If you’re a blues and rock fan, you’re likely to have stumbled upon a song that had a guitar tuned in Open G.
This is a tuning that allows you to play a G Major chord by strumming all of the open strings. While in standard tuning this would sound rather awkward, in open tunings, you get a full major chord with almost no effort.
Open tunings such as this one make it easier to play chords by barring only one fret (in a similar way as Drop tunings do, but with all 6 strings).
They’re especially great choices when you wish to play slide guitar.
The overall sound of Open G tends to lean on the bluesy side of the spectrum, and thus it has been embraced by many musicians of this style, such as Robert Johnson, Keith Richards, George Thorogood, among others.
- How to Tune Your Guitar in Open G tuning
- How to play chords in Open G tuning
- Scales in Open G tuning
- Popular Songs In Open G Tuning
How to Tune Your Guitar in Open G tuning
As stated previously, a guitar tuned in Open G will have its open strings spelling out a G Major chord.
The notes in the G Major triad are G, B and D (Root, Major 3rd, Perfect 5th).
Instead of having you strings tuned to EADGBE, in this tuning you’ll have the following (starting from the lowest string):
At first glance, we can take a few quick conclusions:
- The 2nd, 3rd and 4th strings don’t change if you’re coming from standard tuning;
- The E strings are tuned down a whole step to D;
- The A string is tuned a whole step down, to G.
When you’re tuning from standard to open G, you should take into consideration the fact that you’ll loosen your strings. If this causes discomfort, maybe you should try a higher string gauge to compensate.
After you finish tuning all strings, make sure you check them all again. Since you’ve changed the overall tension that the strings apply to the guitar’s neck, it is expected that you need to fine-tune it a little until it is stable.
If you don’t have a tuner, you could tune the following way:
- Play the 4th string (D), and then drop the low E string until their pitches match.
- Drop the high E string to match the 4th and 6th strings, to a D.
- Play the 3rd string (G) and then drop the 4th string (A) to match its pitch.
You should now have your strings tuned DGDGBD.
How to play chords in Open G tuning
Major chords in Open G tuning
Major chords (Root, Major 3rd, Perfect 5th) are especially easy to play when you’re in Open G.
You can play them by simply barring a fret with one finger. If you learn all the notes on the A string, you can easily play any major chord. Check the diagrams below for some examples.
One important detail to take into account: if you play all 6 strings, the lowest note will not be the root, it will be the 5th. So, strumming them all would technically produce a major chord in its second inversion.
However, this is solved easily by simply not playing the lowest string. Some guitarists started to remove that string completely, such as Keith Richards from The Rolling Stones.
By doing this, playing clean chords becomes easier, and although you miss out on some potential chord voicings, many times what you gain in commodity might outweigh the notes you lose.
When soloing, most guitarists don’t tend to use the 6th string as much as the others, too.
That being said, this goes for all other chords, not just for major.
Minor chords in Open G tuning
Minor chords (Root, Minor 3rd, Perfect 5th) are quite similar to major chords in terms of fingerings. You only need to drop the third a semitone.
You won’t be able to play them with a one finger barre shape anymore, since you’ll need to shift your fingers in order to hit that minor third.
Seventh chords in Open G tuning
Seventh, or dominant seventh chords, are composed of a root, major third, perfect fifth and a minor seventh. It comes from the 5th degree of the major scale.
Blues harmony is generally a I-IV-V in which all chords are dominant. For example in C, the chords would be C7, F7 and G7.
Since Open G works so well in a blues context, these chords are definitely a must know.
Keep in mind that you can easily go from a dominant 7th chord to a Maj7 chord by simply moving your 3rd finger up a fret.
Open chords in Open G tuning
Open chords shine with open tunings because you can take advantage of the fact you have several strings tuned to the same note, so you get that beautiful full, ringing sound.
Here’s a few examples of what you could use:
Sus4 chords in Open G tuning
Sus4 chords are composed of a root, perfect fourth and a perfect fifth.
They are great to add a little tension to the chord progression you’re playing, and they’re very easy to play in Open G with a movable shape similar to the major chords.
Scales in Open G tuning
Since you’re tuning almost all strings to different notes, your scale patterns will also change.
Check below for some of the most common scales, including the minor pentatonic and blues scales, which should come in very handy in many contexts in which the Open G tuning is frequently used.
G Major Scale
The major scale’s formula is 1 2 3 4 5 6 7.
In G Major, that translates to having all natural notes except for the F#, so that we have a 7 instead of a b7 on our scale.
Here’s where you’ll find the notes which correspond to the G Major Scale in Open G tuning.
G Natural Minor Scale
The natural minor scale’s formula is 1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7.
In G, this means you must flatten B and E (b3 and b6).
The minor scale and its variants are widely used in improvisation, so keep track of where you can find notes such as the b3 and the b7.
G Minor Pentatonic Scale
The minor pentatonic scale is a 5 note scale. Start with the natural minor scale, and remove the 2nd and 6th degrees.
In G, that leaves us with G, Bb, C, D, F, or 1, b3, 4, 5, b7.
Pentatonic scales can be used in almost infinite harmonic contexts with several objectives, making this a must know scale as well.
G Major Blues Scale
As the name implies, the blues scale is a staple in the blues genre, and although its major scale might not be used as often as its minor counterpart, it is still a sound that you can definitely take advantage of and should incorporate in your playing.
Its formula is 1 2 b3 3 5 6. It is basically the major pentatonic scale with an added b3, or the “blue note”. Make sure you play it as it is the note that characterizes this scale the most.
G Minor Blues Scale
Arguably the most used scale in a classic blues context, this is a scale that you’ve heard countless times in a million records. If you’ve learned some blues solos, they most likely incorporate this scale at some point.
Its formula is 1 b3 4 b5 5 b7. In other words, it is the minor pentatonic with a b5 (blue note).
Popular Songs In Open G Tuning
Them Crooked Vultures – Elephants
A fast guitar riff based mostly on pull-offs very fun to play with the use of open strings.
The White Stripes – Death Letter
This is actually a cover of the band Son House. Regardless, it is a great song to practice slide playing and some of the bluesy licks you can play in Open G.
The Rolling Stones – Jumpin’ Jack Flash
Keith Richards is one of the most well-known guitarists that mostly play in Open G. He is also known for removing the 6th string of the guitar so he doesn’t have to worry about it while playing chords.
Pink Floyd – Fearless
Although most of Pink Floyd’s music was played in standard tuning, they also used Open G for songs such as Fearless, where the acoustic guitar is one of the main elements of the song.
The Black Crowes – Twice As Hard
The Black Crowes are known for using Open G regularly in most of their songs. They have many slide oriented riffs too, which work great with this tuning.
More Songs in Open G Tuning
- The Rolling Stones – Start Me Up
- Robert Johnson – Crossroad Blues
- Led Zeppelin – In My Time of Dyin’
- George Thorogood – Bad to the Bone
- ZZ Top – Tush
- Dire Straits – Romeo and Juliet (capo on the 3rd fret)
- The Doobie Brothers – South City Midnight Lady
Open G is an excellent choice if you’re adding the slide to your arsenal of techniques, and a good way to play chords that sound differently from what you are used to playing. Experiment with different string gauges, slightly higher action and perhaps try out removing the 6th string like many players choose to do.