Using Open Tunings In Acoustic Guitar Playing
After you’ve been playing acoustic guitar for a year or two, it can be fairly common for you to hit a rut: you’re playing the same old things in the same old way, and it just doesn’t seem like you can find a way out. Well, congratulations, you’re about to discover open tunings! This involves tuning the strings on your guitar so that they make the sound of an open chord without you touching a fret: needless to say this is a great way to experiment and completely focus on melody without resorting to those well known chord shapes.
If this sounds a little strange, don’t panic: a lot of popular tunes you know were actually played in a variety of open tunings. For instance, Keith Richards wrote a number of the Stone’s best known songs, including ‘Brown Sugar’ and ‘Honky Tonk Woman’ using open G tuning (which involves tuning your strings to D G D G B D).
Popular folk artist Martin Simpson has never really used anything else, using a wide variety of tunings such as Gsus4 (CGCGCD) and Csus (DGDGCD) to adapt a huge variety of classic songs.
What are the benefits of using open tunings? Well, in many ways open tunings make creating melodies a lot more simple, in that any strings you don’t fret will automatically add to the harmonies, creating a huge, chorus-type effect. This can be a very special effect when combined with fingerstyle guitar, leading to an ethereal type sound.
The downside: there’s little point in pretending that open tunings don’t require some extra learning: it’s impossible to sit and play your old chords and scales (well not impossible, but some of them will sound strange!), so they’re not immediately comforting. Also, some of them involve specifically detuning your guitar a large amount, which can lead to some very spaghetti-like strings!
However, open tunings offer a whole new world of experimentation, and they’re well worth trying out!
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