Guitar Tunings: The Basics You Need To Know

The world of guitar playing is a vast and fascinating realm, filled with endless possibilities for artistic expression and sonic exploration. One crucial aspect of this world is the concept of guitar tunings.

Tuning refers to the process of adjusting the pitch of each string on the guitar to achieve specific desired notes or intervals. While standard tuning – E A D G B E – is undoubtedly familiar to most players, there exists a multitude of alternate tunings that can unlock entirely new sonic landscapes.

Alternate tunings are essentially any tuning other than standard tuning, which deviates from the conventional arrangement of notes on the guitar strings. These alternative setups are often employed by musicians seeking to expand their tonal palette or to create a specific mood or atmosphere in their compositions.

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What Is Standard Tuning

Standard guitar tuning is the most common and widely used tuning for the guitar.

It is also referred to as EADGBE tuning, named after the six open strings that are tuned to specific pitches. From low to high, these pitches are E, A, D, G, B, and E again.

Standard guitar tuning has a distinct advantage as it provides a foundation for learning chords and scales in a more conventional and cohesive manner.

Starting from the lowest string (6th string), which is tuned to E, each subsequent string is tuned to a higher pitch using intervals of perfect fourths except for the second and third strings which have an interval of a major third. This pattern ensures that when we play chords or scales across multiple strings, there is consistency in terms of finger positions and shapes.

One of the primary benefits of standard tuning is its versatility. It allows for easy transposition between keys by simply moving familiar chord shapes up or down the neck while maintaining the same relative intervals between strings.

This flexibility makes it ideal for accompanying singers or playing in various musical genres. Standard tuning also lends itself well to fingerstyle playing as well as flatpicking techniques since it provides a balanced distribution of notes across different strings.

The open position chords found within standard tuning form the basis for many popular songs and can be further explored by incorporating various embellishments such as hammer-ons, pull-offs, slides, and bends. Over the years, many songs in popular music have been written specifically with standard tuning in mind.

Standard tuning is the general foundation upon which most guitar players begin their musical journey. Its logical arrangement of notes and intervals allows for easier learning of chords, scales, and other musical concepts.

It provides a solid platform for both rhythm playing and lead guitar techniques while also being versatile enough to accommodate different musical styles. By understanding standard tuning’s structure and maintaining proper string tension, guitarists can unlock the full potential of their instrument.

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Intro To Alternate Tunings

When it comes to exploring the full potential of the guitar, one cannot overlook the realm of alternate tunings.

While standard tuning is widely used and provides a solid foundation for beginners, delving into alternate tunings opens up a whole new world of sonic possibilities.

In this section, we go over what alternate tunings are & how they can revolutionize your playing.

Exploring Alternative Tunings:

Alternate tunings refer to any tuning that deviates from the traditional EADGBE arrangement of the strings in standard guitar tuning.

These alternative tunings often provide unique tonal characteristics and offer players a fresh perspective on familiar chords and melodies. By altering the pitch relationship between strings, musicians can create rich harmonies, open voicings, or unearth hidden melodic patterns.

Types of Alternate Tunings:

There is an array of alternative tunings available, each with its own distinct flavor.

Open tunings involve adjusting one or more strings to form a chord when played open (without fretting). This enables players to produce rich, resonant sounds by strumming all strings simultaneously or fretting across all or most strings at once.

Dropped tunings are another alternative where one or more strings are lowered in pitch from their normal state. This creates a heavier sound favored by many styles such as rock & metal because they facilitate the playing of power chords. Dropped D tuning (DADGBE) is perhaps one of the most popular examples in this category.

Additionally, modal and exotic tunings expand upon traditional scales by altering intervals between notes on various strings.

This approach is often associated with folk music traditions or experimental genres where musicians seek unconventional harmonies or melodic structures.

Benefits and Challenges:

Exploring alternate guitar tunings offers guitarists numerous benefits beyond simply expanding their tonal palette. For instance, altered tunings can facilitate easier chord shapes in certain keys that might otherwise be challenging in standard tuning.

They can also inspire new creative ideas & break the monotony of habitual playing. However, it’s worth noting that alternate guitar tunings may require adjustments to your playing technique & mental orientation so you really have to stick to them to get the most benefit.

So as the fretboard shape changes, chord voicings and scale patterns will need to be re-learned or adapted. This process can be both exciting & challenging as you navigate through unfamiliar territory.

