3 Alternate Tunings Every Guitarist Should Try

5577599735_36217ef428_b (1)Did you know tuning your guitar a different way can open up tons of new possibilities in your playing? Guitar teacher James W. shares three of the most popular alternate guitar tunings you’ll want to explore…

It is estimated that singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell created over 58 open tunings for guitar in her quest to create new songs over the course of her 50 year career in popular song. She was able to be remarkably inventive in her playing simply by experimenting with the guitar’s tuning. Styles that use open tunings or alternate tunings include folk, blues, pop, rock, and even djent styles of music. Here are some basics…

1. You tune so that your open strings when strummed play a chord, and that chord is the key for your song.

2. Open tuning means you will need to learn new shapes or fingerings to play open chords. You can also play a chord by strumming all the open strings or barring just your index finger across all six strings.

How to Tune Your Guitar to Open Tunings

We are going to deal only with three of the most popular keys used for open tuning for now. Each tuning below is low to high on the strings. Use your electronic tuner and tune your guitar down to the chord for the key you want to play in today.

The advantage of knowing these tunings is that they open the door to more ideas, more fun, and more songs to play either with your fingers exploring new fingerings or using a slide to play slide guitar and take a solo during the song.

If playing lead guitar has been difficult for you up until now, cheer up because tuning your guitar to Open E, Open D, or Open G may be your passport to freedom. Open tunings create a full sound that is both pleasing to the ears when strummed on guitar, or when playing melodies with one or two fingers, and of course when jamming with other guitar players.

Open E: E B E G# B E (tune down low to high)

Open E Secrets: Open E is one of the most popular tunings in American music. For instance, Derek Trucks of the Allman Brothers frequently tunes to Open E. He absolutely flies along at a nice tempo creating beautiful sounds for his audience. He has played with bands live all over the world. This includes legendary musicians like Doyle Bramhall and Eric Clapton and his spouse Susan Tedeschi in the Tedeschi Trucks Band. His influences came from Duane Allman and countless others like blues music legends Robert Johnson and Mike Bloomfield.

Today this tuning is used by John Mayer, Joe Bonamassa, and Sheryl Crowe. Bands like Train and Goo Goo Dolls use this tuning on acoustic guitar and electric guitar to make the melody and vocal really dance. It is definitely worth exploring.

Open D: D D F # A D (tune down low to high)

Open D Secrets: This is one of the most satisfying keys to play in, write a song in, and sing along with if you enjoy creating a pleasing harmony. Classic songs like “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” by Crosby Stills Nash and Young use this tuning. In fact without Stephen Stills’ acoustic tuned down to Open D it would lack the support the song needs.

Open G: D G D G B D (tune down low to high)

Open G Secrets: This is a key most anyone can grab on to and sing a song in. With the exception of C Major, which is home, this may be the most comfortable of choices in western music, which makes it a must-know for guitar players all over the country. The droning quality and sweet tones make us feel good.

Also we notice the variation tuning G-G-D-G-B-D was used by Joni Mitchell for “Electricity”, and “For the Roses”, both Hit Songs for her. Altering this tuning slightly to G-D-G-B-D for his five-string guitar, Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones plays his songs “Start Me Up”, “Honky Tonk Women”, “Brown Sugar” with authority, conviction and a swagger the recalls the early blues master Muddy Waters, and Father of Rock and Roll, Chuck Berry. Keith made it clear that open tunings freed up his creative spark.

Interested in learning more about alternate tunings and other ways to experiment on the guitar? A great guitar teacher can show you all the tricks and tips you need to make your guitar playing come alive!


james-walsh-150x150Post Author: James W.
James W. teaches guitar, singing, and acting lessons in Jacksonville, FL. He specializes in teaching pop, rock, and modern country styles. James has been teaching for 10 years and joined the TakeLessons in 2010. Learn more about James here!


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1 reply
  1. Kyle
    Kyle says:

    I very much enjoyed this article. I did want to mention though that for “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” Stills was in Palmer E Modal tuning (EEEEBE) on record and oftentimes drops this down a full step live.


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