La Bamba Riff

This is a super cool riff that never seems to go out of style! It’s a classic tune that’s always a hit at parties, even if the only line you know is, “La la la la la la bamba!”

To play this riff, we’re going to lean heavily on our new best friend, the C major scale. The chords in the song are C, F, and G, so if you’ve got a jam buddy, take turns with one of you playing the chords while the other plays the riff over top.

Also, there are two different approaches here. The first uses all single notes, and the second has some harmony notes added in. We’ll go over each approach, but of course, start off with the single note version.

Picking and Pick Ups

For this riff, we’re going to be using all down picks, not alternate picking. In this instance, this isn’t a matter of skill level. The down picks simply sound better and give the tune a more energized feel.

The first three notes are what we call a “pick up.” We’ve seen pickups before in previous lessons, but to quickly recap, they’re there to lead into the first bar of a song. In this case, the riff starts on the “and” of beat 3 of a previous bar that leads into the actual first bar of the song.

The Harmonized Bit

When working with harmonies, you’re playing at least two notes at once to give the tune some more depth and interest. For this riff, a few of the notes are harmonized. To play them, fret the two fingers, and pick only the two strings you need. Remember that you’re still using all down picks, so for the most part, your picking hand is staying consistent. Just let the pick come down a bit further than you normally would in order to hit two strings at a time.

Rhythm Push

If it’s your turn to play backup, this is a great song to practice your rhythm push with! The chord changes to the G comes at the end of the previous bar rather than at the beginning of the bar, so it further contributes to the lively energy of the song.

Once you're comfortable with everything, put it all together! Try to get the riff to match the speed on the record, but if you’re not quite there yet, it’s not the most important thing in the world. There are plenty of other things to focus on here. This riff will help you with your string crossings, your timing and rhythms, and your chord changes, but best of all, it also helps you see how a boring old scale can be transformed into a hit song!


Lesson 10: Weak G Bamba