Open C Tuning

Open C Tuning : Essential Background information to get you started

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

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

Here is a simple video to help you tune your guitar

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 - You can watch it on Youtube ]

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 generate new ideas and riffs for songwriting. 

·         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

There are only six common chords in the key of C Major   C F G Am Dm and Em  -  We have learnt the first three , now lets learn the rest.

But how are these chords built - i hear you ask ?
Well to construct them we need to know where each note is on the guitar fretboard

The Diagram below shows all the notes on the fretboard when the guitar is tuned to open c  . Notice that after the 12th fret all the notes repeat.

From Muic theory we know that all chords are built using three notes

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