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.”
Brozman 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.
To 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!