Selecting a guitar tuning can be a very powerful thing if you are trying to simplify some chord shapes and chord transitions, for sure!
But choosing a guitar tuning can also be a great tool to explore and add new alternative sonorities and chord textures out of your guitar. Now, the very cool thing is that sometimes chords that sound very interesting and rich, they can be very easy to play as well! Let’s have a look at the easiest guitar tunings to play guitar and explore what they can give you.
1 – Let’s Identify the Most Common Possibilities of Tuning
Standard tuning (EADGBE)
The standard tuning is by far one of the most used tunings for guitar, it’s also one of the easiest considering that all interval relationships between the strings were purposely selected to make both chords and scales easy to play.
Starting from the low E string, all the other strings go by fourths, with the exception of the 2nd string (B string) that is in a major third in relation with the 3rd string (G string). This was intended and did not happen by accident; this way forms of chords and scales fit well with the ergonomic of our hand.
It’s also one of the easiest ones because most of the learning material that you can get anywhere will use the standard tuning as default tuning. So, this one will be kind of your “home” tuning when it comes to learning scales, chords and other stuff too.
The fact that 90% of the music for guitar uses this tunning make it a plus.
If you stretch you left hand, you will see that you can cover up to 2 whole steps at the most on just one string, but comfortably… Just a minor third interval. Specially on the first frets of the guitar. With the standard tunning, once a note is too far to reach on one string, you will most likely find it in the next string. This is a great benefit to play anything.
Open G Tuning (DGDGBD)
In this tuning 3 of the middle strings remain in their notes in comparison to the standard tuning, while all the other 3 strings go down a whole step.
It’s named a G tunning because if you were to play all the open strings simultaneously, you form a G major chord (G the root, B the major third, D the fifth).
Something to consider in this tuning is that the D (fifth) is duplicated twice. So you got 3 strings with the same note. This is a lot of the same note, depending on what you play or what you need is if this fact will be beneficial or not.
Interesting fact about this tuning is that you have 3 octaves of the same note (D), this makes the chord very open and full in sonority without making you think a lot on what notes you are playing.
If you like or think it’s easy to play with bar chords, the open G tuning will allow you to play any major chord with just 1 finger (bar on all the 6 strings)
Most of the times it’s better to play the root note as the bass note of the chord, this tuning has the 5th of the chord as the lower note in the “all open disposition”. Again, depending on your intentions can be both a pro or a con.
If for any reason you want to play a passage that has “not thirds” so that the chords will be neither major or minor, this tuning is a great choice, you can just omit to play the first 2 strings and voila!
If you like playing with slide, this one is a great tuning for it!
Open E Tuning (EBEG#BE)
This is another alternative tuning that forms a major chord when playing all the strings at a time, in this case E major (E is the root, G# the major third, B the fifth)
It’s different from the open G tuning because the disposition of the notes and interval relationships are distributed differently.
It’s another tunning that you can play a full chord with just one finger, or no fingers at all! Great isn’t it?
The Lower string is an E, (the Root) because of this the chords you create with just one finger will be more stable and defined. (just a principle of physics and acoustics)
Another great tuning to play with Slide or play Blues.
Having the E in 3 different octaves brings endless possibilities of playing stuff, chord progressions or riffs with “common tones” or “pedal notes” in a very efficient and easy way.
Drop D Tuning (DADGBE)
This tuning only changes 1 string from its standard tuning, just take down the low E string to a D and you will have the Drop D tuning.
Here we cannot say that playing all strings at once create a good sounding and defined chord, remember this!
Everything you play that involves the lowest string will require a process of adaptation to the drop D tuning, so all the chord shapes and scale forms you might already know with standard tuning will need to adapt.
This tuning is mostly used to create more depth on the low end of the guitar. The lower string will sound very full and deep.
In many occasions this tuning is used to invert the interval relationship of the “power chord”, you already know that power chords (perfect 5ths) sound great on the guitar, so by inverting it to perfect fourths you are somehow playing the same two notes but with a different sonority. (instead of A root, E fifth; E fifth, A root, low to high)
These inverted power chords sound great with distortion, so a lot of Rock and Heavy Metal bands like to use this particular tuning. Sounds great!
Since just one string changes its note, it’s relatively easy to adapt the scales that you like playing in.
Playing live it’s also not very hard to go from your standard tuning to drop Dtuning, so the time needed in between songs for transitions make it possible and easy with just one guitar.
Double Drop D (DADGBD)
You can guess why it’s called double drop D right? it’s basically a drop D tunning with the 1string lowered to D as well.
Some similarities apply with the other tunings described above. The selection of this particular tuning will be highly determined by the particular song or effect that you want to create with the open strings.
Sometimes this tuning works best to its more predominant key, like D major for example if you are not playing with capo.
The lower 3 strings form a power chord with the root duplicated, so it’s great to play power chord passages really easy by just using 1 finger.
The strings 1,2 and 3 create a perfect major triad (GBD / Root, 3rd and 5th) so this makes it really easy to play chords in high registers. You can play a complete major chord with just one finger and adapt it to suit a minor chord if needed by lowering the 3rd one fret.
It can be a great tuning to play chord voicings in the upper octaves, you can create really great funky stuff!
DADGAD Tuning (DADGAD)
Think of this tuning as an alternative to a particular need, out of the alternative tunings this one is can suit you well to fulfill a very specific idea that you may have, or maybe you can use it to explore new sounds that are not that ordinary.
