Open-D – The Most Versatile Guitar Tuning? Maybe!

Author: classic-guitars  //  Category: Music
I get lots of e-mail inquiries on my website as to why I consider my system, Guitar-eze, to be so much simpler than virtually all the other guitar methods out there. The reason is – Guitar-eze is based on the well-known but highly under-utilized, and under-appreciated, open-D tuning.

That’s right – the guitar tuning that so many greats used and built upon, from Robert Johnson (open-E some of the time, but the exactly the same thing, a whole toner higher throughout), Keith Richards (Street Fighting Man, Jumpin’ Jack Flash unthinkable any other way), Joni Mitchell (with her jazzy, ringing open-string inflections), and so many more. Open-D can be much more than a one-off alternate tuning, as so often characterized, even from renowned instructors and players, in the method books and websites . Here’s a little clarification on just one amazing aspect of open-D guitar tuning.

One of the great advantages of open-D tuning is its “visual” aspect. For anyone with event a limited background musical theory, this can be a real eye-opener when learning guitar. Speaking from personal experience (as an aspiring guitarist with a moderate understanding of theory i.e. what chords and triads were), it became the point when the light bulb came on for me. In standard guitar tuning E A D G B E, the starting open chord is generally not usable (a permutation of an A11 or some such). The only way to build chords from that starting point is to utilize various finger-fret combinations, so as to create note groupings that sound the chords you want to play. Not only is the mastering of often tricky and unnatural finger positions a major stumbling block, especially for absolute beginners, the actual finger positions “mean” nothing. You can’t tell from a E-chord or an A-chord (first position) why they are what they are. Contrast this with open-D tuning, D A D F# A D. Even with no finger to fret, you can “see” the chord as you look down your strings. The four highest D F# A D are the triad for a D major chord (octave doubled).

What and advantage this is! Permutations are as simple as adding one finger to any one string, to any fret higher than the root note. For instance, staying in our open-D for the moment: Add your first finger to the first fret on the A string (makes it an A#). You’ve just created a D-augmented (D+), a modification universal up the whole of the fretboard. Move that same finger up one more fret on the same string – you’ve create a D6; again, a modification that can be used up and down the fretboard of the guitar.

For anyone with even just a rudimentary understanding of the rudiments, the logic should be highly appealing. Now, you’re no longer memorizing chord positions, without understanding what the relationships are. You’re seeing the relationships right at your fingertips.

For the experimenters out there – go nuts! Add one finger to any string starting at any position on the guitar (i.e. a one-finger major barre chord, which is what open-D gives you up and down the neck of your guitar), and you’ve discovered a new chord – check any theory book and it’ll tell you the name of the chord you’ve just created by making that modification. It’s an endless supply of new chords. Of course, it’s expandable to more than one finger, too.

By trying different combinations off the basic starting point of a major chord, you’ll hit some beauties and, of course, come clunkers. But what a way to hear and “see” how chords are structured and built. Also, because you have repeated strings in open-D (three Ds, and two As), you can try modifications on the repeat strings and see how the texture of the chord changes with the pitch of the note you’ve changed.

In my book “Guitar-eze” which focuses on open-D as a starting point to guitar versus standard tuning, the above is what I refer to as the system’s “versatility”. It’s something you simply cannot glean as simply when your starting point on the guitar is E A D G B E. I make the point that the system is great for either end of the guitarist spectrum (whether newbie, frustrated, or advanced) – whether you are theory-based or an ear-experimenter, open-D is much more than just a folkie alternate tuning for one song. It can be a stand-alone playing style (as I’ve done for twenty-plus years), or a viable alternative to add to your existing arsenal.

Frank Foxx is a semi-professional guitar player and part-time guitar teacher who plays exclusively in the tuning of open-D. He has written a guitar method book, extolling the virtues of what he considers to be the most versatile and easiest of all guitar tunings, entitled Guitar-eze A Simpler Approach to Playing the Guitar. His website is http://www.easierguitar.com . He keeps a blog at http://open-d.blogspot.com dedicated to helping guitarists and aspiring guitarists see the light.



By: Frank Foxx

About the Author:
Frank Foxx is a semi-professional guitar player and part-time guitar teacher who plays exclusively in the tuning of open-D. He has written a guitar method book, extolling the virtues of what he considers to be the most versatile and easiest of all guitar tunings, entitled Guitar-eze A Simpler Approach to Playing the Guitar. His website is http://www.easierguitar.com . He keeps a blog at http://open-d.blogspot.com dedicated to helping guitarists and aspiring guitarists see the light.



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