How To Play In Open Tuning

The EADGBE tuning of a guitar has become the universal standard for guitarists. This tuning is very versatile, allowing guitar players to play chords and scales easily, which is why most professional guitarists prefer this tuning. There are still many guitar players experimenting with different tunings that completely change how the guitar sounds and how you play it. Open tunings are fun; guitarists can play progressions on open-tuned guitars that would otherwise be impossible or very difficult.

So what are open tunings, and why are so many guitar players using them? I’ll answer these questions below.

What is an open tuning?

Open tuning is when the guitar is tuned to a perfect major or minor triad. When playing all six of the guitar strings without pressing on any frets, you will play a major or minor chord. Major triads are most commonly used for open tunings, but minor tunings are also possible. In an open tuning, you will tune the guitar to match the chord you wish to play when all the open strings are strummed.

What are the benefits of using an open tuning?

Changing the tuning of your guitar from standard tuning to an open tuning opens up a guitarist to a new world of playing options. For example, simply strumming the guitar will make the sound of a major or minor chord, so much less effort goes into strumming this chord.

Other benefits of open tuning include:


Guitarists can drone in any tuning, but it is an especially common technique when tuned to an open tuning. Essentially, a guitarist will allow at least one of their open strings to ring out while they fret strings further down the neck.

Rethink the guitar

Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone to improve your skills is important. Playing in a new tuning is an excellent example of this. You won’t have the same muscle memory with an open tuning as with standard tuning, and you will have to push your musical ear to assist you when playing scales or chords.

New chord shapes

The chord fingerings will also downright change in an open tuning. Generally, the fingerings will be much simpler and easier to switch between since the major or minor triad will simply be the open strings or a single bar across the strings.

Most common open tunings

You could essentially tune your guitar to any tuning to match any chord. But, here are the most common open tunings that guitarists use.

Open G (D-G-D-G-B-D)

Open G is one of the easiest open tunings to play and tune to. You simply need to lower the high E and the Low E to a D and lower the A string to a G.

Open G Major 7 (D-G-D-F#-B-D)

Open G Major 7 is a fun variation of the open G tuning. The G string is tuned down a half step to an F#, creating a major 7th. Adding a Major 7th to your open triad has a stimulating effect that opens up many playing options.

Open D (D-A-D-F♯-A-D)

This is another common open chord tuning. For open D, you must again tune both E strings down a whole step to D, the B string down to A, and the G string down a half step to F#.

Open E (E-B-E-G♯-B-E)

Open E is yet another widely used open tuning. To tune your guitar to an open E tuning, bring the A string up a step to B, the D string up a step to E, and the G string up a half step to G#.

Open C (C-G-C-G-C-E)

Open C may not be as popular as other open tunings, but it has a unique sound because you will tune the low E string two whole steps down. To play in open C, tune the Low E down to C, the A down to G, the D down to C, and the B up to C.

Popular songs in open tunings

  • Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked by Cage the Elephant: Open G
  • Gimme Shelter by The Rolling Stones: Open E
  • Even Flow by Pearl Jam: Open D
  • Skinny Love by Bon Iver: Open C
  • Uprising by Muse: Open G
  • That’s the Way by Led Zeppelin: Open G
  • Pretty Noose by Soundgarden: Open C

What is the difference between drop tuning and open tuning?

There are plenty of different alternate tunings, and tuning to an open tuning is just one option. The most popular alternate tuning is drop tuning. In a drop tuning, you keep all the strings in standard tuning, but you drop the low E down to a low D or C. This tuning is used in many different types of music, from heavy metal to classical.

The ultimate goal of a drop tuning is to increase the guitar’s range, while an open tuning aims to turn the open strings into a chord.

Are different tunings bad for guitars?

It is a common misconception that changing the tuning on your guitar will damage the action. The change in tension is so slight that there is little effect on the guitar itself. A guitar should easily handle the tuning being changed around, and if the guitar has problems staying in tune, there may be a preexisting issue with the hardware.

One thing to note is that raising and lowering the tension on the strings will generally reduce their lifespan. Therefore, if you plan to consistently change your guitar’s tuning, I recommend investing in high gauge strings.

If you any questions about open tunings or anything else guitar and music-related feel free to reach out. I am always happy to help!

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