The most important note in any scale is always the root note.
Unfortunately, many guitar students have to think much too hard about the location of the root note. This is especially true when rockin’ a guitar solo.
The root note – also known as the “1” or the tonic – is the “home base” sound of a scale, that scale’s main chord, and often the entire song. So it’s critical that you know how to find that note to keep things sounding strong and focused.
What’s the result of NOT knowing and using your “home base” root notes?
Unfocused, meandering and amateurish solos. The kind of stuff that sounds like you’re firmly entrenched in the “noodle zone”.
Don’t be that guy (or girl). Always remember that the root note is king.
The King Sounds Good
The main reason why you should spend more time on the root note? It sounds good!
If you play any type of pop style – pop, rock, blues or country – then the root note is critical to a strong and focused solo. Play it early and often to lock in that “home base sound” for the listener.
For the most part, pop, rock and country styles have their foundation in blues. And blues is a decidedly “root-based” style.
In root-based styles, if you don’t keep coming back to that home base, it starts to sound “off” to the listener. They may not be able to explain why, but something will sound incorrect to their ears.
[Tweet “The root note is the “home base” sound of your solo. Establish it early and play it often.”]
All great blues, rock and country players know the value of establishing the sound of the root note in the listener’s ear. Give a listen to any classic track by B.B. King (pictured above), SRV, Clapton, Hendrix, Angus Young, Page, etc. and you’ll hear plenty of root note emphasis.
[NOTE: Jazz music, by contrast, is an “extension”-based style, where the extensions of the chord – 3, 5, 7, 9, and all manner of altered tones – provide the key sounds of that language. Too much root note emphasis here actually negates the “jazzy” vibe.]
The King Looks Good
Having a command of your root note is not just good for the sound of your song. It also helps tremendously with your vision of the fretboard.
Root notes are your milestones around the fretboard. The fretboard is already complicated, so don’t make it worse by treating all notes as equals. Visualize your root notes first and foremost, like you would visualize your own home in a neighborhood full of other houses.
Practically speaking, the root also serves as your safe spot if you get lost on the fretboard. You know it will always sound good, so when you lose your bearings, get home.
[No less a guitarist than the great David Grissom (John Mellencamp, Dixie Chicks) even instructs us in his book, Blues/Rock Guitar Soloing, “You can always play the ‘one’.” Take his advice.]
Get Yourself Home
Root note emphasis brings an automatic focus and feeling of “correctness” to your lead phrases. Here are a few easy ways to get your roots involved:
1 – Hit them with some big bends. This is something I rarely hear with students, but it’s everyday stuff for pro players and a great way to start phrases. Simply grab the b7 note of the scale and bend up to the root. You could even bend a few times in a row for extra drama. And don’t be afraid to hold that bend!
2 – Decorate them with slurs. Instead of playing the roots plainly, slide or hammer into them. Slap some vibrato on them. This will give these all-important notes a little extra vibe.
3 – End your phrases with them. This is powerful because people remember the last thing they hear. You can play up the scale or down the scale and end on the root. You can even do both, encasing the root with a lower and higher pitch. Use your imagination.
Add some of these moves to your lead guitar repertoire. You’ll be amazed at how quickly that pro sound comes together!
QUESTION: Are you in command of your root note locations? Have a favorite tip to share? Leave me a comment below!