Using Open Strings on Guitar

I’ve been playing around with Chord Melody, I haven’t got the course (yet) but followed David’s videos on YouTube to get the principles of Bass/Choir/Melody parts, starting off with just the Bass then adding melody on some favourite songs.

My question is a more general one, how do you (or do you) use open strings?

I am not a guitar player and I am not used to/familiar with standard chord shapes, and I’m using P4 tuning. At the moment I’m just finding notes that correspond to numbers where ever I can on the fret board, but open strings just seem to mess things up. Any thoughts?

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Having come across the idea of P4 tuning[1] before I got my guitar, I’ve used it from day 1. That was less than 3 years ago, when I’d already started looking at & using IFR. I knew that simple strumming didn’t interest me so the lack of the classic ‘open’ & barr chords caused by the P4 choice didn’t bother me.

Probably as a result of all that I rarely ever use open strings. If I were playing near the nut & the open string gave me what I wanted I might consider it, but frankly I’m much more likely to be found higher up the neck.

Actually, since I took to Chapman Stick & spotted how that uses a damper to suppress open strings (very relevant when you have 10 or 12 strings & play them by tapping) I often use an equivalent damper on my guitar too[2]!

To the best of my recall by far the biggest use I’ve made of an open string was the open E for an IFR Chord Melody lesson. :slight_smile:

[1] I’m pretty sure that the first mention of it I saw or heard was an almost passing remark by David Reed (@ImproviseForReal ) that started me investigating… :wink:

[2] After tuning up, I slide a strip of the ‘fluffy’ side of a velcro fastener under the strings right next to the nut. In a way it’s cheating I suppose - I ought to work on improving my finger based damping technique - but it does an excellent job.

Thanks @DavidW, that’s good to know. I’m pretty sure David @ImproviseForReal said the same when this came up in a conversation. That’s a good idea to add a bit of muting as well.

It seems to be a lot more intuitive not to use open strings and just move around the fretboard whereever you want, and like you, I occasionally use the lowest string open as there is no alternative.

@mem - interesting post. I have been playing guitar for most of my life and never heard of P4 tuning. I had to look it up. I mostly use standard tuning, with occasional alternate tunings, like Drop D.

I am mainly a rhythm guitar player playing mostly open chords, so the open strings come into play for me. If I’m playing a G chord for instance. I’m playing a G note on the low E string, a B note on the 5th string (A string), a D note using the open D string, G note playing the open G, B note on the open B and a G note on the top string (high E string). I also sometimes do runs within my songs and will sometimes use the open strings to get the notes I want.

If you can understand standard tuning, you’ll see where the open strings come into play. This was how we tuned guitars before the days of electronic tuners. You’d tune your low E string to a piano or another guitar or other instrument. Then you’d fret the 5th fret of the low E string to play an A (A is 5 half steps after E) and play the open A string and tune it to the fretted E string. Same on the A string to tune the D string. The only exception is the B string which is tuned to the 4th fret of the G string.

Also, if you play the pentatonic scale pattern 1 starting with the open low E string, you use all open strings.

Hopefully I didn’t get too guitar-technical for you.

@DavidW What is the purpose of using the velcro right by the nut? Aren’t just dampening the strings, or does it just prevent you from playing open strings?

Well having played a little piano the standard guitar tuning never made any sense to me. I never understood why the interval between two of the strings should be different to the others. When I started with IFR I also discovered P4 tuning and it was so much easier to navigate the whole fretboard, just like the piano things were consistant. So I stuck with P4, and rarely use open strings, but often wonder if others do the same, or if they manage to incorporate open strings in their playing.

It sounds like @DavidW is like me and enjoying the consistency of P4 and not feeling he is missing out on using open strings.

I think if you have been playing guitar for a while, and are very familiar with standard tuning, then it’s probably quite different. Playing open strings is probably very natural.

@ShelleyHaiken It’s for dampening in the sense of reducing the tendency for non-played strings to ring (for any, be that resonance, incompetance or whatever).

I don’t think of it as preventing me from playing open strings as I don’t have any desire to play open strings. I don’t strum chords. If I’m playing more than one string at a time it’s chord melody fashion, i.e. with specific fingerings of those strings.

You may see some bass players using damping too? It’s more common for them to damp at the bridge. If you look carefully at Carole Kaye’s[1] instrument you’ll usually see some foam stuffed under the strings by the bridge. Some guitar ‘tappers’, e.g. Paul Bielatowicz, use something like a hair ‘scrunchy’ by the nut for a similar purpose too.

Here’s what I use (the label, a few unused ones & one that’s in use)

& how it’s positioned when in use.

[1] Carole played (& often came up with the bass lines) on hundreds of hits over many years from right back in the 60’s, e.g. she played bass on the classic Beach Boys recordings.

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@DavidW does your dampening method prevent you from playing open strings at all/completely, or does it just stop them sounding ‘too’ open, ie ringing out if you do decide to play them?

In other words, can you still play an open string (with the dampening in place) and it sounds ok if you want to?

I’d say that it rules them out @mem. A played open note would die very quickly & even if you were specifically looking for a dampened sound the interference by the damper with the string between nut & first fret subtly shortens the open string with the result that it is slightly sharpe of a ‘clean’ open string note (without affecting intonation of fretted notes on the rest of the neck).

Thanks @DavidW that makes sense. I’ll try a few experiments and see what happens/ how it sounds.

In a way that’s almost a one line summary of the IFR ethos @mem?. LOL! :smiley:

If you like what you hear & it ‘works’ for you fine. If not, at least you’ve learned that much.

Thanks @DavidW. I’ve seen lead guitarists use something like that but I never understood what it did or why. Not something I would use for the way I play but thanks for teaching me something new.