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Bob Brozman on Getting Into Open G

May 1, 2010

FOR A LOT OF GUITARISTS, learning to play in an open or altered tuning is one of those things that seems like a great idea, and we sure dig it when we hear other people do it, but we never get around to it. That all changes today. Because we have bottleneck master, ethnomusicologist, and man-about-town Bob Brozman to help us get our heads out of our E, A, D, G, B, Es. Fear not. This is not only a blast, but it will make you play better in standard tuning as well by the time you’re done.

“I really want guitarists to understand,” says Brozman, “that open tuning is easier than standard. That’s why it was developed. Open G, or D, G, D, G, B, D, low to high, is as close to standard as you can get and have a nice open chord. It’s also very logical. Take the G strings for example.” [Plays Ex. 1.] “Everything you play on each G is at the same fret. Same with the D strings,” he says, while playing Ex. 2. “If you just play the open, 3rd, and 5th frets on the fifth, fourth, and third strings, you get a one-chord blues.” then launches into Ex. 3, a mean, funky pattern that would be at home in a ZZ Top song. He works the bass line with a thumbpick while tagging the octave G with a fingerpick, but any form of hybrid or fingerpicking will do the trick. Watch out for the last bar: Because the line has shifted to the high G string, you need to switch to the open fifth string to keep the pedal tone going. take this concept one step further, Brozman digs into Ex. 4. “This is based on an old Skip James Delta melody. The first time through, he might play it on a single string.” Keep the melody strong on the top string while the bass octaves thump below.“Because these guys didn’t have pedals to get effects,” he continues, “they had to rely on their hands. So the second time through, he might play it in octaves.” Because of the logic of the tuning, the moves in Ex. 5 aren’t much more difficult than the ones in Ex. 4. The only slightly weird things is that the D-string octaves (first and fourth strings) are further apart than the G-string octaves (third and fifth strings). Here’s more good news though: If you hit a stray string, it won’t matter.

“In open tunings, the background of the tuning makes everything sound good, so you can stay in rhythm by strumming the open strings.” So go get some!

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