Conclusion:

It becomes evident that these alternative approaches are not just a curiosity but an integral part of exploring the instrument.

They provide a gateway to captivating sounds, fresh musical ideas, and uncharted territories for exploration.

Whether you love the resonating open strings of open tunings or the lowered heaviness of dropped tunings, experimenting with alternate guitar tunings can unlock endless possibilities for any guitarist willing to embark on this sonic adventure.

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What Are Dropped Tunings

Dropped tunings are a fascinating aspect of guitar tuning that has been widely used in various genres of music. This technique involves lowering the pitch of one or more strings, typically the lowest-pitched string, creating a unique & powerful sound.

Dropped alternate tunings have been employed by countless guitarists over the decades to add depth, heaviness, and complexity to their compositions. One popular type of dropped tuning is Drop D tuning, which involves dropping the low E string down a whole step to D. This simple alteration completely transforms the character of the guitar’s sound.

Drop D tuning is widely associated with heavy genres such as rock, metal, and punk due to its ability to create thick and heavy power chords. This tuning allows for effortless barre chords on the lower strings, providing a rich canvas for players to explore their creativity.

Another commonly used dropped tuning is Drop C# (also known as Drop Db). In this variation, all six strings are tuned down one and a half steps from standard tuning.

The resulting sound is even heavier than Drop D tuning and can be found in metalcore, hardcore punk, and other aggressive styles where extreme low-end frequencies are desired. Dropped tunings extend beyond these two examples; they encompass a wide range of possibilities.

For instance, Jimmy Page famously employed dropped alternate tunings in Led Zeppelin’s repertoire. His use of DADGAD (also known as Celtic or modal) tunings added unique flavors to songs like “Kashmir” and “Black Mountain Side,” showcasing his ability to innovate within traditional rock structures.

Bruce Palmer Modal Tuning (BPM) is another intriguing dropped tuning that defines an unconventional approach. It utilizes an open chord structure on all six strings by detuning each string from low E string downwards: E-E-E-E-B-E.

BPM creates ethereal harmonic possibilities that allow players to explore modal melodies reminiscent of Middle Eastern or Indian music traditions. Dropped tunings are not limited to specific genres; they can be found in numerous styles.

For example, Robert Fripp of King Crimson has extensively used New Standard Tuning (NST) on his guitars. This unique dropped tuning is defined by the intervals between strings, creating a symmetrical pattern that enables chord shapes and melodic lines that would be impossible in standard tuning.

Dropped tunings offer an array of possibilities for guitarists to explore new sonic territories. Whether it’s Drop D for heavy power chords or more exotic tunings like Bruce Palmer Modal Tuning, these alternate tunings provide a means to unlock fresh creativity and musical expression.

The ability to lower the pitch of specific strings compensates for conventional constraints and opens up a world of exciting possibilities in various genres and artistic contexts. So, take some time to experiment with dropped tunings and listen to how they can transform your playing style and musical compositions.

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What Are Open Tunings

Open tunings are a fascinating aspect of guitar playing that have been utilized by numerous guitar players across various genres. In open tunings, the strings of the guitar are tuned to form a chord when strummed without any finger placements, aka open strings, on the fretboard.

This unique approach to tuning allows for a distinct resonance and opens up new possibilities for creative exploration. One popular open tuning is known as Open C Tuning.

In this tuning, the guitar is tuned to the notes C-G-C-G-C-E, from low to high. This tuning is favored by many acoustic guitar players and is particularly associated with Celtic music due to its melodic qualities & ability to produce rich harmonies.

The open strings form a C chord shape, which is easily accessible in this tuning, making it ideal for creating beautiful fingerstyle arrangements. 

Another well-known open tuning is Open G Tuning, which has gained popularity through its association with legendary guitarist Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones.

In Open G Tuning, the strings are tuned to D-G-D-G-B-D from low to high. This tuning allows for easy access to major chords using just one fingerbar across all six strings, making it conducive for playing slide guitar as well.

Open D Tuning is another widely used open tuning. It involves tuning the guitar strings to D-A-D-F#-A-D from low to high.

Acoustic blues players often favor this tuning due to its deep, resonant sound that complements their style of playing. Famous blues guitarist Robert Johnson was known for his mastery of Open D Tuning and utilized it extensively in his recordings.

