If you’ve dipped your toes into the wonderful world of alternate tunings, you’ll know that there are a lot of ways to tune your guitar – open D is one of them.
This tuning can be a little bit tricky to get the hang of when you’re new to guitar. So, I’m going to show you how I teach open D, so you can start having fun with it today.
- What This Tuning Is
- How to Tune Your Guitar to Open D
- Get Comfortable With Scales in Open D
- Open D Chord Shapes
Originally published on October 3, 2018, this article was republished on February 23rd, 2024.
What Is Open D Tuning?
Open D tuning is an alternative tuning with open strings tuned to the following notes, from low to high: D, A, D, F#, A, and D.
It uses the three notes of a D major Chord: D, A, and F#.
It allows you to play full-sounding chords by fretting only a few strings, and it’s a popular tuning for playing with a slide.
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How to Tune to Open D Tuning
Before I show you any chords or licks that you can play in this tuning, we have to actually tune our guitars first.
You want your guitar to start in standard tuning, which is — from low string to high string — EADGBE. You can use a clip-on tuner to get to standard tuning, but if you don’t have one of those,I wrote an article about how to learn guitar that includes an easy way to tune to standard.
Open D tuning has your guitar tuned in this order — from low string to high string — DADF#AD. The “pound” or “hashtag” sign indicates that the F is an F sharp, meaning it is a half-step higher than an F natural. If you’d like to learn about tuning to Drop D, I wrote an article about that too.
Now let’s take a step-by-step look at how to tune your guitar to Open D:
- Tune the low E string to a low D
- Leave the A and D strings as they are
- Tune down the G string to an F#
- Tune down the B string to an A
- Tune down the high E string to a D
You’ll know that your guitar is in open D tuning when you can strum all six strings and it creates a full, humongous D chord. If anything is off, individually check each string again.
Get Comfortable With Scales in Open D
Open D tuning can be incredibly disorienting the first time you play a major scale. In alternate tunings, it often feels like you have to relearn the fretboard all over again.
One of the quickest ways to start moving around on the fretboard in open D tuning is by playing the major scale on just one string.
In this example, we’re going to just play the D major scale on the high D string. Here’s how to do it:
- Start by playing the open high D string
- Then, place your index on the 2nd fret and pick only the high D string
- Next, move your index to the 4th fret
- Then the 5th fret
- 7th fret
- 9th fret
- 11th fret
- And finally, the 12th fret
Congratulations! You just played a major scale in open D tuning! I know you were just going up and down the neck, rather than across the neck, but what if I told you there’s a way to make this scale a more musical exercise?
Fortunately, there is!
Just by playing all six strings as you play the scale, you can create a more musical exercise.
You can also play around with different strumming patterns, different orders in which you play the scale, and even write your own song – the opportunities are seemingly endless in open D tuning!
Open D Chord Shapes
Before I dive into specific chords for open D tuning, I want you to play around with open D tuning.
“But Tony…I want to start playing some chords right away!”
Look, I hear you, but I want you to just let the creativity flow at this point. That’s why I’m going to show you two chord shapes, and then a handful of specific chords.
The great thing about these chord shapes is that they can be applied up and down the fretboard, without having to change the shape, similar to power chords!
The Staggered Shape
If you’ve seen my open G tuning lesson then you’re somewhat familiar with the staggered shape.
To make the staggered shape, fret the 2nd fret of the A string with your middle finger. From there, fret the 1st fret of the F# string with your index finger.
The great thing about the staggered shape is that you can move this shape up and down the fretboard – just make sure to maintain the shape! Some frets may not sound as good as others, so just try exploring on your own.
The Inline Shape
The inline shape will use the same strings as the staggered shape. However, the inline shape will have both fingers on the same frets.
Start by placing your middle finger on the 5th fret of the A string. From there, place your ring finger on the 5th fret of the F# string.
Just like the staggered shape, the inline shape can be moved up and down the fretboard.
Combining the Staggered and Inline Shape
After you’ve explored both the staggered and inline chord shapes, you might have noticed that one chord shape sounds better than the other on a specific fret.
I’m going to show you a super cool chord progression you can use for these different shapes:
- Start by playing all of the open strings
- Make the staggered shape with your middle finger on the second fret of the A string
- Move the staggered shape up the neck by two frets so your middle finger is on the 4th fret of the A string
- Make the inline shape on the 5th fret (like the example earlier)
- Move the inline shape up two frets to the 7th fret
- Place your middle finger on the 9th fret of the A string to create the staggered shape
- Move the staggered shape up another two frets so your middle finger is on the 11th fret
- Finally, make the inline shape on the 12th fret
The great thing about this sequence of staggered and inline chord shapes is that you can play around with the order.
For example, you can play just back and forth on the 5th and 7th frets. You can even throw the staggered shape down on the 4th fret.
Open D Chords
Now that we’ve looked at the shapes, let’s examine a couple of chords themselves
Here are all of the A chords you can play in open D tuning.
Here are all of the B chords you can play in open D tuning.
Here are all of the C chords you can play in open D tuning.
Here are all of the D chords you can play in open D tuning.
Here are all of the E chords you can play in open D tuning.
Here are all of the F chords you can play in open D tuning.
Here are all of the G chords you can play in open D tuning.
How to Improve Your Playing in Open D Tuning
Now that you’ve gone through this lesson, I want to recap how you can improve on your guitar playing – at any stage in your journey.
Play a little bit every day, and focus on having fun! Practice sessions don’t have to feel like a chore. If you really want to take your playing to the next level, I recommend signing up for my guitar workshop – Tony’s Acoustic Challenge.
I designed it to help you see meaningful progress by playing for as little as 10 minutes a day. At the same time, I organized lessons so that you don’t feel like you’re dragging your feet through rote repetition – you’re having fun every step of the way!
Then check out this FREE guitar class for three secrets to learn guitar faster in just 10 minutes a day.