If you are already familiar with chord extensions and adding color to the chords or harmonies in your songs, this DADGAD tunning will pave the road for you to use 9ths, 11ths and other notes in a very easy way. Example, if you look at the first 3 strings, they form a G with an added 9th or suspended 2nd. So you have a chord that is neither major or minor with an added color! I highly recommend exploring these ideas, they sound great and they are super easy to play!
Open D Tuning (DADF#AD)
Here all the strings were modified in tuning just so they spell a D major chord. It’s another super easy tuning to play in.
The fact that the first 3 strings (F#AD) form a major triad in the first inversion, with the 3rd in the bottom, makes it not only easy to play major triads, but also minor triads really easy, all you need to do is lower the finger on the third string one half step down (one fret). Super easy chord shape as well!
Even if you are playing chords that are not D, sometimes it’s nice to add the color of the D note to other chords within the same key (D in this case), it just feels good! – so as this Open D tuning has 3 different D as open strings, it will allow you to incorporate them very easy in other chords too, like G, A, B minor, etc. This will create very interesting dissonances!
2 – One of the Principles of Guitar Tuning
The reality is that one particular tuning can be great and make things super easy for some task, but make other things harder than other tunings you can choose. And this will be determined only by what you need to play, and what you need to achieve sonically. So, everything falls into a relative category!
So, What YOU play and How you want it will determine a very good portion of your tuning selection.
When determining a guitar tuning, ask yourself about the key, the open strings that you need, how much of open strings you want and what could be the best interval relationships between the strings for your song.
3 – Benefits and downsides of the Easiest Guitar Tunings
- Tunings that prioritize 1 finger chords or “very easy” to play transitions will have more limitations to play other things…
- Playing chords with open strings sound fuller and richer, with more depth, so tunings that allow you to have many open strings will sound very wide, strong and warm.
- Great sound textures can be achieved by playing a combination of open strings and fretted notes.
- Tunings that drop the lower strings will sound with a lot of depth.
- Lowering by half a step, or even a whole step any string will make an impact on its tension, making it easier to bend or even to play sometimes.
- Alternate tunings can make some chords incredibly easy to play in the left hand.
- Alternative tunings may have limitations when it comes to play scales the easiest way in the guitar because of their altered interval relationships.
- Alternative tunings will provide you with fresh and interesting new sounds and textures opposite to very conventional chords shapes.
- Alternative tunings will provide you with a very easy way of playing “pedal notes” by accessing the open strings.
4 – Playing with Capo
In any tunning you select, you can take advantage of the capo to transport all the relationships and richness of what the tuning offers you to a different pitch or key.
Once you identify several chord structures that you find easy and applicable to your playing style, you can take them to other regions of the fretboard.
It’s actually a really interesting thing to see how a tuning performs using a capo away from its original open string (no capo) position. The new sound textures and sonorities created by the open strings in higher ranges are a great benefit and expressive tool.
5 – Learn Effective Chord Shapes for the Tuning you Prefer
Probably, just like you learned some of your first chords in the standard tuning, it may require some time to get used to new chord forms or where to find the right notes in a new tuning, but after that phase is passed, the outcome is of great richness in variety, sometimes, even simplification of the chord shapes too!.
I’d recommend that after exploring some of these really easy guitar tunings, you learn by heart the “mostly used” shapes for that tuning that you can apply to the songs you already know. Try to see what happens if you play the same chord progressions with the different tunings!
Check out this really cool video for some great ideas for Open G tuning
6 – Selecting String Gauges in Relation to the Tuning
Now that you know that some tunings may cause that any particular string may have a lot less tension on the guitar, think about how this affects your playing.
Some guitar players don’t like to play on strings that have very little tension, and others the opposite, in any case see what things you can do to compensate or increase even more the aspects that you like on how you “feel” the guitar.
As depending on the tuning some strings will have less or even more tension by changing its pitch, it may be an option or opportunity to increase or decrease the string gauge.
String gauges (thickness/diameter of a guitar string) change from string to string, the thicker the gauge, the more body the string will have, but just make sure that the strings you chose allow you to play comfortably and respond nicely to their tuning. The recommendation is that if you drop the tension on a string, you increase the string gauge. This may be just a very little detail but I believe it’s worth saying guys!
Example; Some people like to play in (Eb tuning) this is achieved by lowering all the strings by a half step from a Standard Tuning, (this may also be called playing in 428hz, just because your “A” note instead of being 440hz its 428hz, just a frequency thing…) anyway, the players that do this (Slash from Guns and Roses for example) increase the string gauge so the strings don’t feel that loose or with a lot lesser tension.
7 – Summary: What Is The Easiest Guitar Tuning To Play In?
With any decision you can make in terms of tuning, there will be pros and cons, there is no tuning that is best for everything or make things easier in all the different aspects.
You may be simplifying some things but making others more complicated, (you may be adding depth but limiting scale positions, etc…)
Analyze what is important to you, and what you really want to achieve by selecting a tuning.
I recommend that you learn really well the Standard Tuning, and then use the other alternative tunings mentioned above for special occasions and creative ideas.
By the way, responding the initial question, the easiest guitar tuning to play in…? depends on what you play! But I guess that any tuning that allows you to play a major chord with just one finger can be considered the winner….
As you explore tunings… have fun guys!