If you want to learn the blues on your guitar, it’s a great idea to tune to open A. You can hear open A guitar tuning in some hit songs. For example, I first recognized it in Seven Nation Army’s hit The White Stripes. So, what is open A guitar tuning, and what are its variations?
What is Open Tuning on Guitar?
To understand open tuning, let’s look at standard tuning first. Your guitar’s tuning is the notes it makes when you strum the strings without holding down any frets. So, standard guitar tuning sets the strings in this sequence: E-A-D-G-B-E. Note that this is from left to right, reading from the 6th to the 1st string.
Now, with open tuning, you’re changing the strings so you can play specific chords without holding the frets. So, for open A guitar tuning, you’ll modify the strings to play an A Major chord when you strum it. To do that, you can tune your strings to make these noises instead (left to right): E-A-E-A-C#-E.
For this tutorial, we’re going to focus on how to tune open A for a six-string guitar. If you need to learn more about how to count guitar strings first, hop over to my other article for a crash course!
Try another open tuning: Open E guitar tuning
How to Tune ‘Slide’ Open A
Slide open A tuning makes your strings have an E-A-E-A-C♯-E sequence. Your high E (1st), A (5th), and low E (6th) strings will stay the same. But your D (4th), G (3rd), and B (2nd) strings will change. In order, this is how you’ll tune each one:
- Tune D (4th) to E.
- Tune G (3rd) to A.
- Tune B (2nd) to C#.
Essentially, you’re tuning your D-G-B sequence a whole step. And the direction you turn your machine head to reach these sounds will depend on your guitar.
Keep in mind that open A tuning puts a lot of strain on your strings. You may want to buy thin strings that won’t snap under pressure easily for this. Adjust your machine head slowly to avoid damage. And when in doubt, tune lower instead of higher so you don’t snap a string.
Open A Guitar Alternative
Another variation to tune open A changes your strings to (left to right): E-A-C#-E-A-E.
In this case, your low E (6th), A (5th), and high E (1st) stay the same, too. But your D (4th), G (3rd), and B (2nd) change in different ways.
In order, shift your guitar as follows:
- Tune D (4th) to C#.
- Tune G (3rd) to E.
- Tune B (2nd) to A.
I know it can be tricky to figure out if you’re tuning each string the right way. To make sure you got it, you can either listen by ear or with an electric tuner. You can even use apps that playback what each string should sound like to make sure it matches. Visit my article on how to tune your guitar if you want to know more about your options.
Here’s a bonus trick I’ve discovered while practicing open tuning. Open A tuning is the same as Open G tuning, except it’s a whole step higher. So, if you already know the latter, that might help you do the switch more easily.
Try some more alternative guitar tunings here.
Playing Major Chords on Open A Tuning
Now you know how to tune to open A. However, you might feel confused about how to play different chords. We won’t go over too many chords in detail here, but there is one tip that can help you. By using a barre on different frets, you can achieve certain chords easily.
To play the following chords on open A tuning, barre these frets:
- The 2nd fret for the B chord.
- The 3rd fret for the C chord.
- The 5th fret for the D chord.
- The 7th fret for the E chord.
- The 8th fret for the F chord.
- The 10th fret for the G chord.
And of course, video tutorials can always help you with live guidance. If you want to make playing these even easier, purchase a capo to barre the frets without your finger. Regardless, I hope this helps you learn how to tune to open A.