Open Tuning on the Guitar

Posted on September 4, 2023

If you already have some experience playing the guitar, chances are that you’re able to strum along to a handful of songs using the standard tuning. You’re unlikely to run out of songs played with the familiar standard tuning, or E-A-D-G-B-E, any time soon.

Once you’re comfortable with the standard guitar tuning, consider exploring some alternate tunings as well. Especially when looking for guitar tabs online, you might often run into ones that can’t be played without changing the tuning of your guitar. One particularly interesting group of alternate tunings for the guitar is open tunings. But what are open tunings for the guitar, and why should you use them?

What are open chords?

Before we tell you more about open tunings, let’s talk briefly about open guitar chords.

Open chords are some of the most basic guitar chords you’ll learn as a beginner. You’re probably already familiar with some of the most common open chords, such as the major G, C, D, E, and E chords, as well as the minor E and minor A chords. They’re often referred to as cowboy chords.

Basic open chords generally use the first few frets of the guitar fretboard and one or more open strings. When some of the strings are unfretted, the open strings create a fuller-sounding chord. One good reason to learn open chords as a beginner is that they’re used in most, if not all, beginner-friendly songs, no matter the genre. You’ll especially need cowboy chords if you play the acoustic guitar.

How do open tunings work?

A guitar tuned to an open tuning produces an open chord when all strings are strummed simultaneously. The tuning is named after the chord that plays out. For example, when your guitar is tuned to the open G tuning, playing just the six open strings produces a major G chord. In other words, you can play an open chord without any finger placements by using an open tuning. An open tuning is most likely (but not always) based on a major chord rather than a minor one.

One common application for open guitar tunings is playing the slide guitar. When playing slide guitar, you use a slide, or some other such object, to press down all the strings simultaneously while moving up and down the guitar fretboard.

Because open tunings are often used with a slide guitar, they’re particularly common in certain genres, such as folk music and blues. You can achieve the same effect by “barring” all strings with the index finger of your fretting hand. Use an open tuning, and then try to barre all strings in different positions of the fretboard. Just remember that songs you know how to play using a standard tuning will not sound the same when your guitar is tuned to an open tuning.


Popular open tunings on the guitar

Many well-known songs are played with some open tuning, and many of music history’s most revered bands and artists utilized different open tunings. Some guitarists known for using open tunings include Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, and the folk music icon Joni Mitchell.

Here are just a few well-known open tunings to try out and songs that use them.

Open D tuning (D-A-D-F#-A-D)

  • “Big Yellow Taxi” by Joni Mitchell
  • “Even Flow” by Pearl Jam
  • “Loser” by Beck
  • “Helplessness Blues” by Fleet Foxes

Open E tuning (E-B-E-G#-B-E)

Open G tuning (D-G-D-G-B-D)

  • “Honky Tonk Women” by The Rolling Stones
  • “Dust in the Wind” by Kansas
  • “Running On Empty” by Jackson Browne
  • “Romeo and Juliet” by Dire Straits

Other alternate tunings

Alternate guitar tunings aren’t limited to just open tunings. So-called dropped tunings, such as drop D and drop C, are widely used in many rock, punk, and metal genres. To change from the standard tuning to drop D is easy: Just tune the lowest E string down a whole step.

Learn to play the guitar with Yousician

Knowing how to tune your guitar is one of the essential skills all guitar players should master. To learn how to keep your guitar in tune and much more, try Yousician for the guitar. Yousician’s interactive online guitar lessons make learning motivating and fun. Download Yousician for your computer and Android or iOs mobile device. You can try Yousician Premium+ for free to get started!

Make sure to use a reliable guitar tuner when experimenting with open tunings. Download GuitarTuna, our free online guitar tuner that’s always with you in your pocket. GuitarTuna is available in your smartphone’s app store. Open the app and check out the alternate tunings you can get for the app in addition to the basic standard tuning. GuitarTuna comes with tuners for other stringed instruments as well.

Learn songs you love with Yousician
Start your free trial

Unleash your inner musician with Yousician. We offer thousands of songs, exercises, and teacher-crafted lessons all in one app. Learn more

Ready to start playing?

Play the songs you love with Yousician.

Try Premium+ free for 7 days. Sign up and start learning now.

Green circle