This guide has been written to provide you with an in-depth understanding of Open G tuning. We’ll delve into the specifics of tuning your guitar, master some chord shapes, and help develop the necessary skills for writing interesting music in Open G tuning.
What is Open G Tuning?
Open G tuning is an alternate tuning where the open strings create a G major chord when strummed. This tuning involves adjusting the pitches of the strings from the standard E-A-D-G-B-E to D-G-D-G-B-D.
Tuning to Open G
Starting from the lowest string (6):
|String||Standard Tuning||Open G Tuning|
- The sixth string is tuned down a whole step from E to D.
- The fifth string is tuned down a whole step from A to G.
- The fourth string stays at D.
- The third string remains at G.
- The second string stays at B.
- The first string is tuned down a whole step from E to D.
If you do not have a tuner available, you can also use relative tuning. Try the following steps:
- Match the open G note on the 5th string to the G note at the 5th fret on the 6th string.
- Tune the open D note on the 4th string to the D at the 7th fret on the 5th string.
- Tune the open G note on the 3rd string to match the G note at the 5th fret on the 4th string.
- Adjust the open B note on the 2nd string to correspond with the B note at the 4th fret on the 3rd string.
- Finally, tune the open D note on the 1st string to the D note at the 3rd fret on the 2nd string.
* Remember. When tuning to open G (DGDGBD) always tune the 6th, 5th, and 1st strings down to their desired pitch, not up.
Adjusting String Tension
As the only changes required from standard tuning are to lower the pitch of the 6, 5, and 1st strings, tuning to Open G reduces tension on the neck.
Pay attention to how this affects the feel of the strings and if there is any change in playability.
Lower tension may affect neck relief. It is advised to inspect the neck relief, and if required adjust the truss rod, which you can learn to do by clicking here, to compensate for the lower tension being placed on the neck.
String Choice: Lighter gauge strings can be beneficial for Open G tuning to compensate for the reduced tension.
Open G tuning Fretboard
When tuned to open G the notes on your guitar’s fretboard will appear as per the diagram below.
Open G Tuning Compared to Standard and Other Alternate Tunings
So why play in open G tuning? What are the benefits?
Firstly, when the guitar is tuned to open G tuning, it means that barring the top 5 strings anywhere on the neck will result in an open triad. For example, if playing an I – IV – V blues progression in G, the open strings give us the I chord (G Major), barring at the 5th fret gives us the IV chord (C Major), and barring at the 7th fret gives us the V chord, in this case D major.
With this in mind, open tunings in general are ideal for slide guitar, and open G is no exception. For one it makes playing simple chord progressions like I-IV-V very easy to get started, but it also enhances the fluidity of transitions and the clarity of notes, essential for expressive slide playing.
When compared to other open tunings like Open D or Open E, Open G naturally lends itself to bluesy sounds and riffs. The intervals between the strings make it easier to incorporate blue notes (typically a flattened third, fifth (aka raised 4th), or seventh) and create a bluesy feel in your playing.
This is one reason why open G tuning is particularly popular among blues guitarists.
Alternative tunings like DADGAD or Drop D, while offering a unique voice, tend to focus more on creating drone-like sounds, while Open G stands out for its harmonic richness and suitability for the acoustic guitar’s natural sound.
Historical Context of Open G Tuning
Blues Music: Open G tuning gained popularity with Delta blues musicians in the early 20th century. Blues legends like Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters employed this tuning to create their distinctive, emotive sounds. It allowed for easier slide playing, a staple in blues music, producing a resonant, expressive tone that became synonymous with the genre.
Rock Music: The tuning crossed over to rock, where it was embraced for its rich tonality and ease of creating chordal structures and riffs. Iconic bands and musicians like The Rolling Stones (Keith Richards), and Led Zeppelin (Jimmy Page), frequently used Open G for its distinctive sound and the creative flexibility it offered in songwriting and riff creation.
Folk and Country Music: Open G also found a home in folk and country music, where its resonant sound complemented the narrative and melodic style of these genres. It facilitated fingerstyle and slide playing, techniques often used in these musical styles.
Did you know... Open G tuning is also a staple in Hawaiian guitar music, notably in genres like slack-key and steel guitar. In slack-key circles, this tuning is affectionately known as "Taro Patch" tuning, a nod to the taro plant, an integral part of Polynesian Hawaiian culture and cuisine.
