I think of this blog as being about acoustic guitar playing as much as it is about recording, but somehow the gadgets seem to get most of the attention. I’ve been fooling around with playing in different keys while using open G tuning and came up with a post that focuses on the playing side of things.
Home Sweet Home – Taropatch Tuning
Open G tuning is my home and has been for the last ten years or more. Before I discovered the joy of slack key guitar I thought of tunings as part of bottleneck blues, and I thought tunings meant playing in one key. But a number of Hawaiian musicians showed me that I was mistaken. Kevin Brown of Maui had a huge impact on my understanding of slack key when I saw him play the full range of chords, in whatever key was needed, always in a slack tuning. As I searched and learned I found that the only limit to playing in tunings is the player’s imagination.
Over the years I’ve explored ways to cover different keys, and I got an itch to shoot a little video demonstrating some of these techniques. I wound up with three separate videos, but they should be viewed as a set if possible. Only the first one discusses open G in detail, for instance.
Start in G, Go to C
I’m sort of aiming at folks who are already familiar with open G tuning, but let me start with a chart showing the tuning and the basic I, IV, and V chords.
Until recently Leonard’s C, the drop C variation of taropatch G tuning was my main tool for going beyond G. This clever variant goes half-way around the scale with a change to one string, dropping the low D down to an even lower C. Not an open tuning, it requires a modified standard tuning C chord shape to play the C major chord.
The open G that remains gives us a lot of great ways to play the V chord, though. The rest of our chord knowledge remains useful as well. The scale is slightly altered, with a new emphasis on the F instead of the F#. But having found E7, Am, etc. in taropatch, those same shapes now make the same chords in the key of C.
Here’s a video that lays the groundwork with G tuning, then demonstrates the details of drop C.
Start in G, Go to D
Plenty of harmonicas and accordians are tuned to a specific key but played in a different key – it’s called cross-tuning or cross-note playing. We can use the same idea to play the key of D while staying in our straight taropatch open G tuning.
This particular trick gives us a strong IV chord, G in the key of D, but the V chord, A, becomes a bit trickier. The barre at the 2nd fret works, as do the other shapes that one would use in taropatch, but these either require a barre or lack an easy bass note. This lack of an open A bass limits the kinds of runs that can be easily executed in the cross-tuning concept.
One approach to this problem is to choose a song that gives emphasis to the IV chord. Several of Dennis Kamakahi’s classics feature a lot of I to IV chordal movement, and the cross-tuning concept can really work for “Koke`e” or “Wahine `Ilikea.”
Another trick – rearrange the song. In the accompanying video on cross-tuning I sketched out an arrangement of Hula O Makee that changed a few bars of V chord to the IV chord instead.
Start in G, Go to D Again
The capo is usually the first tool I grab when I need to change key. The simple concept of clamping all the strings to a fret is hard to beat in theory, even if the practice can be tweaky at times. But there’s a way to use a capo that’s just a bit trickier.
I’ve seen articles about cut capos and partial capos for years, but I just skipped over them, because they seemed like a gimmicky way to approach the guitar. Lately I’ve had a change of heart because I’ve found the partial capo to give me a nice sounding key of D while using taropatch open G tuning.
The video illustrates this technique, capoing the higher pitched strings 1 through 5 while leaving the 6th string open. This gives the relative equivalent of drop C, one whole step higher, for a version of drop D. This gives us a way to play the key of D with a strong V chord – the five capoed strings spell out an A major chord.
The Singer Calls the Key
Back in my earlier slack key days I played solo instrumentals, occasional instrumental duets, and only very rarely played with vocalists. When I started backing up singers and trying to sing myself, things got a lot more complicated. Suddenly I had to play in any key, because the vocal range is usually very particular, and different for each singer. My sudden interest in the key of D came about when I found several songs I preferred to sing in that key.
There are other reasons to experiment with tunings and cross tunings. Different tunings might lead to different arrangements, different emotional colors. Whatever the reason, whatever the style, I hope this little exploration of the outer boundaries of open G tuning was useful.
This entry was posted on Saturday, June 16th, 2012 at 7:31 pm and is filed under Guitar, Tutorials. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.