Open E Tuning shares similarities with Open D Tuning but requires a slight adjustment in string tension. The strings are tuned E-B-E-G#-B-E from low to high.

Guitarists who favor slide playing find this tuning advantageous because it allows for easy movement along the neck while maintaining a consistent chord shape across different frets.

We also have Open Gm Tuning, which is a variation of Open G Tuning. In this tuning, the strings are tuned to D-G-D-G-Bb-D from low to high. It is particularly suited for playing minor key compositions and lends itself well to blues and folk styles.

Exploring open alternate tunings, literally opens up a world of possibilities for guitarists, allowing them to approach familiar chord progressions in new ways. Each open tuning has its own unique characteristics and sonic qualities that can evoke different emotions and moods.

Whether you are a beginner or an advanced guitarist, experimenting with open tunings can provide endless inspiration and unlock new creative avenues. So don’t be afraid to venture beyond standard tuning and delve into the captivating realm of open tunings.

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Modal & Exotic Guitar Tunings

Modal & exotic alternate tunings offer a fascinating exploration into the realm of guitar playing. These alternative tunings, as the name suggests, deviate from traditional standard tuning.

Modal tunings are designed to emphasize specific musical modes, such as Dorian, Mixolydian, or Lydian, by altering the intervals between strings. Exotic tunings, on the other hand, are less common and often exploratory in nature, allowing guitarists to venture into uncharted territory.

One popular example of a modal tuning is the Open D tuning. This tuning involves detuning the strings to create a D major chord when strummed open.

Typically, the sixth string is tuned to D, the fifth string to A, the fourth string to D as well (an octave higher), while both the third and first strings remain tuned to F#. This setup provides an open and resonant sound that beautifully complements bluesy slide guitar playing.

The Open G tuning follows a similar pattern by retuning strings to create a G chord when played open (D G D G B D). This particular tuning lends itself wonderfully to fingerstyle playing or for capturing that signature Rolling Stones sound.

Moving onto exotic tunings, we encounter unconventional setups that produce rather unique sonic landscapes. The Open B6 tuning falls into this category. In this arrangement, all strings are tuned in perfect fifths except for two consecutive strings tuned in unison (B E G B E B).

Consequently, this peculiar configuration allows for intricate chord voicings with rich harmonies and intricate fingerpicking patterns. It offers an abundance of tonal possibilities while maintaining an accessible fretboard layout.

Modal and exotic guitar tunings provide exciting opportunities for musicians to venture beyond the traditional boundaries of standard tuning. The Open D tuning, Open G tuning, and B-E-G-B-E-B tuning are just a few examples of the vast array of possibilities available.

Each offers its own set of tonal characteristics & opens doors to new musical expressions Exploring these alternative tunings can lead to exhilarating discoveries on the fretboard, sparking creativity and helping to carve out your own musical path.

Intervallic or Regular Tunings

Unlike the standard tuning or alternate tunings, intervallic or regular tunings involve tuning the guitar strings in a consistent pattern of intervals, resulting in unique harmonic structures & fingerings. This characteristic allows for increased symmetry in chord voicings and facilitates playing complex chords & scales with fewer hand positions.

One commonly used intervallic tuning is the “all-fourths” tuning, where each string is tuned to a perfect fourth above the previous one. For example, starting from the lowest string (E), you would tune it to A (a perfect fourth above), then D (another perfect fourth), and so on until you reach the highest string.

This type of tuning creates a symmetrical fretboard layout that allows for easy transposition across different keys.

Another popular regular tuning is the “major-thirds” tuning, which involves tuning each string to a major third interval apart from each other.

For instance, starting with E as the lowest string, you would tune it to G# (a major third above), then C# (another major third), and continue until reaching E as the highest string again. This particular tuning has gained popularity among jazz players due to its unique tonal characteristics.

Regular tunings provide several advantages for guitarists. One notable advantage is that scales and chords can be played consistently across different positions on the fretboard.

For instance, in all-fourths tuning, a major scale shape played at any position will retain its structure and fingerings throughout. This consistency allows for easier memorization and exploration of chord progressions in various keys.

Furthermore, regular tunings often require less transposition when switching between keys compared to standard or alternate tunings. Since the intervals between strings remain constant in these alternative tunings, chord shapes can be shifted up or down without altering their overall structure significantly.

It’s worth noting that regular tunings can be found in many styles of music, including jazz, fusion, and progressive rock. For instance, famous guitarists like Allan Holdsworth and Pat Metheny have used intervallic tunings extensively in their compositions.

