Alternate tunings are a great way to explore the guitar – but they can be frustrating.
I remember feeling stuck in a rut with every new tuning I tried. It was like having to learn the guitar all over again. Each tuning had different chord shapes, scale shapes, and unique sounds.
But then I made a discovery, a breakthrough, a realization:
Alternate tunings don’t have to be intimidating, frustrating, or discouraging. Instead, I started focusing on how much they changed the sound of my guitar.
I want to pass along some helpful tips for playing in ANY tuning…yes, any alternate tuning.
In addition, I want to tell you about an online guitar lesson program that has helped thousands of guitar geeks. It’s called Tony’s Acoustic Challenge — but let’s get to those helpful tips first.
Check out these 3 tips to play guitar in any alternate tuning!
Originally published on July 16, 2019, this post was republished on September 08, 2022.
3 Tips to Learn How to Play in Alternate Tunings
I’m showing you a 3-step method to get you into any alternate tuning, figure out what chords to play, and get comfortable with the scales in that alternate tuning.
1. Find the Critical Notes for the Alternative Tuning Scale
Whether you’re in open D Minor tuning, open C tuning, or open D tuning, the first thing you need to do is find the 1st, 3rd, and 5th scale degrees.
Once you find these notes in the scale, you’ll be able to find the other scale degrees. It’s crucial that you feel comfortable finding these notes in any tuning.
After you find them, you’ll be more comfortable playing scales and figuring out a scale pattern that works for you.
2. Identify Your Chords
You might feel lost or confused trying to find chords to play in an alternate tuning.
To remedy this feeling, just remember that most tunings are tuned to an open chord.
For example, in open G tuning (DGDGBD), you’re creating a G chord.
Now…what happens when you fret all six strings at once?
You create a new chord!
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There are two important things to keep in mind with this concept.
If you are in a major open tuning — and you want to play a major chord — barre all six strings. For minor chord, find out which string is the third scale degree, and play one fret below where you’re barring.
For a minor open tuning and you want to play a major chord, find the third scale degree string and fret one fret above your barre.
3. Identify the Scales
Do you remember identifying the scale degrees for your open tuning? It’s time to put that to good use.
In an alternate tuning, you need to identify the open string that the tuning is based on. So for open D tuning, that would be the D string.
From there, try to figure out the difference between that D string and the string up. This will help you make the necessary adjustments to your scale patterns.
Learn More Fun Ways to Practice in Alternate Tunings
What if I told you there was a way you could (1) practice every day, (2) learn alternate tunings, and (3) have tons of fun learning the guitar?
That way is through Tony’s Acoustic Challenge.
Want to take your practice to the next level? Then check out this FREE guitar class, where I show you the three secrets to accelerate your guitar learning in just 10 minutes a day.
Tony quickly opens the door to another dimension… Insightful.
I have watched several sites proclaiming they are the best, and I am not taking any thing away from them but you explain things a lot clearer than most!! I am 73 years old but I have just been born to learn the guitar if that makes any sense.! So I am shopping around like people shopper a car. So far you have the Buick! Little pricey for an old man with arthritis but maybe this is what I need.
This was an excellent way to spend 15 minutes for any guitar player. Summarizes it very neatly.
I mostly deal with Open-D (but there is a relationship between Open-D and Open-G I’ll mention below). First suggestion: Just simply try all the traditional standard tuning chord shapes (major, minor, 7th, etc) “anywhere” on the neck (up, down, left, or right)(without the barre in most instances). Most will sound awful, but a few will sound wonderful – remember these! Sometimes, just part of the chord will sound good – remember these too! As you’re doing this, you discover that , “hey, that sounds like ??” Then, dig the rest of the song out of the guitar. So, now you’ve found a bunch of chord shapes that sound good in Open-D; tune your guitar to Open-G. Those same chord shapes and locations that sounded good in Open-D, will sound good in Open-G; just shifted downward (toward the floor)(think E chord vs Am, chord). I play a lot of Kottke stuff in Open-D, but they’re also very easy to play in Open-G (different key of course) [Disclaimer, I hope I’m not mixing up Open-G and Open-C.] Open-G gives you more room on the treble side of music, and Open-D gives you more room to play to the bass side – does that make sense? Remember, too, that Open tunings were made for a slide; and if you put the slide on your pinky, your normal chord fingers are still available to play your newly discovered chords. The Allman Brother’s “Little Martha” can be played in standard tuning, but is wonderful in Open-D. Hints: hammer ons and offs at the 0-fet and barred 5th fret using a partial E-chord shape, and Tony’s minor conversion at the 9th fret and 2nd fret. Dig the rest out yourself and have fun – Then try all the same tricks in DADGAD – OMG!!!! It’s like going from violin to bagpipes!!
Very cool Tony. Love open tunings and have been working on them for some time now. This is extremely helpful and will definitely prompt further experimentation.
I’m taking private courses in the guitar. I’m a new student
I love it, but I never realized there’s so much to learn.
My fingers are having a hard time reaching high; but I guess with time, I’ll finally get it.
I’m 73 years, but trying.
Thank you for your videos !
Thanks Tony…you are amazing!
Excellent lesson! I have never attempted alternate tunings, but I am going to give it a try!
why does one want to do alternate tuning?
Great job! Making it look easy, which encourages those of us who don’t read music and play by ear.
Now how’s about showing us some 12 string tricks ?
The open tuning episode could open up for a visit with 12 string …or even more interesting …
The Irish bouzouki!!!! Just a thought!
Bill from Park Ridge, NJ
Wow ! A complex concept explained in such a lucid way by You.
Very cool lesson thank you Tony
Thanks that was understandable and beneficial.
Great Lesson Tony. Very inspiring. 🙂
Hello Tony –
I enjoy your thoughtful videos all the time. You guys do a great job.
This particular subject I had not put much thought until I listened today.
I just play the chords as I knew them (D tuning) but never dug too much deeper.
Thank you for making this easier for me to think about.
Bests – Joseph
Great example of your well structured and fun teachings. I’m a very happy TAC member and glad to have found you for my daily guitar fix.
Wow, really simplified the entire making use of alternate tunings! Do you have suggestions for figuring out if an alternate tuning, or which tuning was used on different songs? Many times while trying to learn a song I find that some chords are hard to play, but sound right…maybe they were played within an alternate tuning rather than standard?