By Frank Foxx
I’m on a mission. To convert.
To convert guitar players and aspiring guitar players to open-D. It’s the tuning so important to guitar in the last number of decades, but too often, so overlooked by the mainstream. Standard tuning has a stranglehold on the business of learning guitar. The reason, to me, remains unclear.
As a starting point, an open tuning is clearly the logical choice. What easier way to begin to play guitar, but with an open, major chord? How much more confidence could an aspiring guitarist (of any age, but more on that later) need than to be able to play a nice sounding chord without putting finger to fret? That’s what you get when you start with an open tuning.
My personal story went like this. Frustrated novice guitar player (“novice” for years on end!). Gets nowhere with guitar for years. Does research (i.e. reads guitar magazines). Realizes many of the greats played in alternate tunings (K. Richard, J. Mitchell, E. James, R. Johnson, R. Cooder, J. Page, etc, etc.). Re-tunes guitar until he finds one that works – open-D. Presto! Light bulb comes on, a better guitar player is hatched.
Open tunings are mentioned, frequently enough, in magazines articles, transcriptions, books and the like. But very seldom or never have I seen an outright promotion of their use as a stand-alone approach to guitar (my god, even Keith switches to standard tuning every now and again!). And open-D, the most logical of all starting points, is rarely mentioned at all. I have yet, in 20+ years of public performance, have anyone come up to me and say – “How about that – you play just like I do, in open-D”. People do come up, but the comments are almost always, “You sure use some funny chord positions” or “Are you playing in a different tuning”. Amazingly, many guitar players associate “open tuning” with “more difficult”. Nothing could be further from the truth. Sure, to make the transition from standard tuning is a bit of a learning curve, but once you’re there, POW! You’ll never want to play any other way (although just adding proficiency on an open tuning to your standard tuning is a giant leap).
Which brings us back to beginners. No matter what the age, a beginner, whether 6 or 60 years old will find open-D an easier way to start playing guitar. It is so obvious. Focus on the strum without any fingers on the fretboard, and then work your way up to one finger on the fretboard (the basic major chord in open-D is just one finger). What a way to develop early confidence. The truth is, and I am living proof, you would never have to make the flip to standard tuning. But if you wanted to, it’s just small tweak up to standard – sort of drop-D tuning with three other minor adjustments back and forth, to and from standard E A D G B E, to D A D F# D.
One question that arises – why open-D, then, of all the potential starting points? The absolute simplest choice may be, for easier understanding of theory, keys and harmony might be open-C C G C E G C, but that gets a tad floppy sounding, as the guitar strings are so slackened. Going the other way to open-E E B E G# B E might be going too far the other way, though it’s used. Open-D seems the perfect choice! For singers wanting to accompany themselves, of course, it becomes an issue of vocal range tied to the guitar tuning. A capo may be in order.
Frank Foxx is a semi-professional guitar player 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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