By experimenting with regular tunings, you can discover new perspectives, textures & tonalities, pushing the boundaries of conventional guitar.

Top 10 Most Popular Guitar Tunings

In the realm of guitar tunings, there exists a rich tapestry of options that cater to various musical genres, each contributing its distinctive flavor to the sonic landscape. Here are ten of the most popular guitar tunings that have captivated players across the globe:

Standard Tuning

Let us begin with the tried and true, second fret pull-off favorite – Standard Tuning. EADGBE is its melodic alphabet, running from low E to high E. The beauty of this tuning lies in its versatility as it allows for easy chord shapes and familiar fretboard patterns across different musical genres.

Half Step Down Tuning (Eb)

By simply lowering every string on your guitar one half-step down – Eb Ab Db Gb Bb eb – you enter a realm where rock and grunge reign supreme. This tuning is favored by bands like Nirvana and Soundgarden for its darker undertones and a slightly easier grip on power chords & bends.

Drop D Tuning

Frequented by rock and heavy metal enthusiasts, Drop D tuning offers a powerful sound characterized by a lower, more menacing tone. By simply lowering the low E string down to D, you unlock a wealth of possibilities for crushing riffs and thunderous power chords.

Standard D Tuning

Standard D tuning, also known as Whole Step Down tuning, is an alternate guitar tuning where all the strings are tuned down a whole step (two frets) from the standard E tuning.

The resulting tuning is D G C F A D, with each string lowered by two semitones. This tuning creates a lower pitch overall, offering a deeper and more resonant sound to the guitar. Standard D tuning is commonly used in various musical genres, including rock, blues, and folk, providing a unique tonal quality and different chord voicings compared to standard E tuning.

Open D Tuning

Open D tuning is an alternate guitar tuning that creates a D major chord when strummed without fretting any notes. In Open D tuning, the strings are tuned to form the notes D A D F# A D, with the fourth, third, and second strings being tuned up or down to match the root D note.

This tuning offers a rich and resonant sound, making it popular in slide guitar playing and various musical styles, especially in folk, blues, and country genres. It provides easy access to major chords across the fretboard and allows guitarists to achieve expressive slide melodies by sliding a bottleneck or slide bar along the strings, creating soulful and emotive sounds.

Open D tuning’s versatility and distinctive tonality make it a favored choice for musicians seeking to explore new textures and styles in their guitar playing.

Open G Tuning

Open G tuning is where the strings are tuned to form a G major chord when played open, without fretting any notes. The tuning consists of D-G-D-G-B-D, allowing easy access to G major chords and facilitating slide guitar playing with rich harmonies.

Its characteristic resonance and intuitive fingerings make it a popular choice among musicians looking to explore new creative avenues and evoke a sense of openness & authenticity in their playing, making it especially well-suited for expressive and emotive performances.

DADGAD Tuning

Hailing from Celtic music traditions, DADGAD is an enchanting alternate tuning that offers lush harmonies with an airy quality.

By retuning your strings from low E to high E – DADGAD – you’ll discover a world where delicate fingerpicking patterns flourish amidst hauntingly beautiful melodic possibilities.

Double-Drop D Tuning

As its name implies, Double-Drop D combines elements of both Drop D and standard tunings by lowering both the low E string and high E string down one whole step (two notes) to achieve a rich sonic palette ideal for folk or acoustic rock styles.

Open E Tuning

Popularized by slide guitar virtuosos such as Derek Trucks, Open E tuning transforms your instrument into a vessel of soulful expression. Tune your strings to EBEGBE from low to high, and experience the resonance that effortlessly flows from slide work.

Drop C Tuning

Primed for those seeking lower registers without sacrificing versatility, Drop C tuning involves lowering all strings two whole steps or four semitones (CGCFAD). This setup enables heavy riffage while maintaining enough flexibility for solos across various metal genres.

Related:

7 String Guitar Tuning

8 String Guitar Tuning

12 String Guitar Tuning

Tips To Stay In Tune

Here are several tips & techniques that can help you in maintaining optimal tuning stability. By implementing these practices into your routine, you’ll be able to rock out on your guitar without constantly worrying about it going out of tune.

