Open Tuning Basics

Learn how to get to Drop D, Double Drop D, Open G, and Open D tunings, and get creative with your guitar!


View the full lesson at Open Tuning Basics | JustinGuitar

I’ve felt a bit clueless lately as to what to practice, so I checked out this lesson and ended up returning my Epiphone LP to open G and doing the Brown Sugar lesson. It’s indeed a lot of fun! :slight_smile:

But I was wondering if open minor tunings are a thing and if anyone uses them. What I had in mind was open E at first (E, G#, B, G#, B, E) but I’ve got a feeling that tuning down more than a tone makes the strings a bit wonky and more prone to detuning. So I thought that an open G# minor tuning (D#, G#, D#, G#, B, D#) would be easier on the strings.

What do you think? Is this something already done by someone?

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I think D minor open tuning is a thing: DADFAD. I know the old bluesman Skip James was noted for using this tuning, but I’m not sure how common it is/was. Adrian Woodward did a lesson on a Skip James song and talks a little about the tuning: Devil Got My Woman by Skip James | Solo Acoustic Blues - YouTube

(Rewatching the beginning, he mentions Robert Johnson’s Hellhound on my Trail as being in the same tuning; a tab I found of that song specifies E minor tuning: EBEGBE).

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Thanks, I’ll check it out. With open tunings, I think it’s often a matter of slapping a capo on to raise the key.

I spent some time with open D as it just sounded great, but so far I found the use of open tunings a bit limited. I’ve had a hard time figuring out grips that were comfortable and useful (like minor chords or 7ths). I think I’ll stay with standard tuning for the time being and revisit open tunings when a song calls for them.

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What a great lesson this one is. Super enjoyable.

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Ive played other peoples songs in alternate tunings before like Rolling Stones but as far as noodling around , nothing . My feeling at the time was I should try my best to to stick to one tuning (open E) and attempt to “master” that first . As I thought it would be less confusing . Slide guitar in G seems like it’s worth a go in the future

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This was a good lesson to start with, practicing guitar again. I’ve made all the mistakes over the years and always tried to find some shortcut to learn faster. Now I try to train more calmly and more focused, so maybe this time I will succeed better. Thank you Justin for this and all your lessons. All of you who are on the same path, remember to enjoy the journey.

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Hi Vesa and welcome !

Your story sounds a familiar one and certainly resonates with me. Glad you have found Justin you are in the right place to succeed this time.

Amen to that !

Why not tell us a little more about your journey
HERE

And like you say, enjoy the ride.

Cheers

Toby
:sunglasses:

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OK, ignore my naiveté. I am a beginning beginner - are you telling me that guitarists do the tuning changes on the fly right before they start a song on stage? OR is that why they have so many guitars on stage - they are each tuned differently? My mind is blown reading about these open tunings.

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Some have a guitar for each different tuning some tune on the fly. Most tunings are not that hard to do on stage and only take a minute once you know how to do them. The easiest is Drop D all you do is tune the Thickest E string down one tone to D. I use Drop D a lot but play guitar on a regular bases with guitar player that never use anything but standard tuning.
Then there is Keith Richards who had a Tele build with 5 strings and keeps it in an open G tuning.

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Great lesson! What is the fingering for the G chord in drop D tuning? Justin did not make it clear what fingers are on the lowest strings. Specifically, do we play the thinnest string open, or do we fret it?

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Playing a open G chord in Drop D is 5X0003. I use the ring finger on the 5th fret muting the A string and index on the 3rd fret. Any chord in Drop D using the thickest E string just move that note up 2 frets.

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@stitch Thanks for the quick reply! Yep that’s perfect.

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As a supplement to this excellent Open Tuning Basics lesson, I recommend practicing Justin’s original Open G Tuning lesson [Open G Tuning (Songs Guitar Lesson RO-020) How to play - YouTube]. In addition to introducing Open G tuning, it includes wonderful introductory lessons for four classic Open G songs:

  1. Bohemian Like You by The Dandy Warhols
  2. Start Me Up by The Rolling Stones
  3. Brown Sugar by The Rolling Stones
  4. Honky Tonk Woman by The Rolling Stones
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What would be a good passing requirement for this lesson? Being able to play a simple song in each of the tunings? I just learnt the skeletal structure of Start Me Up (Open G) and that was really cool.

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@Pronewbie
That sounds like a good idea, Ber.

I think it is true to say that the generic, once-size-fits-all criteria is to be able to apply whatever you learn in a lesson in making music. That is often going to be through the playing of songs, could also be improvising using a scale over a backing track, or using a new technique in your playing.

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Help! I have watched the video and tried a bit but I don’t really understand what is going on technically as I am still working on my music theory. If I switch to, say drop D tuning and then play an open chord shape that uses the thickest E string, now I am changing one of the notes in the chord, so presumably no longer playing the same chord. If I play an E shape open chord, is it now a D as the base note is D or am I playing an E/D chord? How do I know what chord am I now playing? It feels like a dark art!

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It sounds like you’re not ready for alternative turnings. All drop D does is tune the E string to D. So if you need to play the E string in a chord you fret the note up to semi tones. For example a G major chord becomes 5X0003 or 5X0033.
Drop D is great for song in the key of D this give you a drone note when playing the D chord or any chord in the key of D. There is a lot more to this but this will give you a place to start.

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Thanks @stitch, your explanation of ‘songs in the key of D and getting a drone note’ sort of helps, I have been reading up on music theory and think that I understand the basic principles of keys etc but not internalised it yet. I haven’t used Justin’s theory course as video really doesn’t suit my learning style but am learning using a book on music theory for guitar which I have read cover to cover and intend to read several more times yet.

I get that every note has moved up the fretboard on the thickest string, what I don’t get is what does this mean for the chord shapes I have been learning if, as per your example a G now has a different fingering, which I get, that’s why I am asking the question - are you supposed to abandon the chord shapes learnt so far and start using different fingering all of a sudden for the chords you’ve learnt so far? Do you need to learn new scale pattern shapes for C major and Em as the notes have moved on the fretboard? How do you practically apply alternate tunings, it’s simply not explained in the video, just ‘here’s some different ones, try them’.
As to “not being ready” I have diligently followed Justin’s course in lesson order for two years now picking up my guitar every day and have now reached this video. If it’s a case of ‘don’t even go there with alternate tunings until you’ve mastered music theory’ then it seems a bit odd that Justin doesn’t say so.

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Hi Kim! Great question you have and nice to meet you.
You figure out chords by trying out stuff on alternative tunings, and move them down the fretboard just like the way you play barre chords on standard tuning

So by knowing and understand the root note and the chord shape you have, this allows you to play any chords you come up with on any alternative tunings. (Well, I hope this could explain well enough how I can play DADGAC xD)

All it takes is the experiences on guitar and the dare to trying new things =)

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