Intuitive Guitar Playing in Open-D Tuning

Feb 19 08:44 2009 Frank Foxx Print This Article

Open-D tuning is a wonderful, but sadly under-utilized way to play guitar.  For the intuitive, experimenting, or "ear" player, there is no finer tuning to explore guitar, in any musical style.

As a guitar teacher,Guest Posting I take the time when assessing potential students, to ask about their guitar playing desires.  I ask them to be as specific as possible.  Probably the most common answer I get is “I don’t know”.  The next most common would be a specific song or perhaps artist/style the prospective student really enjoys.

Let’s look at each of these two very common responses.

I would never disparage the “I don’t know” answer.  Guitar is a mysterious and bewitching instrument, and my answer to the same question, many, many years ago would probably have been the same.  The image of a guitar player making wicked music is an intoxicating one, so it’s perfectly valid to want to play guitar without really know what one wants to learn to play, and why.

For the person interested in a particular song, style or artist, the goal is obviously more definable.  The question here becomes, how achievable is it?

In both instances, in whatever instance for that matter, hopes can be dashed very early, once the guitar lessons begin.  The road to actually playing anything on guitar, let alone that favourite song, can be a very long one.  Frustration, on the other hand, can set in fairly quickly.  Often time, initial progress is made, and then grinds to a halt. 

It is because I have heard so many stories just like this that I am such a strong proponent of the concept I call intuitive guitar playing.  That is an approach to guitar which is well suited for the “I don’t know” novice as well as an excellent starting point for those with a more specific guitar playing goal.

By intuitive, I refer to an approach where there is far less formal structure.  It may not be necessary to learn any type of musical theory, or put much stress on technique.  Focus on these skills, especially at the outset, it typically what puts a halt to both progress and enthusiasm for learning guitar.

Unfortunately, the universally accepted starting point on guitar is to learn standard tuning.  This aspect of guitar alone throws up a multitude of roadblocks for the aspiring/novice guitarist, but none more inhibitive than the lack of opportunity for experimentation, until the (many basics) of technique and often theory are mastered.  That’s because in standard tuning, there is little to know room for intuition whatsoever.

By contrast, there is one guitar tuning highly suited to this approach, and that is open-D.  For a guitar player (novice especially, but certainly also applicable to the more experienced), open-D tuning is wonderful for simply feeling one’s way around.  I have done this time and time again with students.  Simply hand them a guitar tuned to open-D, show them how to hold it, and let them go.  In this tuning, it’s possible to play the guitar, even if you know nothing.  I’m not suggesting that a whole symphony is at the novice’s fingertips, or even Louie Louie, for that matter, but what is readily available is a pleasant sound – a D major chord, playable on all six strings.  The novice can actually play a chord, right at the outset.  It is only one chord, but it is a real chord, which can be played and reproduced, with little effort, immediately.

This is very important for a couple of reasons.  The first is the obvious – a pleasing sound, as opposed to what a beginning guitar player gets out of standard tuning.  The second, and more important, is to be able to demonstrate right away what an important role the strumming hand has to playing guitar.  Starting in open-D allows the intuitive guitar player (alone or with the guidance of a teacher) to feel their way around that D major chord, with a single string, two strings, three and so on, while at the same time, allowing their strumming hand to become acclimatized to the instrument.  And all this is achieved before ever putting finger to fret.

From there, the intuitive or experimenting guitar player can quite simply go nuts.  This might include expanding strumming styles or technique, while simply staying on that open D major chord.  For the truly adventurous, though, the real joy comes in putting finger to fret.  In open-D tuning, there is, practically speaking, no such thing as a bad sounding chord.  Some may be a little more sour sounding than others, but lovely sounds start to jump out of the instrument my merely adding a finger to a fret.  In short order, an intuitive guitar player, experienced in standard tuning and/or guitar technique or not, can get an ever increasing variety of sounds.  For those with some musical background i.e. understanding a little about theory and chords, it can be a catapult forward, as the logic of open-D hits home.  Here I speak from personal experience.

For those who seek to develop their guitar playing skills through experimentation and intuition, open-D tuning is an excellent starting point.

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About Article Author

Frank Foxx
Frank Foxx

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 .  He keeps a blog at .

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