Bob Brozman Guitar Lesson: Open-Tuning Tricks - Chords And Classic Turnarounds
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This article was first published in Guitar Player Magazine's How to Play Guitar issue, Dec. 1995

Published by Guitar Player Magazine
December 1995

Open-Tuning Tricks:
Chords and Classic Turnarounds


Much of the heritage and the repertoire of Mississippi country blues is expressed on the guitar in open G tuning (D, G, D, G, B, D, low to high). All of the information here applies to A tuning, which is also used. Just tune a whole step up from G. This is an easy tuning to learn, and a good one to choose if you're just beginning to experiment with open tunings.

What makes it easy is the presence of only three notes in the tuning: G, B, and D. From standard tuning, tune the first, fifth, and sixth strings down one whole-step. Note that the second, third, and fourth strings remain the same as standard tuning, so all standard fingerings still apply to those strings.

Let's begin with the good old blues turnaround to illustrate the tuning's simplicity. Ex. 1 shows the proper frets for the D strings: 3, 2, 1, and open. Try this on all three D strings. Ex. 2 brings in the B string for harmony - also frets 3, 2, 1, and open. The example shows the B string paired with individual D strings, then with both first and fourth (D) strings.

Example 1 and 2 - Image

Now bring in the G strings. Ex. 3 shows the proper frets for the G strings to harmonize with the D and B strings - frets 4, 3, 2, and open. Ex. 4 shows the shapes for combining the G strings with the rest of the strings. The timing of all of these turnarounds begins with the open strings first on beat one, followed by fretted notes on beats two, three, and four. These four beats are followed by the open strings on the next downbeat. Experiment with combinations of the strings, since tone color is one of the subtleties of blues.

Example 3 and 4 - Image

The I chord in the key of G is G; the IV chord is C; and the V chord is D. The simplest positions for these chords are: G, open and barre at the 12th fret; C, barre at the 5th fret; and D, barre at the 7th fret. (It's best to use these positions sparingly). The first fretted notes of the turnaround (Ex. 2) produce G7 chords. As an example, fret the first two strings at the 3rd fret. Ex. 5 shows a few other good G7 chord fingerings. These chords are heard on a lot of songs by Delta blues legend Robert Johnson. The fingerings themselves, of course, are movable to other positions for other chords.

Example 5 and 6 - Image

Ex. 6 shows a more modern-sounding G to G7 for the fourth bar of a blues. Actually, Ex. 6 moves from G6 to G9. This example shows the chord using the first-string D. Try it using the fourth-string D instead to get a different tone with the same notes.

Many players (including me) rarely use full barre chords for C and D, preferring instead the nice, fat first-position chords shown in Ex. 7. Note the two different C7 chords - the only difference being which open G string you employ.

Two other ways to play partial C7 chords are shown in Ex. 8. Notice that you are only fretting two notes; the open third string provides the third note. The funky C9 is a sound you'll instantly recognize from blues records. Be sure to bend only the second string (upward) and leave the pitch on the first string constant.

Example 7, 8, and 9 - Image

Many blues songs employ diminished chords. In open G tuning you can obtain the necessary diminished chords easily: Take the first and third G7 chords shown in Ex. 5 and simply lower them one fret. Go back and forth, listening all the while to the changing notes over the open G bass.

The well-known Robert Johnson walking turnaround is tricky in standard tuning, and downright masochistic in open G. If you're wearing a bottleneck slide on your left little finger, you'll be forced to make this stretch with your index and ring finger. Ex. 9 shows the fretting for this turnaround. Musically the high G (first string, 5th fret) is played as a triplet, with the descending moving bass below played as quarter notes.

This tuning is without a doubt my favorite for bottlenecking. At this stage you should get used to all the new fingerings, experiment with combinations, memorize familiar important chords, and do lots of listening to the type of blues you want to learn. Diligent listening will teach you which notes are right for the style you're playing.

Open-Tuning Tricks: Chords And Classic Turnarounds
© Bob Brozman 1995