As guitarists, most of us spend a lot of time playing and learning in standard tuning. Most music is written in standard tuning, so why do we need to learn anything else?? Eventually we will run into music that requires us to have some knowledge of alternate and open tunings so there’s no time like the present to learn more about other ways to tune your guitar.
We know that standard tuning is tuning the strings from lowest to highest: E, A, D, G, B, E. In an alternate tuning, it can be as simple as changing the tuning of one string. For example, Drop D tuning is achieved by detuning the 6th string a whole step from E to D.
Alternate tunings are basically any open-string note arrangement that isn’t standard tuning and will produce a much different sound than standard tuning. It opens the performer/composer to different chord voicing, harmonic richness, fingerings, timber and sonorities. Some popular alternate tunings include drop D, double drop D and DADGAD. Most folk musicians use alternate tunings to achieve that sustained note or chord that gives folk music the haunting backdrop of the song.
Open tunings are a subcategory of alternative tunings that are commonly used in blues and folk music, as well. This type of tuning produces a chord by strumming fretless strings. One of the benefits of open tuning is that you can change chords by placing a finger on each string and then just move to a different fret. It’s achieved by tuning the guitar in such a way that when you play all the strings open, the end result is a chord. For example, open G would be tuning the low E string down a whole step to D, A down a whole step to G, D stays the same, G stays the same, B stays the same and the high E down a whole step to D. When all of the strings are strummed without putting a finger down, the end result is a G chord.