Open C Tuning

Open C Tuning : Essential Background information to get you started

Well they say a picture is worth a thousand words – well so does a song

Here is a beautiful piece in Open C played by John Butler .. Listen to it as you read

Open C is the simplest alternate tuning to play on a guitar. The term Open C means that when the right strumming hand strums all the strings a C Major Chord is sounded

C Major Chord in Open C

Standard Tuning

The notes of a guitar in open c tuning are – from lowest to highest

Here is a simple way of tuning your guitar to Open C to get you started

To put a guitar into open C tuning just follow this diagram


Motivation for learning Open C


Why bother learning in Open C when I already can play in standard tuning? ie   EADGBE

The simple answer is that it produces very lush and beautiful sounding music. And since we are in a nonstandard tuning it forces guitarists to play by ear and get creative.

And it is Great Fun and very intuitive!

A great example of a Guitar Piece in Open C tuning is John Butler’s beautiful piece Ocean

 [John Butler Video Ocean]

John Butler has made a career of playing in this tuning as has Devin Townsend from the Devin Townsend Project. Another notable guitarist to employ open c tuning is Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin.

10 Advantages of learning Open C tuning

  • Major chords are simple and easy to play eg chords can be played with a straight finger
  • It is great for beginners as chord shapes are easier allowing beginners to play songs faster
  • Beginners who learn in open c tuning find the one finger barre chords great practice for the more complex barre chords they go on to learn in standard tuning
  • The tuning has fewer notes within it eg there are 3 C notes , 2 G notes and one E note. This allows scope for 2 or three octaves of the note to be played at a time
  • The logical and simple arrangement of notes means that you can find nice sounding patterns easily
  • Scales follow a simple pattern and are incredibly easy to work out on the fret board and play
  • If you know basic piano theory this translates really well to guitar and gives you more options
  • Playing by ear is easier and it is possible to play in this tuning with no theory knowledge- If you tried this in standard tuning it is much harder to make nice sounds from your guitar
  • Harmonics all sound great as they are all in C major. The easiest harmonics to play are found at the 7th and 12th Frets
  • Open C tuning takes great advantage of the open strings which create a droning effect
    John Butler is a great example of a guitarist who uses open string droning in his highly percussive songs

Some disadvantages of learning Open C tuning

  • Minor Chords are harder to play due to its intrinsically Major nature – This is only a disadvantage if you don’t like the sound of this tuning however – I love it !
  • All your hard work of learning guitar in Standard Tuning goes out the window when you pick up a guitar in Open C [ or any other tuning for that matter ].  I would say that this is actually an advantage as it gives you a fresh perspective and takes you out of the ruts of playing the same old stuff. It also helps to generates new ideas and riffs for song writing
  • There is less music and tabs written for Guitarist who plays in Alternate tunings. This gives you a great chance to stand out from the crowd and to create your own sound and music

 Great you want to learn a few chords – let’s get you started!

 The first three chords to learn are C F G

If you know your music theory you will recognise that if we add the G7 chord we can play Blues in C major

What this means is that with these 4 chords we can pretty much play any blues song ever written !

Try it!!

12 bar blues : C F G G7

12 Bar Blues in C Major

 Basic Piano theory every guitarist should know 

So the six chords we should learn in the key of C are C F G Am Dm Em

[diagram] Am Dm Em

 So lets now play the C Major Scale


Lets take a closer look at the notes on the Fretboard

Notice that after the 12th fret all the notes repeat

Notes on the Fretboard in Open C Tuning

The 3 triad notes in C major are : C F G

The 3 triad notes in F major are : F A C

The 3 triad notes in G major are : G B D

The 3 triad notes in A minor are : A C E

The 3 triad notes in D minor are : D F A

The 3 triad notes in E minor are : E G B

The 3 triad notes in B Diminished are : B D F   [ Rarely used ]

So How do we use this i hear you ask ? Lets say we want to play a D Minor Chord . We know the Notes we need are D F A

Here is what the fretboard looks like just highlighting D F A

Notes in the D minor Chord

Using this methodology we can work out the three remaining chords in the key of C Major :

There are lots of other ways to play these chords . I have only included what i believe to be the simplest versions.

Knowing this basic theory you now have the knowledge to make up some other ways of playing these chords . Have Fun

Post a Comment below and let me know what you think of this article

What is your favourite tune to play in Open C ? Let me know

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