Smoke on the Water by British rock band Deep Purple contains one of the most famous, if not the most famous, guitar riffs of all time. It is one those riffs that a lot of beginning electric guitar players learn to play first.
If you don't know the song, have a look at the video at the top, a live recording of Smoke on the Water on a Deep Purple concert in LA (1974).
The guitar riff is played in the G pentatonic scale and is harmonized in fourths.
Left Hand: play the pairs of notes with one finger (use fingers 1 and 3).
Right Hand: Ritchie Blackmore (Deep Purple's guitarist) plays the riff by plucking the notes with his fingers (thumb and first finger), but you can also play it with a pick.
Here are the guitar tabs for the main riff of Smoke on the Water:
Some interesting background information about Smoke on the Water:
Smoke on the Water tells a true story. In 1971 the band was in Montreux (Switzerland) to record their album Machine Head in the casino of Montreux. The night before the recording there was a live concert of Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. During that concert some idiot fired a flare gun towards the roof. The roof caught fire and the whole place burned down, destroying all the equipment of Zappa's band. Eventually Deep Purple recorded their album in the Rolling Stones' mobile studio.
It must not have been Frank Zappa's best period: a couple of days after losing all his equipment, he broke his leg on a concert in England when someone pulled him into the crowd.
Roger Glover, the bass player of Deep Purple, came up with the title Smoke on the Water, because of a dream he had a few nights after the fire. The water is Lake Geneva, close to the casino.
The band never really believed in the song and never thought it would be a hit. The album Machine Head was released in 1972, but Smoke on the Water was only released in 1973 as a single. It reached number 4 in the US, but was never released as a single in the UK.
Machine Head was written and recorded in two weeks.
Smoke on the Water is in the Guiness Book of Records: In 2007, 1683 guitarists played the riff together, live in Kansas City.
Smoke on the Water is number 426 on Rolling Stone's The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
The guitar riff is so popular amongst beginning guitar players that a guitar store in London put up a sign saying "Absolutely, under no circumstances at all are customers allowed to play Stairway to Heaven, Sweet Child of Mine or Smoke on the Water while trying out guitars. Thank You."