William Lewis
William Lewis
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Tuning 201: Drop and Open tunings

Since I'm going to be going to the doctor quite a bit this week, I'm going to to ahead and get the lesson I was going to have up on Friday done now. It'll be next Wednesday or Thursday before I get another lesson up after this one.

Anyway, last time I just went over basic Standard tunings. Those aren't the only ones though. Next, I'm going to dive into drop tunings. What is a drop tuning? A drop tuning is where the 6th string is lowered a full step. Really, it gives you a lower note and makes power chords much faster to play on the 5th and 6th strings (if you use two notes). You can do 3 note power chords as well. Since it's a partial barre, you can slide your finger much faster between frets with a drop tuning.

So how do you drop tune your guitar? Depends on which tuning you're starting in. If you're in standard E, the 6th string is going to D. If you don't have a tuner for some reason, you can detune the 6th string to the open D string. While the notes are in different octaves, you can still hear when they are in unison. Alternitively, you could use the 5th fret of the A string. I'm guessing damn near everyone has a tuner though. Makes life easier.
So when we detune that string, we get D A D G B E.

Here is an example of what 2 and 3 note power chords look like on the D A and D strings:

  D5  D#5 E5  F5  F#5 G5  G#5 A5  A#5 B5  C5    C#5   D5

That example holds through any drop tuning. The only thing that changes is the notes.

Another common drop tuning is drop C. We get to this tuning from Standard D tuning. When we drop the D to C, the notes are C G C F A D.

Another is drop B. To get to this one, you'll need to start out at Standard C#. Dropping that C# to B gives us B A# B E G# C#.

Of course, it is certainly not limited to just these. You could drop tune from Standard Eb giving you Db Ab Db Gb Bb Eb.

One other fairly common way to tune the guitar is called an open tuning. This is where the guitar strings are tuned to a specific chord. You usually see this in blues guitar for slide work, but it can be made useful out of blues and slide guitar as well.

George Thorogood's “Bad to the bone” is a good example of an open tuned guitar. That song is done in open G tuning, meaning the guitar is tuned to a G major chord. The notes for this tuning are D G D G B D. To get to this tuning, your 5th and 6th strings drop a full tone. The 2nd 3rd and 4th strings stay where they are. And finally your 1st string drops a full tone.

You might notice that technically, the guitar is tuned to a G chord in 2nd inversion. It has to be that way. If we were to try to get to a G, you would either have to tune way up or way down. It's simply not feasible to do so, hence why D is used. Easier to get to.

You could easily make that into a Gm open tuning by simply flatting the B string. The resulting Bb will make the tuning minor.

Another common open tuning is Dm. D A D F A D. I was introduced to this tuning way back in 2004 on the guitarzone forums. There was a mod there that had this tuning as his username. Completely opened me up to a new way to play guitar.

To get to this tuning, you drop your 6th string a full tone. Leave the 4th and 5th strings as they are. Then drop your 3rd, 2nd, and 1st strings a full tone.

Here, you can go to a major tuning by making the F an F#. That will give us a D major tuning: D A D F# A D.

However, way back when guys like Johnny Winter and Tampa Red were using open tunings, they usually tuned up to open E. This would increase string tension and give the tone way more bite to it. Especially if you were using a Tele or Strat since those guitars tend to have more bite due to the wood and scale length present.

So to get to open E, all we do us move all the notes of open D up a full tone to get E B E G# B E.

And naturally, these are not all. We also have open A tuning: E A E A C# E and open F: F A C F C F. You can take any of the 12 notes and get an open tuning.

I know you guys grasp the drop tunings alright. The next lesson is going to be specifically on open tunings. I'll go over chord shapes, some slide work, and if this would help you guys I don't know, but my way of thinking about a guitar in open tuning. You do have to think a bit different when playing a guitar in open tuning, but it really can open up something different. And hopefully that'll be up next Friday or Saturday at the latest. I won't have any time until next week sometime to start it. Doctors visits and all that.

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