We all know Dolly Parton. Singer, songwriter, performer, actress and brilliant business woman.
Always dressed to the nines, not a hair out of place, perfect make up and lipstick – and painted finger nails….long painted finger nails!
Have you ever watched Dolly play guitar? If so, have you wondered how she can sit down with a guitar and play it without those long, claw-like finger nails getting in the way?
Sure, it’s possible to play guitar with long finger nails, classical guitarists do it all the time. But with Dolly, we’re talking about daggers, nails that can do some real damage!
For her it’s simple. She plays with one finger.
Sounds impossible to those of us who struggle to contort our fingers into all shapes imaginable to form complex guitar chords, but for her it’s easy.
She does it by tuning her guitar to an open chord. Quite often hers is tuned to an open E chord.
By tuning the guitar to an open chord she can strum it without any fingers on it, and be playing a full chord – in this case, an E.
Then by placing one finger across any fret and barring those notes, she is playing another full chord.
Let’s look first at how to tune your guitar to an open E tuning.
6th string (E) – leave it as it is normally
5th string (A) – tune this string up to a B. Do this by playing the note on the 7th fret of the 6th string, and tuning up the 5th string to match it
4th string (D) – tune this string up to an E. Do this by playing either the 6th string, or 1st string, and tuning the 4th string to match it. In this case the 4th string will now become an “octave” of the 1st or 6th string.
3rd string (G) – tune this string up to a G#. Do this by playing the note on the 4th fret of the 4th string (after this one has already been tuned higher), and matching the 3rd string to it
2nd string (B) – leave it as it is normally
1st string (E) – leave it as it is normally
Now strum all 6 strings of the guitar. You are now playing an open E chord!
Want to play an A chord in this tuning? Just lay your 1st finger across all the strings on the 5th fret and strum.
Want to play a G chord? Simply barre the strings across the 3rd fret.
If you know the notes on the 6th string, then the note on the 6th string at the fret where your finger is making the barre is the root note for the chord you are playing.
One word of caution. When tuning strings up to a higher pitch, you are adding more tension to them and they can sometimes break if you go too high. Always turn your head away from the guitar when tuning up higher than normal, to prevent a snapping string from striking your face or eyes.
When in this tuning, have a little fun and play around with forming chords and discovering new ones.
Here’s a hint. In this open E tuning, form an open E chord just like you would in standard tuning and play it. Then lift your fingers off and strum the open strings. Do this back and forth a few times, starting with the open strings chord, then going to the E “shape” chord.
Can you recognize the opening chords for the intro to “She Talks To Angels” by the Black Crowes?
Open E tuning is also used quite a bit for slide guitar as well as Dobro.
I have said before that there are times for all of us that our playing gets a little stale. We feel as though we are not playing anything new, like we’re stuck in a rut.
It’s times like these when it can be good for the psyche to shake things up a bit, to do something different and off the cuff.
Next time you feel that way, try switching to an open E tuning and let your creative juices flow!