Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Cigar Box Guitar: Open G Tuning for 3 String CBG

I am starting a new series of posts where I share information about Cigar Box Guitar (CBG) playing. Be that tunings, scale diagrams, classic riffs I pickup, or other such information that may help you learn to play CBG as well.

I know I pick up a lot of information from YouTube videos but I also like to have some of the information I use for practice written down so I can refer to it as I am learning a new tuning, scale, or riff.  I plan to post these on a regular basis (aiming for one a week at the moment) as I work on learning to play the CBG.

Based on the information in this post I experimented with the G Blues Scale on the 2nd and 3rd frets of my Open G tuned CBG and came up with this little riff:

Ok, let's get to it. This week, I will cover the Open G tuning for a 3-string CBG, using the tuning G D G' (from lowest to highest pitch).

So, what is an Open tuning? Well, they are neat in that when you strum all the strings you are playing a chord. In the case of Open G you are playing a G chord.

Now why is this useful? For a slide guitar player this means that you can easily play chords as a barre chord across all the strings. Meaning, you can play chords without having to finger the strings.

Now, to make things more interesting you will want to do some fingering of the strings but in the case of the fret diagram below, you can make reference to the top string (highest pitch) G'. If you strum all 3 strings open, that is no slide or fingers on any strings, you are playing a G.

Fretboard layout for Open G tuning (G D G')
Next put a slide on or make a barre chord across the 3 strings at the 2nd fret. Play that and you just played an A chord. And so on like so:
  • 4th fret = B chord
  • 5th fret = C chord
  • 7th fret = D chord
  • 9th fret = E chord
  • 10th fret = F chord
  • 12th fret = G chord (back to the G chord and we repeat).
So, for a slide player, open tunings are an easy way to play chords without needing to finger complex chord shapes. As a CBG player, I plan to play mostly open tunings since I like to use a slide.

A note on my diagrams:

G Major Scale
Let's start with the G Major Scale on the 3 string Open G tuning. This will be useful later for our G Blues Scale. So let's have a look at it on it's own.

Ok, well that is what the scale looks like but what does it sound like? Here I am doing a run up the notes on the high G' string (the one on the top in the diagram) on my CBG.

G Minor Pentatonic Scale
Next, as we build on our scales and work towards a Blues Scale we will look at the G Minor Pentatonic Scale. This scale is built on by the Blues Scale so you can get into improvisation which is close to a blues scale with just this scale.

Again, what does this sound like? More Blues to me than the Major that is for sure. The Minor scale is also described as sounding sad.

G Blues Scale
A blues scale is a little harder to nail down. The "Blues Scale" is actually several different scales depending on the style of music you are playing and personal preference. So I am going to pick one and show that.

I am using the Minor Pentatonic Scale with the addition of 2 Blues Notes and the additional notes from the Major Scale highlighted in grey (more about those in a moment).

And lastly, our Blues scale we are working with. Again on the top G' string above. Now this one is a little weirder due to the extra blues note and the grey Major Scale notes. More about that after the "scale" since it is less a scale as it is a palette of notes to work with. To hear the number of notes used on the single string, I went faster on the descending scale so you can hear the almost continuous half tones used in blues. There are few notes that are not used in the Blues as you can see above.

A thing to note about the Blues Scale is that it is alright to experiment and add in Major Scale notes as well. Depending on the the given key you are playing in, the addition of some major notes will work, but others may not. Hence, to open your options you can try adding in major scale notes as well. If it sounds good then it is good. Else, don't use the additional notes.

Try the three scales on an CBG tuned to Open G. You should hear the brightness of the Major Scale, the sadness of the Minor Pentatonic, and the blues sound in the Blues Scale. Admittedly you'll want to limit your Blues Scale playing to less notes but you have more to work with here.

Happy experimenting with scales on your CBG.

Note: I am not a music theory expert. I am putting this together for my own learning and as such I thought I would share. If you see a mistake then by all means contact me and let me know.


CharlyVueltas said...

Hi Mark, I´m from Argentina, and try to learn open tunning sclaes for Lap Steel (I have built me one...).
This page helps me a lot.
I´m very very grateful

Very clearly explained.

Thank a lot, really
Carlos Pardo///Mar del Plata, Argentina

CharlyVueltas said...

Hi Mark, I´m from Argentina, and try to learn open tunning scales for Lap Steel (I have built me one...).
This page helps me a lot.
I´m very very grateful

Very clearly explained.

Thank a lot, really
Carlos Pardo///Mar del Plata, Argentina

Anonymous said...

Wow, I've been looking for a layman's explanation like this for a long time. Like you, I am not a music theory expert. Thanks