Open G tuning is one of those open tunings I just never forget. It’s open (duh!), lush, and full, allowing some great sonic exploration of the fretboard.
Today, I’m going to share with you the basics of open G tuning. While it’s typically used to play a variety of Rolling Stones songs — think “Brown Sugar,” “Start Me Up,” and “Honky Tonk Woman” — I am hoping open G tuning allows you to explore the fretboard and new tonal centers.
Open G tuning also allows for some great slide guitar opportunities, so be sure to look into getting a slide if you’re interested in that super-fun technique!
Before I launch into some fun ways to play with it, I need to go over how to properly tune your guitar in open G tuning. Then you can rock on and discover the possibilities!
Originally published on April 27, 2019, this article was republished on August 18, 2022.
What Is Open G Tuning?
Open G tuning is an alternative tuning that uses the G major chord. It lets you play the G major chord without the use of a capo and without having to use your fretting hand.
You’ll have to tune your strings to the notes that make up the G chord: G, B, and D. Once tuned, you can simply strike the strings in an open position and you’ve got a G chord off the bat!
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Open G Tuning for Guitar: How to Tune the Strings
As I’m sure you know, the standard tuning on the guitar is EADGBE. If any of this is new to you, make sure you check out my Ultimate Guide to Learning Guitar — I have a whole section dedicated to how to tune your guitar.
Compared to standard tuning, open G tuning has you tuning some of your strings down by a whole step: DGDGBD.
How to Tune Your Guitar Into Open G in 4 Steps:
- Tune your low E string down to low D
- From there, tune your A string down to a low G
- Leave your D, G, and B strings where they are
- Tune your high E string down to a D note
As I mentioned in my tuning guide, be sure to tune up to the intended note. In other words, as you tune down a whole step, make sure you go flatter than your intended note. From there, tune up to your intended note.
Open G tuning requires half of your string to be tuned to different notes. As a result, you need to make sure all of these notes are in tune — otherwise, your chord isn’t going to sound so good. Tuning up to a note allows you to keep tension on the string so it doesn’t fall flat as you’re playing.
Once you have all of your strings tuned, go ahead and strum all the open strings. Make sure to give yourself time to hear and become familiar with how it sounds.
If you’re unsure of how it is supposed to sound, make sure to watch my video at the top of the page.
How to Play in Open G Tuning
If you’re anything like me, open tunings probably scare the heck out of you when you first tune to them. It’s like, suddenly, all of your chord shapes, scales, and licks are no longer compatible!
You need to create a new roadmap for understanding the fretboard in open G tuning.
One of the easiest ways to get reacquainted with our fretboard in an open tuning is to find the open string that the tuning is based on. In open G tuning, that string is the G string.
Like I tell almost all of my students, getting familiar with a new tuning is challenging. By solidifying a major scale on one string, you can start to explore the relationships between different strings.
For example, start by learning the G major scale just on the lower G string (your A string in standard tuning). From there, start to see if you can play the same G major scale, but utilize both the G string and the D string.
After you feel comfortable learning the scale on the G and D strings, try incorporating the higher G string. The goal here is to help you feel comfortable playing across the fretboard, especially in this new, open G tuning.
I want you to know that this process is going to take practice…and practice takes time. Players who effortlessly glide around the fretboard in open tunings have years of practice and experience under their belt.
All of this can be kind of overwhelming for a new player, but I want you to know that it all starts with just 10 minutes of practice a day…seriously! If you aren’t convinced or need more explanation, check out this article.
To solidify just how fun open G tuning is, I want you to try something for me.
This exercise isn’t insanely difficult, nor does it require tons of experience on the guitar. Rather, I need you to get a little more creative and free.
To do this exercise, start by playing the G major scale up and down on one of the G strings. Simple enough, right?
Okay, here comes the fun part!
When you play the G major scale next, try strumming all of the strings as you move up and down the G string…pretty cool, right!?
Because your entire guitar is tuned to a G chord (more or less), when you play within the G scale, you can play all of the strings.
Open G Tuning Chords
Now that you have a plan to learn how to play single notes in open G tuning, we can turn our attention to open G tuning chords.
It may sound crazy trying to learn a new set of chord shapes (especially if you just started playing guitar!), but I’m just going to show you two versatile shapes. These shapes only use two strings, and they can be placed all over the fretboard.
The Barred Shape
The barred shape is a super simple chord shape that can help you play some quick chords in open G tuning.
To make the barred shape in open G tuning, start by placing your index finger on the fifth fret of the high D string. From there, barre across both the high D and B strings (the two highest strings).
And there you have it — that’s how simple the barred shape is!
The barred shape provides you with a powerful, chordal sound. Think of it as a power chord but with a higher timbre.
The Staggered Shape
If you are looking for a different chordal sound in your open G tuning, try the staggered shape.
To make the staggered shape, you’ll use the two highest strings on your guitar in open G tuning: the B and high D strings.
Start by placing your index finger on the 3rd fret of the B string. After that, place your middle finger on the 4th fret of the high D string. This is the staggered shape — since your index and middle finger are staggered one fret apart.
For open G tunings, both the barred and staggered shapes can be played with all of the other strings. Even more, you can combine both the staggered and the barred shapes to create a major scale using these chords!
Combining Chord Shapes for a Scale
Now that you know the staggered and barre chord shapes for open G tuning, I want you to try something super cool…
What if you could play these chords in a sequence to make a scale?
Fortunately, you can do exactly that!
For starters, think of the barred shape as a major chord shape. Additionally, think of the staggered shape as a minor chord shape.
Just as a quick review, the major chords in a scale are…
- 1st scale degree (tonic)
- 4th scale degree
- 5th scale degree
The minor chords in a scale are…
- 2nd scale degree
- 3rd scale degree
- 6th scale degree
I purposely left the 7th scale degree out so as not to confuse you. Don’t worry though, I’ll circle back to that later.
In order to play a scale with these chord-shapes, you need to play the major chord shape (barred shape) on the 1st, 4th, and 5th scale degrees. You also need to play the minor chord shape (staggered shape) on the 2nd, 3rd, 6th, and 7th scale degrees.
- Start with playing the open strings — this is the 1st scale degree.
- Make the staggered shape with your index finger on the first fret of the B string and your middle finger on the 2nd fret of the D string — this is the 2nd scale degree.
- Take that exact shape and slide it up 2 frets so your first finger is on the 3rd fret (B string) and your middle finger is on the 4th fret (D string) — you’ve made the 3rd scale degree.
- Make the barred shape on the 5th fret — 4th scale degree.
- Move up two frets to barre the 7th fret — 5th scale degree.
- Shift to a staggered shape with your index finger on the 8th fret of the B string and your middle finger on the 9th fret of the D string — 6th scale degree.
- Make a barred shape on the 10th fret — 7th scale degree (this is a dominant scale).
- And finally, barre the 12th fret.
Congratulations! You’ve played a scale using chords for open G tuning!
Learn More Chords and Open Tunings
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