Guitar Root Notes Explained

Understanding where the root notes are for each guitar chord you play is quite important.

In general, the root note is going to be the lowest note in your chord, in terms of pitch. Definitely this is the case in all of the standard open chords and bar chords. Later on, you'll get into more advanced chords, and probably see some inversions and slash chords and things.... but don't worry about that for now!

The reason you need to know where the root note is, is so that you don't strum anything lower than that note! If you're constantly just strumming all six strings, your playing will sound muddy and not very precise, or even musical!

Example: The Root Note of D Major

Take for example the D major chord. As you can see in the diagram, the lowest two strings are marked with an X indicating that we are not supposed to play them. The fourth string is played open, and then we have the notes on the first, second and third strings. 

Let's look at the actual notes in the D major chord. In order, that lowest open note is a D, then we have A, D and F#. 

Now, what are the two notes with X on them? E and A. 

E has no place in the D major chord. If you play it, it really conflicts with the D, making the sound more muddy and less defined. But what about that A? We do have another A in the chord, so why can't we keep this one too? 

The reason is that the lower frequencies really set the stage for how our ears interpret the higher frequencies. Think of the lowest note like a starting point. If you start on an A, but you want to play a D chord, it changes the flavor of the D chord. 

Technically, this can work, because A is the fifth of D. However, in this case we would write it as D/A. You would say that as "D over A." This is an example of a slash chord, because there's a slash "/" in the chord, indicating that although we're playing a D chord, the bass note or lowest note is A. You could also say it is a "D with an A bass." 

Even in this case though, the ROOT note of the chord is the D, because that's the note that gives the chord its name. 

As you can see, understanding where guitar root notes are can really help clear up some confusion around chords, and also clear up your playing too! 

So once you've watched this video lesson, and you understand where the guitar root notes on your chords are located, pay attention to that while you're practicing. Take the time to think about it, and make sure you're only strumming notes within each chord that are supposed to be there!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked

  1. Hi, I finally understand the root note but I got you two videos but what I can’t understand is: why do they teach you the C Maj fingering CEC and yet in the chord speller they say it is made up of CEG but tell you not to play the top string so please explain. I know it is the bass but when you look in the chord speller it only shows CEG. Hope you understand what I am getting at. Did you have a video on the I II III. Thanks

    1. Hi Phyllis,

      E is indeed one of the notes in the C major chord, however in the open C chord, we skip the low E because if you play it, it dilutes the sound of the chord way too much, and the root note (C) can’t ring through. The root note is very important for setting the overall sound of chord, and it needs to have a prominent place.

  2. Let me see if I understand: A scale is a series of notes that can be played when jamming in a particular chord. A root note is the a note on which a jam can begin and end. To blues jam in A  I should start on the Root note of A and end the jam, or stop and regroup on an A note?

  3. That was beautifully confusing, I know less about root notes and what they are, and guess they are not integral to learning the guitar. The one thing that stands out more than anything is so few people can teach the guitar via the internet, and I can see why I am struggling.

  4. Hi Jonathan, thanks for explaining the root note which I can admit that I have been looking for an explanation for, some of the videos I have seen the host who is explaining I’m sure they think that you know just as much as them.

    Thanks Jonathan

    1. Hi Eddie, in general, root notes refer to chords and scales, a “tonic” refers to a key. So if someone says the song is in A major, that tells you the key is A, and the tonic of the song is A as well. That means the root note of your major scale is A. However, you may choose to solo from another position, like the relative minor for instance, in which case your root note would be F#, and the tonic of the key would still be A.

      It can get a little complicated, but it’s important to know what is referring to what. In the video, I was only discussing root notes as they relate to individual chords, and in that context, we don’t necessarily have enough information to know what key the song is in.

      For instance, we could be analyzing a D major chord, however the key of the song could be D major, A major, G major, E minor, or…. because the D major chord fits into multiple different keys. Hopefully that helps clarify a little?

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

Totally Free, Customized Guitar Lessons

  • How to find your way around the fretboard
  • How to use scales and riffs
  • Improvising and soloing lessons
  • Customized to your current level