Episode 2 of the Bite-Size Guitar Podcast sets a challenge for you to learn to play in alternate tunings.
If you’ve never tried an alternate tuning before, this episode explains the basics of alternate tunings and why you should regularly try to play in one.
If you have had experience with alternate tunings, this episode will give you a new way of thinking about alternate tunings and how to use them to grow as a guitarist.
Listen to the podcast using the below player or search for Bite-Size Guitar Podcast in any podcast app.
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If you have a question about this episode or any other question about learning or playing guitar, ask it here and I’ll answer it in a future episode.
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Here are some helpful guides to help you get started with alternate tunings:
- Ultime Guide to Alternate Tunings: covers everything you need to know about alternate tunings and includes handy charts and PDFs
- Guide to Drop D Tuning: Drop D tuning is an easy starting point if you’ve never tried an alternate tuning before
- How to Play in Drop D Tuning: this lesson for beginners is a good way to see why alternate tunings are so useful
- Guide to Open G Tuning: Open G tuning is incredibly fun to play and a good starting point for ‘proper’ alternate tunings. This guide includes songs in Open G Tuning
- Guide to Open C Tuning: once you’ve tried Open G tuning, check out Open C for a similar, but different feeling tuning. Includes songs to learn in Open C Tuning
Podcast Episode 2 Transcript
Hi, I’m Aaron from guitargearfinder.com and this is episode 2 of the Bite-Size Guitar Podcast.
In the last episode, I talked about plateaus and how to get out of a rut. An important way to prevent getting stuck in a rut is to continuously challenge yourself with new things.
In this episode, I’ll give you a challenge using alternate tunings. If you’ve never tried to play with an alternate tuning before, this might seem daunting, but I have a lot of resources to help you out on the page for this episode at guitargearfinder.com/podcast (the page you’re on right now).
If you have used alternate tunings before, you might get some new ideas on how you can use them to try new things and mix up your routine.
You’ll learn three things in this episode:
- The basics of alternate tunings and what they can do for you
- Why you should experiment with alternate tunings
- How to get started with an alternate tuning
Let’s get started.
Alternate Tuning Basics
For any beginners listening, an alternate tuning is when you change the tuning of your guitar to something different than standard. Normally, guitar strings are tuned to E A D G B E from thickest to thinnest.
Alternate tuning changes this.
The most common alternate tuning is called Drop D and is used in a lot of songs. Drop D lowers the low E string down to D and keeps all of the other strings the same.
If you’re a beginner and have never looked at alternate tunings before, I recommend starting with Drop D. It only changes the tuning on one string, so it’s an easy tuning to learn. Check out my guide to Drop D tuning on my website to get started.
If you have spent time with Drop D, the next step is to experiment with an alternate tuning that changes the tuning on most or all of the strings.
A good example of this is open tuning such as Open D, Open G, or Open C. In these tunings, the open strings are tuned in a way that they play a chord when you strum them.
One of the reasons open tunings can be a lot of fun is that you can play full chords with one finger. These tunings also work really well with guitar slides and you can easily come up with some great sounding parts.
Why Use Alternate Tunings
There are a number of reasons why I recommend experimenting with alternate tunings, but there’s one reason that stands out.
Alternate tunings force you to rethink the way you play guitar.
Imagine a guitarist who has never ventured outside of standard tuning. He knows a stack of songs, can easily improvise in any key, and has his technique down pat.
But if you give him a guitar tuned to open C, he’s going to suddenly feel lost. None of the licks and songs he used to know are playable in this new tuning and he has no idea what to play.
That sounds bad, right?
Well, something interesting happens when you’re faced with a challenge like this. Some people will immediately throw their hands up in frustration and go straight back to standard tuning. But the guitarists who play around and experiment quickly learn to feel their way around the fretboard.
They might notice that strumming all of the open strings sounds good. Then they figure out they can play good sounding chords with one finger across all of the strings. Then they might figure out how to play some basic riffs in this weird tuning.
Eventually, they start coming up with new ideas that sound completely different from anything they’ve played before.
The big reason I recommend experimenting with alternate tunings is that they can open your mind to new ways of thinking about what you play. You can’t rely on memorized licks or patterns, because they don’t work in different tunings. Instead, you have to try something new.
Learning how to play in an alternate tuning from scratch forces you to be creative.
Whenever one of my students feels stuck or says that they don’t feel creative, I’d give them a guitar tuned in something weird they’ve never tried before without telling them what the tuning was.
In every case, the students would go through the same stages. First, confusion. They would give me a look as if I handed them a guitar without any strings.
Then, they would start fiddling around and try to figure out the tuning. They would try to figure out how to play riffs or licks they already know in this new tuning. Then, they would start to feel comfortable and would be able to come up with new ideas.
Now here’s the important point, when they would go back to their guitar in standard tuning, they would bring with them a new feeling of inspiration or creativity.
They would try to relearn those new ideas back in standard tuning or come up with similar-sounding ideas.
In other words, by struggling through learning to play a different tuning, they became slightly better guitarists.
This is why I recommend mixing things up every now and again with an alternate tuning.
It gives you a way of resetting your routine and relearning guitar in a different way. Then when you go back to standard tuning, you’ll go back with a new perspective on your playing.
Intermediate and advanced guitarists who have spent a lot of time playing around with different tunings will know what I’m talking about, but if you haven’t spent much time with this, it can be hard to understand.
Alternate Tuning Challenge
The challenge I have for you is to spend at least a few days trying to figure out how to play guitar in an alternate tuning.
If you have more than one guitar, set one guitar to an alternate tuning so you can go back and forth between tunings. If you only have one guitar, challenge yourself to put it in an alternate tuning and stick with it for at least a few days.
At first, it will feel awkward or even impossible to play, but if you noodle around and get used to it, you’ll start to figure it out. Then you can look at how to play songs written in that tuning or you can try to come up with your own ideas.
In the dedicated page for this episode, I’ve included a list of useful guides for a few popular alternate tunings. They include fretboard diagrams, chord diagrams, and a list of songs for each tuning.
I suggest starting out without looking up any diagrams for the new tuning and just trying to figure it out on your own. Then once you have spent some time experimenting with it, use the diagrams and songs to try new things in that tuning.
What to Play in Alternate Tunings
Once you put your guitar in an alternate tuning, what should you do?
Here are some basic starting points to try out.
First, try to figure out some basic chord shapes. Randomly place your fingers down on the first few frets and figure out what fretted notes work well with the open strings and what doesn’t work. Once you have figured out a few basic chord shapes that sound good to you, try coming up with a progression.
Another thing you can do is to try and come up with some licks and riffs. Start by randomly playing notes and work out by ear what sounds good and what doesn’t. Avoid the temptation to look at the fretboard diagram and just play by feel.
If you do this, you’ll start to notice patterns that work. Don’t expect anything amazing on your first attempt, just see what works.
The last thing I’ll suggest is to try and figure out how to play riffs and licks from other songs in this new tuning. Some parts won’t be possible, while others will only need slight adjustments to play.
Experimenting like this does wonders for your listening skills. It might feel difficult at first, but if you stick to it, you might be surprised by how much you can figure out by ear.
Whether you’re a beginner, intermediate, or advanced guitarist, I recommend giving this challenge a try. Put your guitar in a tuning you’ve never used before and figure out how to use it.
Every month, experiment with a different tuning and you might discover a tuning that you love playing in.
Good luck with the challenge and I’ll talk to you next time.