Open Tunings for Intermediate Students

For this article a short, introductory brief about open tunings. Open tunings are achieved by simply tuning the guitar into a particular chord. When you have been playing the guitar for about two to three years you may think: “That really sounds complex and is way above my ability at the moment”  You may be wrong there, if you like being creative and like messing about with your guitar, open tuning can open up a world of music which you may not have thought of before.

Why do we use open tunings you may wonder?. Open tuning create a rich pallette of sound, it gives the guitarist the ability to play single string melodic ideas while it still possible to play chords at the same time as well. Imagine that you play a riff, and in between the notes of the riff you strum your open strings to add body to your riff.
Open tunings do not require complex fingerings to create different chords, often it is enough to barre your first, left hand finger to get the sound of another chord.
Open tunings are a favourite for slide guitar players as open tunings make changing chords easier.

Is it true that open chords are mainly used in folk, country and blues guitar styles? Well there is certainly some kind of truth in this statement, but open tunings are used by guitarplayers of any genre. Think of  heavy rock where guitarists often tune down their low E to a D. This idea is not really using an open tuning, but it is a step towards changing the tuning to achieve a particular sound you may like. Bands like Sonic Youth make up their own tunings (Simply take a chord and tune the guitar accordingly to this chord), they even used to have certain guitars modified and set-up for particular tunings. 
Once you start experimenting with your tunings you will start to see so much more about what is possible, and no, you do not need to be an expert guitarist to use them. All you need to have is a desire to explore different sounds which are hidden within the guitar.

                    Open C Tuning

Open C is a very useful tuning since you can use to Capo to access other keys by simply moving the Capo up-or down the fretboard.

Here is an example of an Open C tuning:

       Standard                               Open C

    (read tuning as high to low starting with High E going to low E in standard tuning)

           E                                          E

           B     ————————->   C  (Tune string up 1 fret)

           G                                         G

           D     ————————–>  C (Tune string down 2 frets)

           A     —————————> G (Tune string down 2 frets)

           E     —————————> C 

Observe that the Open C tuning carries all the notes of a C major chord (C, E and G).

Strum all the open strings and you hear an C chord. Check the sound against a guitar in standard tuning to hear the difference: The open tuned guitar will sound more resonant and that low C, in particular, sounds very pleasing to the ear.
Barring your first, left hand finger across the first fret will give you a C# chord, barre across fret 2 to get a D chord. Fret 5 and 7 are very useful: On fret 5 you will get your F chord while fret 7 will give you a G chord.

                   Why did I tune the Strings I did to get Open C?

The strings I changed are close to the standard tuned strings. I try to avoid tuning up too far as the string may break. Tuning the B up one fret to C is not too bad, your strings will handle that. When you are using old strings they may break quicker, but it is also a sign that it is time to change your strings.

                  Is this the only way to achieve Open C-tuning?

No, you can leave the low E in standard tuning, since the E forms part of the C major chord. Why did I change low E to C? Because I like the idea of having the Root note at the bottom string, it is great to hear the Rootnote from time to time appearing on the low string.

                 Do you need All the Notes of C major in Open C-tuning?

No, but the tuning may no longer be called open C. I try lots of variations, I like the idea of using C on every string, it give you a lovely sound. Another one I like is using C5 tuning: Tune your strings to C and G to get the C5 chord.


Any open tuning will give you lots of limitations, that is why we use standard tuning because you can get so many different sounds by using your fingers to create different chordshapes. Open tunings are good for certain things but are not as flexible as standard tuning.
Looking at the example of the Open C-tuning, the minor chord may be a bit hard to get since you cannot simply barre your finger to get the sound of a minor chord. You can tune the high E  down to Eb, by doing so you are now using a Cm as open tuning. The minor tuning may be easier to give you the major chord sounds.
When you start playing around with the tuning you will discover what they can do for you, simply explore and maybe make a note from time to time where you are tuning to to keep track of what you are doing.

I hope to get some videos done very soon where I will demonstrate some open tuning ideas.
Stay tuned for any coming updates.