Intro to Open Tunings

In order to understand this post, you need to understand standard tunings and drop tunings.

What is an open tuning?

An open tuning is called 'open' because when you strum all of the open strings, they make a chord together. Open D tuning, for example, makes a D major chord (DADF#AD). Open G tuning is tuned to a G chord (DGDGBD). Open E is like open D but one step higher. Drop tunings are not open tunings, they're basically half open and half standard.

When does one use an open tuning?

Technically you can use open tunings any time you want to, and I encourage you to because it will take you out of your comfort zone and force you to try new things in new ways.

On average however, open tunings are used a lot in slide guitar playing. Open tunings are very friendly to the across-the-neck nature that a slide necessitates. Anywhere you place the slide along the guitar neck, you can play a chord with one finger, and simply move one or two frets above or below to play notes in between the chord tones.

Who uses open tunings?

In order to learn the nuances of different tunings, I recommend two things: Experimenting for yourself and also studying the masters. Here are a few famous slide guitar players and what they used. Learn their licks and use it in your own playing.

Duane Allman, Sonny Landreth & Derek Trucks- Open E

Elmore James- Open D

Keith Richards- Open G

Johnny Winter- Open G, D, and A



A Simple Explanation of Drop D Tuning

There are a lot of cool practical things about the guitar. For example: it's portable, any chord or scale shape you learn is moveable, and you can also change the tuning on the fly.

One of the most common alternate tunings is Drop D tuning, but before we talk about that, we need to understand standard tuning.

Standard tuning is, from lowest sounding to highest sounding string, spelled E-A-D-G-B-E. 

In order to get your guitar in Drop D tuning, you need to drop your lowest string (E(The 6th string)) down a step to D. That's all. Then the notes from lowest to highest will be D-A-D-G-B-E.

There are a couple ways to do this. One, you can use a tuner but make sure it's a chromatic tuner. If you don't have a tuner, you can tune the 6th string 7th fret to the same pitch as the open A string, then you will be in Drop D tuning. Or, tune the harmonic on the 12th fret of the 6th string to the same note as the open D string (an octave higher.)

The most common reason to tune to Drop D tuning is to enable power chords to be played with one finger. That's why you'll see a lot of heavier bands using the tuning.

Just as common as Drop D tuning is to tune everything lower by the same amount to get tunings like Drop C#, Drop C, or even Drop B. For example, Drop C# is Drop D with everything lowered by a half step. Drop C is Drop D with everything a whole step lower, and so on and so forth.

The only drawback to tuning everything lower is that it changes the tension on your strings. Try it! Once you start getting into Drop C# territory or lower, your strings start to get really floppy and will have more trouble holding their pitch. But it sounds so badass with the right gear!

Here is a quick and simple video to help you understand:

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