Chew on the root, don’t eschew it.
Last Updated: August 21, 2012 at 12:12 am

You may think that I’m espousing a vegan diet, or some antiquated prescription for gleaning energy, or reaching a higher plane. But no. I’m speaking to improvisers about soloing. I’m always surprised when students of improvisation can’t play the root of every chord in a progression. At first, try playing the root on beat one or the + of 4 of every new chord. There are lots of advantages to doing this. First of all, it requires that you KNOW the changes, or chord progression. Memorizing the root of every chord helps you memorize the tune. And creates a road map for navigating through the tune and branching off to create and experiment with more complex soloing ideas.

Second of all, it sounds good. Yes… I know it seems simplistic and unnecessary to say but…the root or tonic of a chord is a very pleasant sounding note. Especially when you’re playing with wonderful jazz accompanists who embellish their chords with just the right tensions, sprinkle them with colors that make the ROOT sound exotic. So today’s advice to every practicing improviser: Play the hell out of the root. Be able to play it at any time, on any string, in any range, any beat of the bar. Take control of it. Know what it sounds like. Bend it, gliss into it, fall out of it, play it short, play it long, use a vibrato or not, mordent or none, play it loud, play it soft. But play it. Take control of it. Chew on it. Don’t eschew it.

For guitarists and other string players, an additional challenge would be to play the roots on a single string or any two strings, or any combination of strings.
If you can’t play the root of every chord, in tempo, making it sound good, throughout the entire tune, you’ll be ill-equipped to execute scales and arpeggios over the very same chords.

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