Popular songs written in Open G Tuning
|Brown Sugar||The Rolling Stones|
|Start Me Up||The Rolling Stones|
|Can’t You Hear Me Knocking||The Rolling Stones|
|That’s The Way||Led Zeppelin|
|When the Levee Breaks||Led Zeppelin|
|In My Time of Dying||Led Zeppelin|
|Romeo and Juliet||Dire Straits|
|Walkin Blues||Eric Clapton|
|Black Moon Creepin||The Black Crowes|
|Bad to the Bone||George Thorogood|
|Death Letter||Son House|
Chords in Open G
As discussed already, barring any of the top 5 strings in Open G will result in a major chord.
The 6th string is often left out, as Open G tuning is designed to emphasize the key of G, and the 6th string tuned to D can introduce a note that doesn’t always harmonically align with some chords within the key, notably Am and Bm.
The key to knowing which chord you are playing is to memorize the G major scale on the 5th string.
Why the 5th string you ask?
Because the root note (G) major is the open 5th string, and by knowing the G major scale (G, A, B, C, D, E, F#) on the 5th string (in open G tuning) you will then know the root of many of the chords you are playing.
For example, the tab below shows the chords in the key of G Major (G, Am, Bm, C, D, Em, and F#dim).
7th Chords in Open G tuning
The use of 7th chords in open G tuning adds a layer of depth and complexity to the music, creating a richer, more textured sound that’s particularly appealing in blues, jazz, and rock.
This tuning simplifies the fingerings for some 7th chords, making it easier to add these harmonically rich chords into progressions while making others more difficult e.g. F#m7b5.
For instance, a dominant 7th chord (see the G7 chord in the tab above) can be played with fewer finger movements, yet it produces a full, vibrant sound due to the use of open strings, that’s emblematic of classic blues and rock rhythms.
Scales in Open G
The altered intervals between strings in Open G tuning create unique opportunities for discovering new melodic patterns and licks.
It’s a great way to break out of a playing rut in standard tuning and begin writing riffs and coming up with new song ideas.
G Major Scale (1st position)
G Minor Pentatonic Scale (1st position)
Writing Music in Open G Tuning
Writing riffs and songs in open G tuning (DGDGBD) can be a creatively rewarding process. Here are some tips to help you make the most of this tuning:
Explore the Open Strings
Open G tuning inherently creates a G major chord when strumming the open strings. This offers a harmonic foundation you can use to build your riffs and songs. Experiment with strumming or plucking the open strings as part of your riffs to create a resonant, full sound.
Utilize the Slide
Open G, like most open tunings, is particularly friendly for slide guitar. Practice sliding into notes from above or below for a bluesy feel, and use the slide to play through scales or chord tones.
Focus on Triads and Chord Shapes
Learn the triad shapes (three-note chords) up and down the neck in open G tuning. These shapes are the building blocks for many riffs and can be moved around to create different chords and progressions.
Experiment with adding extensions like the 7th, 9th, or 11th to these shapes for more complex sounds.
Drone Strings for Rhythmic Playing
The drone technique involves letting one or more open strings ring out while playing a riff. This creates a rhythmic and harmonic backdrop that can add depth to your playing. Use the droning open strings to create a pulsating rhythm underneath your riffs.
Experiment with Alternate Bass Notes
In open G, the low D string can serve as an alternate bass note for many chords. This can add a unique flavor to your chord progressions and riffs. Experiment with using different bass notes under familiar chord shapes to discover new sounds.
Be Inspired by Other Artists
Listen to artists who excel in open G tuning, like Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones, Robert Johnson, or Son House. Analyzing their work can provide inspiration and insight into different ways of using the tuning.
Remember, open G tuning opens up a world of new possibilities. Don’t be afraid to experiment and let your creativity guide you. The unique intervals and resonant qualities of this tuning can lead to innovative songwriting and riff creation.
I hope the information above serves as a useful introduction to Open G tuning. Keep in mind, Open G tuning not only simplifies certain aspects of the guitar e.g. playing chords by barring across 5 frets, but also opens new avenues for musical expression, making it a valuable skill for any guitarist looking to expand their horizons or break out of a creative rut.