Learning to play guitar is filled with wonderful surprises. One of the biggest discoveries players make is learning to play in open tunings – and one of the most versatile and fun to play around with is open C tuning.
The open C tuning on the guitar is a wonderful way to explore the sonic range of your instrument. In addition, you can develop new melodies, strumming patterns, and chord shapes as you explore the sound.
One of the biggest frustrations with any open tuning is the expectation.
- How can you play open tuning guitar if you haven’t fully mastered standard tuning?
- Isn’t open tuning harder than regular tuning?
Fortunately, we have years of experience to help you navigate open tunings!
At Acoustic Life, we like to view learning the guitar as non-linear. On any given day, you may decide to learn a few chords in standard tuning, while the next you experiment with open tunings.
What matters is that you learned something.
Today, we’re focusing on open C tuning. When you’re ready for more, Tony’s innovative Guitar Workshop has plenty more for you to discover!
Originally published on June 8, 2019, this article was republished on August 12, 2022.
What Is Open C Tuning?
Open C tuning is an alternative tuning that will allow you to play a C major chord simply by strumming the open strings on your guitar.
The tuning creates a rich, full sound, and will allow you to experiment with different tones when writing songs or just practicing!
How to Tune Your Guitar to Open C
Open C tuning on the guitar has a bright and resonant sound with a full, open quality. It consists of taking your low E string down two whole steps to C, the A string a whole step to G, the D string a whole step down to C, and the B string tuned up one half step to C.
The first step to playing in open C tuning on your guitar is to tune it correctly:
- Start by tuning your low E string to a low C.
- Then, tune your A string to a G.
- From there, the D string drops down to a C note.
- The G string remains the same.
- Your B string moves up a half step to a C note.
- Finally, the high E string remains the same.
At the end of the tuning, you want your strings to play a bright, lush C chord:
This is the basic process to set up open C tuning on your guitar. There are some slight variations, but this is the most standard approach. Now that you have the open C tuning on your guitar, you might be wondering what good it is.
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Open C Tuning Exercise
The best way to understand the open C tuning on the guitar is by playing a major scale. It sounds simple, but playing the scale on one string while strumming all the other strings is incredibly beneficial.
This will teach you where the major scale notes are on the fretboard, while letting you hear the all the notes of the open chord.
Start playing a C major scale in open C tuning:
- Start by strumming all of the strings open.
- Place your first finger on the second fret of any of the C strings in this open tuning.
- From there, it’s just a simple major scale progression up the frets.
If you need a refresher, the scale pattern is also covered in the video above.
One of the opportunities open C tuning affords us is the ability to strum all strings at the same time while only fretting one string – and it always sounds great! Try experimenting with different strumming patterns and major scale orders once you master the basic exercise.
Open C Tuning Chords [Stacked and Staggered Shapes]
There are two chord shapes for Open C tuning on guitar. The first one is a stacked shape, while the second one is a staggered shape. Both of these shapes will be useful for playing guitar in open C tuning.
The stacked shape is the simpler of the two shapes.
- Start by placing your ring finger on the fifth fret of the high E string.
- Place your middle finger on the fifth fret of the G string.
This simple stacked shape will allow you to play chords in open C tuning. The stacked shape will work best on the fifth frets, the seventh frets, and the 12th frets. This is because these are the major triads of the chord, and the stacked shape represents a major chord.
The staggered shape is slightly more complicated, but it is still doable.
- Place your middle finger on the fourth fret of the G string.
- Place your index finger on the third fret of the high E string.
This is the basis of the staggered shape. The staggered shape represents minor chords in the open C tuning. This shape works best on the second, third, sixth, and seventh scale degrees.
Be sure to check out the video for the full explanation of the chord shapes and their relational scale degrees!
While this isn’t a hard and fast rule, using these chord shapes will give you a framework for exploring open C tuning on guitar.
Discover More Guitar Tunings and Exercises
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