Firstly, it’s crucial to ensure that your guitar has been properly set up and maintained. A well-adjusted instrument will not only enhance its playability but also contribute to its ability to stay in tune.  Regularly check the intonation of your guitar by comparing the harmonic at the 12th fret with the fretted note at the same position. Adjusting the saddle position accordingly will help maintain accurate tuning throughout the entire neck.

Additionally, make sure to stretch new strings thoroughly after installation. New strings tend to stretch and settle over time, causing them to go slightly out of tune initially. Gently pulling each string away from the guitar body with one hand while turning the tuning pegs with your other hand will help expedite this process.

Repeat this stretching process a few times until the strings stabilize and hold their pitch consistently.

Using lubrication on contact points such as nut slots and bridge saddles can also aid in keeping your guitar in tune for longer periods. Friction at these points can cause strings to bind or stick, leading to tuning instability. Applying a small amount of graphite or specialized lubricant can reduce friction, allowing strings to move freely and return accurately to their intended pitch.

Additionally, extreme temperature changes or fluctuations can affect the tension of your guitar’s strings, leading them out of tune. Acclimate your instrument gradually when moving between different environments; avoid sudden exposure or prolonged storage in areas with high humidity or temperature variations.

Develop good playing habits that minimize extra strain on the strings during performance or practice sessions. Avoid excessive bending or aggressive strumming techniques that may cause strings to go sharp or flat unintentionally.

By following these tips and incorporating them into your guitar care routine, you’ll be able to enjoy longer periods of in-tune playing. Remember, a well-maintained instrument is crucial for optimal performance, regardless of the tuning you choose to explore!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the most versatile tuning for a guitar?

The most versatile tuning for a guitar is widely considered to be “standard tuning” (EADGBE). This is because it offers a balanced range of notes, making it suitable for playing various genres and accommodating traditional chord shapes & scales.

It’s a great starting point for beginners and allows you to explore a wide array of musical styles, making it the go-to tuning for many guitarists. Nevertheless, alternative tunings like “open G” or “drop D” can also provide unique versatility and open up exciting creative possibilities depending on the music you want to delve into. So, feel free to experiment and find the tuning that best suits your musical journey!

Remember, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the most versatile tuning for a guitar since it depends on the music you want to play & your personal preferences.

What is the difference between open D and open E?

The main difference between open D and open E tunings is the pitch of the open strings. In open D tuning (D-A-D-F#-A-D), the lowest string is tuned to a D note, while in open E tuning (E-B-E-G#-B-E), the lowest string is tuned to an E note. Overall, open D tends to produce a slightly lower & more resonant sound compared to open E.

What is the most popular drop tuning?

The most popular drop tuning is “Drop D tuning” (D-A-D-G-B-E), where the lowest string is tuned down one whole step from the standard E tuning to D.

Drop D is widely used in rock, metal, and alternative music genres due to its simplicity and the ease of playing power chords with just one finger. It provides a heavier and more aggressive sound, making it a favorite choice for guitarists seeking a powerful and crunchy tone.

What is the most common open tuning?

The most common open tuning is “Open G tuning” (D-G-D-G-B-D). Open G is widely used in various musical genres, including blues, country, and slide guitar playing.

Its popularity is due to its versatility, offering a resonant G major chord when strummed open, making it easy to play slide melodies and explore unique chord voicings across the fretboard.

Related: Guitar Tuning In Hz

Conclusion

Exploring the vast world of guitar tunings offers a new dimension to your playing. Whether you stick to standard tuning or explore alternate, dropped, open, modal, or intervallic tunings, each option offers unique musical possibilities.

By incorporating different guitar tunings into your repertoire, you can create distinct sonic landscapes and unlock new creative avenues. Experimenting with different tunings allows you to uncover fresh patterns and chord voicings that may have eluded you in standard tuning.

Drop tunings like DADGAD or open G tuning provide easy access to droning strings, while modal and exotic tunings offer a rich palette of harmonic colors.

Intervallic or regular tunings like all-fourths or all-fifths tuning challenge yourself with new fingerboard configurations and expand your understanding of scales and fretting positions.

Open C tuning (CGCGCE) is an excellent option for fingerstyle playing or adding beautiful melodic textures to compositions.

Exploring the vast sonic possibilities of different guitar tunings will enhance your playing, spark your creativity, and open doors to a world of musical expression that knows no bounds. Embrace the unknown and let your guitar guide you through uncharted territories, as it is in these explorations that we truly find ourselves as musicians.

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