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3 Ways You Can Use Chords In An Open G Tuning To Create Mouthwatering Music On Your Guitar

I use to avoid playing open tunings on guitar, not necessarily for believing it was too hard, but because I thought it would distract my learning of the instrument in standard tuning. To me, it was like committing to learning a whole new instrument. 

In reality this most certainly was not the case, however unfortunately I did avoid any kind of open or alternate tuning in my guitar playing for this very reason, for many years.

Fortunately I did come around and see the light. Open tunings are a fantastic way to develop your sound and creativity on the guitar. They make many things that are near impossible to do in standard tuning, very possible, and in fact easy to do.

If you are undecided about open tunings for your playing, then let me show you today just how quickly and easily you can create awesome music using chords in an open g tuning. 

Open G Tuning - A Little Background

Before we get into some cool things you can do in an open g tuning using chords, let’s take a little look at this tuning and where it originates from.

Despite it’s popularity with the blues, and many of the greats in this style going as far back as the early 20th century through until today, open g tuning existed well before then. It can be traced back as far as 1830 to a tune called “Spanish Fandango”. 

For this very reason, open g tuning is sometimes referred to as “spanish tuning”.

An open tuning gets its name from the chord that is sounded upon strumming the open strings of the guitar. For an open g tuning, the resulting chord would be a G.

Here is open g tuning compared to that of standard:

Open G tuning compared to standard tuning chart

* Bolded notes are those that have been altered from standard tuning

Notice that by changing the 6th, 5th, and 1st strings, all the open strings are now notes that come from the G major chord:

G Major = G  B  D

Also take note that strings 4, 3, and 2 have remained unchanged from standard tuning. This means that despite being in a different tuning, much of the fretboard will remain familiar to you.

Don’t Make The Mistake Of Avoiding Open Tunings

As I said earlier, I avoided playing my guitar in open tunings for years because I thought it would be a lot harder to do than it is. I thought learning to play the thing in standard tuning was enough to keep me occupied and busy. 

However once I finally got into open tunings, I really wished I had done so much earlier on, as it really was quite easy to get up and sounding great with little effort in tunings other than standard.

So don’t do what I did and avoid open tunings, thinking it’s like starting all over again. It really isn’t. Rather, open tunings will:

  • See you become much more creative with your guitar playing
  • Provide you with a lot more sound from your instrument, including many more chord possibilities, and the drone of unfamiliar open strings
  • Make it easier for you to play in other open tunings. Once you get familiar with one, others will come easier to you

So let’s get into some possibilities that chords provide for you in an open g tuning on your guitar.

Chords In The Tuning Of Open G

The following are 3 ways to utilise chords and harmony in an open g tuning. There are many more approaches you could take with chords, but these will get you started and be a great introduction to open g tuning, if it is new to you.

The key is to not only learn each example, but to take the idea and apply it yourself to your own guitar playing.

So lets’ get to it . . . . .

The Harmony Of A 6th

A very common harmony used on the guitar is a 6th. You may very well already be familiar with this harmony, which will make this approach very easy for you to do.

We are going to start by placing our 6th harmony across the 2nd and 4th strings of the guitar. Remember, these strings remain unchanged in open g tuning, so if you’ve used this harmony before it will look familiar to you.

Here it is:

Open G 6ths -The Harmony Of A 6th

Next we are simply going to add the droning of open strings like so:

Open G 6ths With Drone - The Harmony Of A 6th

Sounds great just like this, however there is so much more you can do with this idea alone.

For example, you might like to arpeggiate the 6th harmony and open strings like this:

Open G 6ths Etude - The Harmony Of A 6th

Whatever you do, be sure to hold the 6th harmony in your fingers (2 fingers/notes down at a time) so that the fretted notes ring out against the drone of the open strings.

From there you can create all sorts of cool ideas. Experiment with placing the 6th harmony on other string sets beside the 2nd and 4th, for a start.

Open G Tuning Bar Chords

To play a bar chord in open g tuning is very easy to do. Unlike standard tuning where you need to use most of your fingers and 3 frets, all you need to do in this tuning is bar a single fret with your index finger.

This is because we have tuned the open strings of the guitar to sound a particular chord, in this case G. Subsequently, if you bar the first fret you will sound a G# chord, bar the second fret and you have an A chord, third fret, an A#/Bb chord, and so on.

If we only need our index finger to sound a bar chord, this means the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th fingers are left free to add cool extensions and embellishments to this chord that would otherwise be very difficult and uncomfortable to do in standard tuning, if not impossible.

The following is an example of a progression using bar chords in open g tuning. I am taking advantage of the fact that I only need 1 finger to execute the chord by adding extensions/embellishments:

Open G Single Fret Bar - Open G Tuning Bar Chords

Create your own progressions using this bar chord in open g tuning. Remember, it’s always about taking what you learn and applying it to your own guitar playing.

Droning Open String Chord Progressions

A great way to tap into the unique sounds of an open tuning is to target the droning of open strings in the chords and progressions you play, much like we did with the 6th harmony. Because you have altered some of the notes of the open strings compared to standard tuning, you will get some great sounds doing this.

By droning, I am referring to letting open string notes ring through.

Here is an example:

Open G Drone - Droning Open String Chord Progressions

Play the above progression on a standard tuned guitar. So you would use standard open chord or bar chord shapes for the G, Em7, D, and Csus2. Now play it as above in open g tuning.

That is how cool and unique the sound of droning open strings in your chord progressions can sound!

Discover more ways you can play the tuning of open g on your guitar with this free downloadable ebook/audio

About the author: Simon Candy is a musician and guitar instructor out of Melbourne, Australia, who plays and specialises in a number of styles including blues, rock, jazz, and fingerpicking guitar. Teaching out of his own guitar school, Simon also helps many players around the world learn to play acoustic guitar online

Joseph Lopez
@josephlopez   5 months ago
Great article Simon, as always! I have used the open G tuning before but you have some great ideas on how to create interesting chords, I was a little stuck with just playing simple bar chords. It's nice that you added some interesting info on the background of the tuning, two thumbs up!
simon candy
@simon   4 months ago
Thanks @josephlopez! I appreciate the kind feedback and glad you found the lesson useful :)
Flekador
@fl3k   3 months ago
I agree with @josephlopez, great one! I never used the open G tuning but I'm definitely tuning my acoustic this way to start working in this lesson. I see it is called "Spanish tuning", I don't think I have an excuse not to try it, in 444hz. :-)

Thanks Simon!