll see it fits with the theme we got going here.
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As a kid I read a couple Hendrix bios. Jimi on numerous occasions expressed frustration about not understanding how to read or write music or understanding theory, because it was always so hard for him to take the music in his head, pick up a guitar, and translate that into something he could share with others. I’m not saying this to slag off on the guy or anything, because I do think he was a tremendously inventive, talented guitarist, and still pound for pound one of my favorite blues players… But, I’m pretty sure he DIDN’T have the kind of theoretical background to look at, oh, The Wind Cries Mary as starting with a couple chromatically ascending 5 chords inverted over the 5th, and then repeating the motif in the first inversion but hitting on from the 2nd to the major 3rd. He seems to just not have had those tools at his disposal (even though he did some tremendous stuff with what he did have).

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Mike McCready’s Hendrix/SRV influence is pretty clear here.

Mark Knopfler is another player I associate with these types of mix rhythm/lead ideas. Since he’s a fingerstyle player he leans a lot on triad chords.

In most of these the chords are there to underline the tonality and chord progression while the hammer ons and pull offs outline a melody line.

Love dire straits.

There’s a NEW ( yes new, I can’t believe it either) Japanese guitarist called Ichika Nito who plays hybrid picking, tapping, jazzy lofi stuff which is just incredible. Bright like telecaster tone with bouncy rhythm and weird jazz progression harmonies.

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Ah yes and if you want a masterclass in hybrid picking:

About CAGED. That’s basically how kids in Russia learned to play a guitar (there were times when it was incredibly popular). They learned so called ‘blatnye akkordy’… roughly means ‘thug’s chords’ or ‘gangsta chords’ )) Holy Seven Chords: C,E,D,A,Am,Dm,Em chords. That was enough to play vast majority of songs. Then they started to use barre and - voila - they could play everything and even in tune. Even now people in Russia know ‘blatnye akkordy’ but most of them don’t have any idea what is ‘CAGED system’.

and these were my first guitar chords too.

Another favorite I rediscovered during recent listening habits. Very clearly Blackmore’s Hendrix influence shining through. Petition to call these types of licks “Little Wingisms” It’s funny with Blackmore I can hear that lute based English pastoral stylings. Dowland isn’t far off.