How to Use Open G Tuning for Guitar

Updated on November 20, 2018
Jon Green profile image

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

Open G tuning, where the guitar is tuned to a chord instead of normal tuning, remains one of the quickest and cheapest ways to expand the sound of your guitar playing. It is ideal for slide guitar too. Here are the practical shapes you'll need to get started in this versatile tuning.

What Is Open G Tuning?

The tuning is D G D G B D, from 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

My Favourite Songs in Open G Tuning

Song
Artist
"Wild Horses"
Rolling Stones
"If It Makes You Happy"
Sheryl Crow
"Blackbird"
Beatles
"Morning Morgantown and Little Green"
Joni Mitchell

Use Open G to Create Your Versions of Songs

You can also 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 this tuning.

Open G chord shapes

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.

Examples of this tuning include:

Example 1: "Blackbird" by the Beatles uses these chord shapes (it's best to use Travis picking for these).

Example 2: Joni Mitchell's "Morning Morgantown" uses these chords as well.

On Which Guitar Do These Chords Sound Best?

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.

More Tunings:

  • 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: Open D and DADGAD are the other most widely used tunings. I've got a few hubs on the subject if you are interested.

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