How to Play Chords in an Open C Guitar Tuning

Written by anthony king
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How to Play Chords in an Open C Guitar Tuning
Open C tuning can create unique guitar sounds. (guitar image by cherie from

On a guitar, the "tuning" refers to what note each string is at its starting position, without fretting any of the strings. Guitar tuning is written left to right, moving from the thickest string to the thinnest string. Standard tuning for a guitar is EADGBe. Open C tuning changes the tuning on all but two of the strings so that its starting position is CGCGCe. Many famous bands and musicians have chosen to use this type of tuning for some of their songs. Open C tuning can be heard in Ben Harper's song, "Breakin' Down," and in Bad Company's song, "Can't Get Enough." Open C tuning is particularly useful for slide guitarists, and can really open up the neck musically if it is used correctly.

Skill level:


  1. 1

    Tune your guitar strings to CGCGCe in order to achieve open C tuning. From a standard tuned guitar, loosen the sixth string by turning its tuning peg one full turn. Loosen the fifth string one half turn to change it to a G. Loosen the fourth string one half turn to make it a C. Leave the third string in its normal tuning as it is a G in both standard tuning as well as open C. Tighten the second string one quarter turn to change it from a B to a C. Finally, the first string will also remain in its standard tuning.

  2. 2

    Play the major chords by simply barring all the strings of above a fret and moving that positioning up or down to change chords. The reason slide guitarists use open C tuning so much is because of this principle; they can change between chords very easily without lifting their slide bar off of the guitar. You need to understand the guitar principle of "intervals" (the distance between each note) in order to know the chords that are represented by each barred fret. Since the guitar is in open C tuning, the C major chord is played by strings all the strings open (unfretted). From there, each major barre chord is two frets away, meaning the D major chord played by barring above the second fret and the e-major barre chord would be played by barring above the fourth fret. The only times this rule changes is when moving from B to C, and E to F. Instead of moving two frets, the distance between these notes are only one fret away. So, knowing that the barred fourth fret is a E major chord, moving up one fret would make the barred fifth fret an F major chord.

  3. 3

    Use the guitar concept of "intervals" that you learnt in step 2 to play any open chord on the neck in "suspended harmony." Suspended harmony is the principle that if you are playing an open chord, you can slide that same shape up or down to a different root note to change the chord. For example, if you were playing an a-minor chord in open C tuning, you would have your fingers on the sixth string and third string of the ninth fret. So if you think about the intervals you learnt in step 2, a B note is two frets away from the A note, so sliding this A minor shape up two frets will change it to a type of B chord. This same principle can be used up or down the neck as long as you adhere to the distances between each of the notes.

Tips and warnings

  • When tuning your guitar in open C tuning, go very slow on the second string. When tightening a string higher than standard tuning, the chance of strings breaking increases dramatically. Although going from a B to a C is not a drastic change, it is still important to always be aware and have extra strings available, particularly if you are using this tuning at a show.

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