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What Is Open Tuning?
An open tuning is a type of alternate tuning that makes your guitar produce a triad when you strum all of the open strings at once. Open tunings usually follow the pitches of a major chord: Open A, Open D, Open E, and Open G are particularly popular among guitarists. Minor chord open tunings are less common, but they can fit certain styles of rock and folk music.
What Are the Benefits of Open Tuning?
Open tunings completely change a guitarist's relationship to the fretboard.
- It makes certain chords easier to play. Open voicings and tone clusters that might not have been attainable with standard tuning become relatively easy to play when the instrument is tuned to an open chord.
- It provides more options to slide guitarists. Slide guitar players often embrace open tunings, as it allows them to move their slide directly perpendicular to the guitar neck
- It allows for drones. Open tunings also facilitate drones—a technique that involves letting one or more strings ring while fretting the other strings.
- It allows you to explore new chord shapes. It's important to realize that fingerings will change when you tune your acoustic guitar or electric guitar to an open chord. Riffs and chord shapes may not feel quite as intuitive as they would under standard tuning; on the other hand, open tuning has inspired many guitarists to embrace entirely new types of riffs and chord shapes.
5 Examples of Open Tuning
Chances are you've heard open tunings on a wide array of records. Famous open tuning advocates include blues legend Robert Johnson, Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, and slide guitar wizards Bonnie Raitt and Derek Trucks. Perhaps the most famous open tuner in popular music is Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones; hit Stones songs like "Brown Sugar," "Start Me Up," and "Honky Tonk Women" all use open tunings. Five open tunings are especially popular among guitarists:
- Open G Tuning: When you use this tuning, you can produce a multi-voice G major chord by strumming the open strings of your guitar. To get an open G tuning, lower the pitches of your sixth, fifth, and first strings on a standard tuned guitar. In this case, the sixth string (low E) drops a whole step to a D, the fifth string (A string) drops a whole step to a G, and the first string (high E) drops a whole step to a D. The net effect is a guitar strung as follows: D-G-D-G-B-D, and it rings out as a G chord in second inversion.
- Open E tuning: Open E is a popular tuning in acoustic blues guitar. To get there from standard tuning, raise your fifth string a whole step to B, raise your fourth string a whole step to E, and raise your third string a half step to G♯. This produces a tuning of E-B-E-G♯-B-E.
- Open D tuning: An open D tuning requires lowering your sixth string to D, your third string to F♯, and your first string to D. The final product is D-A-D-F♯-A-D and it sounds a D major chord when open strings are strummed. If you want to explore further, you can also try what's known as the D-A-D-G-A-D tuning, which keeps the G string on the same pitch it uses in standard tuning. D-A-D-G-A-D is not technically an open tuning, but it produces a very similar character.
- Open C tuning: This guitar tuning produces a rather heavy sound as the low E string goes all the way down to C, the fifth string drops to G, and the fourth string drops to C. However, the second string (B string) goes up to C. The net effect is C-G-C-G-C-E.
- Open A tuning: The standard way to get an Open A tuning is to lower your fourth string a half step to C♯ (or raise it a whole step to E), raise your third string a whole step to A, and raise your second string a whole step to C♯. This tuning can place a decent amount of stress on your strings, so some guitarists get an Open A by tuning their guitar to Open G and then placing a capo on the second fret of their instrument.
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