Famous Rap Piano Riffs

Lisa Witt  /  Song Tutorials  /  UPDATED Jan 12, 2023

The piano plays a critical role in some of the most famous rap songs in history.

I’ll teach you how to play 3 iconic rap piano riffs:

1. “Still D.R.E” by Dr. Dre

The piano part is incredibly catchy and it repeats often.

Learning it will not only make you sound super-cool, but it will also help you to develop an ear on how to put together some incredibly catchy melodies and sounds when you make your own compositions.

The riff is a Bb minor chord played in 1st inversion. It looks like this:

Play the chord with an eighth-note rhythm. That means you can fit eight beats into a standard measure.

In the second measure, things get a little more interesting… But not too complicated.

You’ll drop your thumb from the Db to the C and play that chord for 3 eighth-note beats.

Then drop your pinky finger from the Bb down to Ab and finish the measure by playing that chord for 5 eighth-note beats.

The hardest part about this riff is the rhythm, and when the chord changes. Take some time and take it slow!

The left-hand simply begins on Bb. I like playing octaves.

The other notes are C and F. Again, the rhythm is the hardest part. Make sure you watch the lesson carefully to get it into your bones.

2. “Changes” by Tupac

Tupac is my most favorite rapper of all time!

But I was raised in a very conservative home, and we weren’t allowed to listen to rap. So I would hide the Tupac CD inside the CD case of some Christian music.

Don’t tell my parents!

The next in our series of rap piano riffs is from “Changes”, and it’s so beautiful and iconic.

Part of the reason for that is the piano part is actually taken from Bruce Hornsby’s 1986 hit, “The Way It Is”.

The riff starts with an A minor chord in 2nd inversion (E-A-C), before moving to an E minor in root position (E-G-B).

Then there’s a D sus 4 chord (D-G-A), before resolving to a C sus 2 chord (C-D-G).

It’s much easier to watch me demonstrate in the video.

If you’ve never heard or seen sus chords before, check out my Sus Chord 101 lesson.

Once you’re comfortable with that, you can tackle the second part of the riff.

It starts on a 1st inversion G chord (B-D-G), and your thumb does a little walk down to the A and back up to the B. After that, play a D major chord in 2nd inversion (A-D-F#), before finally ending on a C major in 2nd inversion (G-C-E).

This seems like a lot, and it makes way more sense when you see me demonstrate it.

The good thing is, it’s nearly all white keys and simple chords that you should already know!

For a more complete lesson on inversions, click here.

Your left hand simply plays the root note of whatever chord your right hand is playing.

3. “Same Love” by Macklemore

I chose this final song because it’s not super-intense.

The piano riff is also quite slow and sooo pretty. It’s also kinda the star of the song, because once you hear it, you instantly know what the song is.

That’s true of all 3 rap piano riffs in this lesson.

There are a few black keys, but I know you can handle this 😊

The first chord is an Eb major (Eb-G-Bb). The riff involves playing the top > middle > top > bottom notes of the chord.

So you’ll play Bb > G > Bb > Eb.

For your left-hand, you’ll play an Eb while you play most of the riff, except for the final Eb, when you’ll move to a C.

This represents a change in chord from an Eb major chord to a C minor.

The second half of the riff involves playing a broken chord, similar to the one you just did.

This time the notes are Eb > C > Eb > G.

The left-hand plays an Ab for most of the riff except that last note again, when you jump back up to play Eb.

If these rhythms sound a little confusing, watch the lesson and follow along. It’s much easier to show this than to try and write it all out.

And that’s it! The riff simply repeats after this throughout the song. The only change is the very last note. On the second time through, instead of playing the Eb, you’ll play a Bb just below the C.


If you look at each of these rap piano riffs closely, you’ll notice that the notes of the riff are nearly always taken from the notes for the chord they belong to.

This was a game-changer for me because it means you can take a simple chord progression and try to create your own riffs using the notes from those chords.

After all, that’s all music is! Chords and scales. Our lesson on classical vs. pop demonstrates that in an entirely different genre.

So go ahead, try to write a riff!

Lisa Witt has been teaching piano for more than 20 years and in that time has helped hundreds of students learn to play the songs they love. Lisa received classical piano training through the Royal Conservatory of Music, but she has since embraced popular music and playing by ear in order to accompany herself and others. Learn more about Lisa.

Headshot of woman with short platinum hair against a studio background.

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