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Playing in Open G on Guitar

I started playing guitar many years ago—attracted by the low wages and free beer. My articles are mostly guitar and keyboard lessons.

Keith Richards, pictured left with Ronnie Wood in 1982, is one of the greatest practitioners of Open G tuning.

Keith Richards, pictured left with Ronnie Wood in 1982, is one of the greatest practitioners of Open G tuning.

What Is Open G Tuning?

Open G tuning, where the guitar is tuned to a chord instead of normal tuning, is one of the quickest and cheapest ways to expand the sound of your guitar and guitar playing. It is ideal for slide guitar too.

You can take these shapes and use them to create your own songs, or do new arrangements of existing songs. For instance, "She Belongs To Me" by Bob Dylan sounds great in Open G.

D G D G B D

The tuning is D G D G B D, beginning with the lowest sounding 6th string.

The easy way to play the I IV and V chords in this tuning is:

  • G: open strings, strings 1-5
  • C: Barre in fret 5, strings 1-5
  • D: Barre in fret 7, Strings 1-5

These are the three most important chords to learn, in any key.

My Favourite Songs in Open G

SongArtist

"Wild Horses"

Rolling Stones

"If It Makes You Happy"

Sheryl Crow

"Blackbird"

Beatles

"Morning Morgantown and Little Green"

Joni Mitchell

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Open G Chord Shapes

guitar-in-open-g-tuning-songs

How to Change to Open G Tuning

To change to open G tuning, take strings 1 and 6 down to D and take string 5 down to G. Do it slowly to avoid string breakage, although this really isn't an issue.

Examples of this tuning include:

  • "Blackbird" by the Beatles uses these chord shapes (it's best to use Travis picking for these), but is also played in standard tuning.
  • Joni Mitchell's "Morning Morgantown" uses these chords as well.
  • "Little Green" is another amazing Joni composition.

Which Guitar Should I Use?

All this stuff works on electric guitar, but it usually sounds best on a steel-string acoustic. I like Taylor guitars, Martin guitars, Collings guitars. If you have a dedicated 2nd guitar for open G (which is a really good idea), it may be worth using a slightly heavier string gauge to compensate for the lowered string tension you get in this tuning. You can also play harmonics on any string or strings at frets 5, 7, 12 (try it out—it sounds fantastic).

Other Fun Tunings

There are many different alternative tunings for the guitar and they are all worth trying. However, it's best to settle on one or two to avoid confusion.

  • Open G with a lower 6 string: Open G also sounds great with the low 6th taken down to C instead of D. Shawn Colvin and Jackson Browne both use this tuning, and it does give you a great low bass note to fill out the sound.
  • Removing the 6th string: You could argue that the low G on string 6 is a distraction. I think the artist called Keef removes this string altogether. That's because generally the root notes for chords are on string 5.
  • Open D and DADGAD are the other most widely used tunings. I've got a few articles on the subject if you are interested.
  • As a general rule, most chord forms remain the same in Open G and Open D tunings, you just have to shift the shape across one string. So the Open G shape moves down one string for Open D, and vice versa. Obviously, or not so obviously, this can save you a lot of time if you use both tunings. You may have to make some adjustments to the chord shape.
  • If you use a capo too you can transpose most songs to suit your voice, very handy if you are not Joni Mitchell!

Comments

Vflo on August 21, 2020:

First, thanks for your great article(s) ! Just thought I’d mention another beauty in open G. I found a JamesJames video on YouTube for Moonlight Mile . There he suggests to bring top string to a G also- useful various parts of the song. Such a pretty sound all over that tune ! Try it out, I’m sure you’ll enjoy ;)

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