Coming to terms with guitar tuning is something that takes a lot of headspace for beginners.
When you are still developing your ear and learning how to properly tune your instrument, things can get a bit overwhelming.
But just when you are starting to get a grasp of it, then you learn there are many different ways of tuning your guitar, and even some of your friends might push you to check them out.
And although you know it’s important to always try new things in life, such a big change might worry you.
So here I am with 7 great reasons for you to try alternate tunings on guitar:
- Boost your creativity
- Easier playing of certain chords and riffs
- Playing impossible chords
- New approach to old chords
- Extended range
- Playing with a slide!
- Differentiate from other players
In this article, I will tell you all you need to know about why alternative tunings might bring a lot of benefits to your playing and your songwriting.
After leaving this page you will know for certain which are the most popular alternate tunings that most players use, and why you should try them out.
Are you ready to get started?
What are alternate tunings on guitar?
In short, a great way of defining alternate tunings is by opposition: They are any other tuning than the standard E A D G B E tuning.
And although the term “alternate” might sound daunting, they are not a thing to be afraid of, but a great tool to add to your arsenal.
If you are a new player, the idea of altering the normal tuning of your guitar might seem crazy, but as you study them, you will learn that they have a lot of useful functions.
They come in many different flavors and degrees of “craziness” from just tuning one string differently, to modifying the pitch and relationships of your strings completely.
We will go even more in-depth about them in this article.
What is the point of alternate tunings on guitar?
Alternate tunings are a way of breaking out of the routine, among many other things.
The more you play your guitar, the more engraved lines and shapes become, and it might feel at times that your fingers are doing the playing instead of your brain.
A way of breaking out from this pattern is by just messing things up, in an orderly fashion, for your fingers so that your ears and brain can kick in again.
Also, there’s a practical reason behind tuning your guitar differently: In many cases, you will find out that certain riffs, melodies, or chords become way easier to play if you change slightly the pitch of certain strings.
Think of power chords on the low E string. There’s a shape for them that comes to your mind that involves using your index finger and fingers 3 and 4, or perhaps you get by by using just only one extra finger.
At least, this is a 2 finger shape.
Now, if you go for a drop D tuning, you will find out that the same chords can be played by only barring the strings vertically with a finger.
This easier way of playing this chord might let different musical ideas blossom in your song.
And although constraints are indeed a great push for creativity, breaking free from them is also something to explore.
Some common alternate tunings on guitar to check out
The list of alternate tunings goes on for miles and miles, and players might be coming up with new crazy ways of tuning or detuning their instrument on a daily basis.
However, there are certain alternative tunings that stood the test of time and have been popularly accepted by a wide range of players, and even helped shape certain music styles.
Here are some of the most common alternate tunings for guitar:
D A D G B E
By just dropping your sixth string a tone down to D you now get a fifth relationship between it and the 5th string (A).
This allows you, among other things, to play power chords with only one finger by barring the lower 3 strings of the guitar.
Double drop D
D A D G B D
While maintaining the same functions as the original drop D tuning, double drop D also lowers the high E string down to D.
This is a step towards an open tuning since it gives you a G major chord in the open first strings.
Also, having a D in the open high string might be beneficial for playing riffs and lines in the key of D.
Its name just tells you how each string should be tuned.
The result here is an open Dsus4 chord on which you can start building your lines.
It has an enigmatic sound and might take a while to get used to, but it’s great fun.
Other drop tunings
There are plenty of other drop tunings, such as drop A or drop C, mostly used on extended range guitars.
D A D F# A D
Open tunings give you a chord just by strumming all the open strings, they are very popular for playing with a slide.
Open D is one of the most popular ones since it’s rather easy to get to from standard tuning.
D G D G B D
Open G gives you a G chord with only the open strings and works just like any other open tuning.
It’s also popular because is fairly close to standard tuning.
Other open tunings
As they are a lot of drop tunings, there are also many different ways of getting chords from your open strings, and players take advantage of them with open tuning.
7 Reasons to try alternate tunings on guitar
As I have been building up until this point, there are many good reasons why you should try out alternate tunings on your guitar if you never did before.
Here are my top 7 reasons for trying them:
1. Creativity boost
Breaking out from the standard tuning might inform you of a lot of different new ways your guitar can sound.
Different finger positions could also make you play new exciting lines, and lead you to new ideas.
2. Makes it easier to play certain chords or riffs
Certain chords or riffs can be extremely hard on the fingers, and even harder to come by quickly.
An alternate tuning might make playing them a way easier task, allowing you to focus on the music instead of the playing.
3. Play impossible chords
Some chords or particular chord voicings are outright impossible due to how guitars are tuned.
More radical alternate tunings will allow you to play notes from different octaves together that otherwise you wouldn’t be able to.
4. New approach to old chords
Guitars have a lot of repeated notes along their fingerboards, however, each of these repetitions has its unique sound due to how the instrument works.
You won’t get the same sound from an open chord as from a barre chord.
With alternate tunings, you will have the ability to have different positions, and thus different sounds for the chords you already know and love.
5. Extended range
Tunings that drop a low string o tighten a high string will increase the range of pitches your instrument can play and give you some extra options on your voice leadings.
For genres such as metal where lower is better, dropping the lowest string by a tone might add a lot of heaviness to their playing.
6. Playing with a slide!
Open tunings are great for playing with a slide since you will be transposing the open chords along the neck.
7. Differentiate from other players
It’s just natural that due to most players using standard tunings, using an alternate tuning is a great way of standing out among them.
Playing things in a slightly different way will surely grab some attention towards your playing.
Be sure to do it purposefully, though, and not just complicate your playing for the sake of being noted.
Hello there, my name is Ramiro and I’ve been playing guitar for almost 20 years. I’m obsessed with everything gear-related and I thought it might be worth sharing it. From guitars, pedals, amps, and synths to studio gear and production tips, I hope you find what I post here useful, and I’ll try my best to keep it entertaining also.