Learning Guitar Riffs – AC/DC Style

In this video guitar lesson I’m going to give you some tips on how to approach learning guitar riffs. And I’m going to be using a small section of the song “Hells Bells” by AC/DC to do it.


If you are learning a new guitar riff, break it down into different smaller parts, and practice those parts separately. And practice those parts that are giving you more difficulty more often.

A bad habit that some people get into is just practicing a whole guitar riff all at once. And then they end up playing some parts faster and others slower….and even come to a screeching halt on others.

But more practice on the whole riff will not do the trick. It becomes a waste of your practice time to keep going over the parts you are already comfortable with, as you struggle on other parts.

One quick real world example is a song I was working on with a private guitar student recently. He is learning the song “Hells Bells” from AC/DC. And after the main riff plays 5 times, it starts to play again but there are a couple of different chords at the end of the riff the 6th time.

So because he already knew how to play the main guitar riff, the first part of this new variation was no problem. But when he had to go to the first new chord in this riff…train wreck.

So he didn’t need any more practice at the moment on the main part, he needed work on the different new parts…and the transitions between the different subsections of the riff.

But let’s take a look at the riff in questions. We are color coded today :)

AC/DC “Hell Bells” Riff Tablature

AC/DC Hell Bells Tablature

So first I have broken the whole riff into 3 main sections. Those are indicated by the blue brackets. The first blue bracket is the part that is the same as the beginning of the main riff of the song.

The first section is broken down into some even smaller subsections indicated by the red brackets. Those end up being the individual chord shapes used in that part of the riff. and if you were learning the main riff, that’s how you would approach learning it.

And last are the transitions between the main sections of the riff, and those are indicated by the orange brackets.

But we are going to pick up on this from the point you would be if you had already learned the main riff, and were moving on in the song to this part. The idea here is to teach you how to approach learning a guitar riff in general, and not necessarily teach you this song.

So the first thing you would need to do is work on the new part. That ends up being the 2nd blue bracket.  The 3rd blue bracket would be a part that you would have already learned in the main riff.

After you were comfortable with the new set of chords, it would be time to work on the transitions between the 3 main blue bracket sections.

So first would be to go from the last chord shape of the 1st main section, to the first chord of the 2nd main section. You would practice this part over and over 10 or 20 times in a row.

The focused practice of playing this small part of the riff would give you progress many many times over playing the whole riff at once.

Next would be the transition between the 2nd main section, and the 3rd. And this is really just going back and forth between 2 chords.

Once you have practiced the subsections by themselves. and worked on the transitions between the subsections by themselves, it’s time to put all of the pieces together…slowly.

Don’t try and go full speed yet. Another bad habit at first is to try and attempt playing the guitar riff at full speed. Get the whole riff down at a slower speed, and then increase the speed as you become more comfortable.

What I have described here is really a big part of what guitar “practice” is. There is a difference between practicing guitar, and just playing. So work on breaking things down into smaller sections. And then work on the transitions between those sections.

Copyright Disclaimer: The small song excerpt from “Hells Bells” by AC/DC is being used under the Fair Use prevision of copyright law and is for educational purposes only.