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Blues Guitar Institute

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Two Bluesy Open Tunings Explained: Step-By-Step For Beginners

Lesson ID: TB440

Playing slide guitar instantly gives you that raw and gritty blues sound.

Trouble is, the strange tunings used when playing slide can be off putting for many. I know that hesitation all too well because I avoided alternate tunings for years. I wish I learned the tunings and jumped in because alternate tunings and slide playing are a perfect match for the blues.

In this lesson, we’ll dive into two popular alternate tunings for slide guitar: Open G Spanish and Open D Vestapol.

The Basics of Open G Tuning

The biggest roadblock when playing slide in standard tuning?

Forming chord shapes with a straight piece of metal/glass/ceramic on your finger! This is where alternate tunings like Open G come in handy. The “Open” in the tuning name refers to the fact that you retune your guitar so it plays nice, big open chord when you strum all six strings. In Open G, you’ll tune each string to one of the notes of a G chord – G, B or D.

Here’s how to tune to Open G (DGDGBD) from Standard:

  1. Drop the 6th string (the thickest string) down a whole step to D from E
  2. Take the 5th string down a whole step to G from A
  3. Leave the D string as is
  4. Leave the G string as is
  5. Leave the B string as is
  6. Tune the 1st string (the thinnest string) down a whole step to D from E

With this tuning, you can play a G Major chord with minimal effort – just strum across the strings. No fretting necessary. But here’s the cool part: changing chords is as easy as placing the slide across all six strings (or just a few) at any fret.

You’ll find the 3rd, 5th, 7th and 12th frets used frequently. I call these the hot spots.

Going Bigger than Just Open G

You might have heard the term “Spanish tuning” and wondered what that tuning is. The name doesn’t refer to the key itself, but to the specific sequence of intervals in the Open G tuning.

Open G comes in different flavors but the one used in the Blues is almost always Spanish. The intervals for Spanish tuning, low to high are:

5th – Root – 5th – Root – 3rd – 5th

The term Spanish Tuning comes from a song, Spanish Fandango that used this set of intervals.

Need a crash course on the basics of intervals? Click here for the Intervals Masterclass.

This special tuning allows you to apply those same bluesy intervals to other keys. Tune up a whole step from Open G Spanish for Open A Spanish. Or save the stress on your guitar neck and capo up to the 2nd fret for Open A Spanish.

You get the same general sound, just in a different key.

Iconic Blues Licks and Riffs

With Spanish Tuning under your belt, try some classic slide licks and riffs like these:

Example 1

Example 2

Want to go further and put this open G tuning to use? Try this beginner friendly lesson from BGI where you’ll put the basics to the test in Muddy Waters’ iconic tune, Can’t Be Satisfied.

There are so many great Delta Blues songs in Open G tuning, but if you’re looking for a different sound, try Open D.

The Basics of Open D Tuning

Just like how Open G tuning produces a big open G Major chord without fretting, Open D gives us – you guessed it – a D Major chord. Open D Tuning has a deep growling sound that’s perfect for swampy licks and riffs.

Here’s how to tune to Open D (DADF#AD) from Standard Tuning:

  1. Drop the 6th string (thickest string) down a whole step to D from E.
  2. Leave the 5th string (A) as is.
  3. Leave the 4th string (D) as is.
  4. Drop the 3rd string down a half step to F# from G.
  5. Drop the 2nd string down a whole step to A from B.
  6. Drop the 1st string (thinnest string) down a whole step to D from E.

Explore “Vestapol Tuning”

Like Spanish Tuning, Vestapol Tuning refers to the specific interval pattern created by the Open D tuning, not just the key of D itself.

Vestapol Intervals: Root – 5th – Root – 3rd – 5th – Root

This means you can play out of this tuning in different keys.

For example capo at the 2nd fret while in Open D Vestapol to create an Open E chord (Vestapol Tuning in E). You could, instead, tune your strings up a whole step from Open D Vestapol. However, many players – myself included – prefer to use a capo over adding tension to the guitar neck by tuning strings above standard pitch.

Capture the Swampy Blues Vibe

Remember those hot spots I mentioned in Open G? The 3rd, 5th, 7th and 12th frets?

Well, they work just as well in Open D Vestapol.

You’ll find yourself playing many licks and riffs in these areas. Try a few from this Step-by-Step guide to Open D tuning or have a look at BGI’s tutorial on Mississippi Fred McDowell’s, You Gotta Move.

Conclusion: Unlock Your Slide Guitar Potential

Open tunings are a game-changer for anyone looking to explore the world of slide guitar.

Yes, you can play slide in standard tuning (sometimes I do) but give open tunings a shot and do it early in your journey if you can. They are a perfect match for slide playing and are the bedrock of so many standard blues songs.

By mastering Open G Spanish and Open D Vestapol, you’ll be well equipped to learn classic blues licks and riffs and even generate a few of your own.

The key is to take your time, be patient, and enjoy the learning process. So grab a slide, choose your tuning and let’s get sliding!

Play On!

When you are ready, there are two ways I can help you:

Back Porch Blues Course:  A proven system to fingerpicking the blues.  This step-by-step course guides you through building fundamental fingerpicking skills.  Plus, you’ll learn three levels of a delta blues style performance study to put your new skills into action.

Become a myBGI Member: Membership comes with access to Back Porch Blues plus over 70 step-by-step courses.  Get proven results with one of myBGI’s structured Roadmaps.

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