Unlocking Open Strings in Your Playing


Today’s lesson is a guest post from Joel Cornell of Joel’s Guitar Lessons, a fellow Bay Area (Oakland) teacher who specializes in rock and metal guitar. If you like this lesson, head to his website and download a free copy of his new eBook, 35 Essential Rock Guitar Lines.


I’m personally a big fan of open strings, because I think if used correctly, they can be used to make lines sound more full and vibrant. There’s also the added benefit that it’s usually easy to add in open strings, since they don’t require any extra work with your fretting hand. Better sounding + easier to play? Sounds like a win to me.

To show you the ways you can use open strings, I’m going to use a basic E, C, B, C power chord pattern, built on the A string:

Open Strings Example 1: Power Chords

Now, here are three different ways you can use open strings to liven up your rhythm parts.

Idea 1: Adding open strings to arpeggios

The first way to use open strings is to arpeggiate the power chords, and add one or more open strings to each chord. So for example, I’m going to take these same 4 chords, and add the open G string on top:

Open Strings Example 2: Adding Open Strings

Try letting all of the notes ring into each other when you play – don’t mute any notes or take your fingers off of the frets once you pick a different string. You’ll see that the riff takes on a new life, just by having the open string as a guide.

Idea 2: Adding open strings to strummed chords

Another way to use open strings is to do a normal strum of your chords, but instead of muting the strings you aren’t playing, let those strings ring open. For example, play the four chords like below, with the open G, B, and E strings ringing along with the power chords:

Open Strings Example 3: Open Strumming

Note that if you’re not careful, the melody can get lost by the power and volume of the open strings. Try experimenting with how you are strumming to see ways you can accent the melody line and quiet the open strings (for example, hit the A and D strings slightly harder than the G, B, and E, so that the melody sounds louder).

Idea 3: Adding open strings to melody lines

A final trick is to take the roots of your chords, play them on a lower string, and then play a higher open string between the notes. Here’s an example, using the open B string in between chord tones on the A string:

Open Strings Example 4: High Drone String

This trick allows you to have a melody of sorts playing in the bass, while the high open string provides color. Note that you can also switch these two – play an open string down low, and a melody up high. Here’s the same example, but using the low E string instead.

Open Strings Example 5: Low Drone String

There you have it! You now have 3 new ways you can add in open strings into your playing. It will take some experimenting to figure out how best to use these with your own riffs, so start taking what you already have, and try to see how using these 3 techniques can add (or take away) from what you already have. Good luck!