Sheet music for the riff

Example of the riff being played

Relative novice here in music theory, forgive me. There's this fantastic rock riff, and I'm trying to figure out what they're doing in it. I know it's some simple chord progression, with the chords broken up and played highest note first, then lowest, then middle to give that great sense of progression. My problem is that I can't figure out which chords are being used. I've tried every combination of major chords, minor chords, seventh chords, suspended chords, and all their inversions, but for the life of me, I can't find anything that fits the notes.

Can someone help me figure this out? And is there a name for what they're doing here?

Edit: I just realized. I think arpeggio is the right term used to refer to this? Is that also the term they use in rock?

  • to me it is not quite clear whether you mean with chord progression really the harmony relating to the bass line or the analyse of the scale of this riff. usually this SE is not meant to answer such questions but to you as a beginner it might be useful to show you how and where you can learn how to ask and to find out the right terms. I' m not a beginner in music but I'm almost in the same situation as you because I still have to learn the correct terms in English for some musical phenomens of which I know and understand the German expression. Jan 30, 2019 at 9:22
  • It's hardly arpeggios, and probably a simple E chord will fit all of it.
    – Tim
    Feb 24, 2019 at 7:52

2 Answers 2


This riff in E consists of the tones do re mi so la (Penta tonic scale ionic)

It fits well above the Chords A B c#m E without the thirds:

so in these 4 chords you have to play only the notes: AE, BF#, C#G#, EB

Concerning the riff: as described above in doremi syllables - you can use also the numbers for E=1, F#=4, G#=3, A=4, B=5

Then the riff will be:


or in doremi:


if you look at the tones with accents you will identify the scale:

1-2-3-5-6 = do-re-mi-so-la (ionian pentatonic scale)

enter image description here

A pentatonic scale is a musical scale with five notes per octave, in contrast to the more familiar heptatonic scale that has seven notes per octave

look up:


and no: this is not an arpeggio, just a as you say a decomposition of scale tones while an arpeggio is rather an decomposition of a chord (broken chord) as playing on a harp: arpeggio



This is a riff based on the C#m (or E major) pentatonic scale rather than a single arpeggio as it doesn't just outline a single chord.

In terms of the chords/harmony implied by the bassline once the rest of the instruments come in, I'd say it's playing:

| A - - - | B - - - | C#m - - - | E - - - |

| A - - - | B - G#7/C - | C#m - - - | E - - - |

... or something like that. Because of the chromatic bass walk in bar 6, that second chord in bar 6 can be debated. Is it a G#7/C (played frets X3454X)? Is it some sort of diminished chord? Play what you want. Don't follow the bassline and just stay on B. Play what I suggest. Whatever works for you. This is how I'd transcribe it anyway.

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