A song I'm playing with (Ordinary People by John Legend) basically has a 3-chord pattern BbMaj7, EbMaj7, FMaj7.

I can strum these as barre chords OK but not reliably finger-pick, and as I'd like a laid-back feel I would rather have more open chords anyway so notes can ring out more.

Is there a tuning that would mean Maj7 chords (I, IV, V anyway, I have a capo) suddenly come out as nice open fingerings? The only nice open Maj7 chords I know in standard tuning are A and C (which are both easy and sound great).

By all means simply suggest a tuning and the chord-shapes, but knowing how you came up with it would be extra-helpful; is there a system or is it just a case of "I need these notes, let's play around"?

  • 2
    Standard tuning has Amaj7, Dmaj7, and Emaj7. I , IV V in A major.
    – Dom
    Jan 4, 2016 at 19:23
  • 2
    Drop the high E to Eb. Mute the high E and play an open C shape but leave the B string open to get CMaj7 (you can do this in standard tuning and not mute the high E). Play an open E for EMaj7 and an open G for GMaj7. It's not I IV V but it's the first thing I came up with. Jan 4, 2016 at 19:24
  • What are the D and E versions @Dom? I know you can cheat and play a half-barre on the top 3 strings for DMaj7 but I don't want to limit it this much, a full 5/6 string open chord would be so much better (like AMaj7 which is a lovely chord)
    – Mr. Boy
    Jan 4, 2016 at 19:25
  • EMaj7 in standard is just 0 2 1 1 0 0 from lowest to highest sounding. You can make the DMaj7 a five string chord if you don't mind it inverted with A as the lowest sounding note - just mute the low E string. Jan 4, 2016 at 19:26
  • Thanks @ToddWilcox this voicing for EMaj7 (0 2 2 1 1 0 0) doesn't sound great though - I don't like it going down in pitch when you play the V. Interesting tuning tweak though, which also moves me up the fretboard when I capo
    – Mr. Boy
    Jan 4, 2016 at 19:30

1 Answer 1


I once played that song on guitar accompanying a singer and I think I used the voicings shown below (and some variations). They all have some open strings and are very easy to play, yet it's all in standard tuning. Use a capo to play it in (almost) any key you like, I don't remember the key I played it in.

Gmaj7 (no 3): 3 X 0 0 3 2
Cmaj7:        X 3 2 0 0 0
Dmaj7:        X X 0 2 2 2

Even though the first chord doesn't have a third, it still sounds good due to the specific voicing and the open strings. On guitar it's sometimes better to leave out a chord tone if the resulting chord is easy to play and sounds good (the latter being sometimes a consequence of the first).

And, by the way, this is not I-IV-V, but it is IV-bVII-I.

  • For the Gmaj7, is it index finger (1) on high E, middle finger (2) on the low E, and ring finger (3) on the B string? Jan 4, 2016 at 21:48
  • 1
    @ToddWilcox: Yes, that's the way I play it.
    – Matt L.
    Jan 4, 2016 at 21:55
  • That Gmaj7: put in a 3rd on 5th string 2nd fret. It seems pointless muting it, when it can be easily played. For simplicity, leaving the B sting open will give yet another 3rd. C maj 7 can also have bottom string played on 3rd fret, but sadly Dmaj7 is only really a 4 string chord. O.k. for finger picking as well. I would have suggested these 3 chords, and to keep in key, the OP would have to capo on fret 3. OR - use Cmaj7, Fmaj7 and Gmaj7, the F using open top string.
    – Tim
    Jan 5, 2016 at 12:12
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    @Tim: The problem is not that the third cannot be played in that position. Of course it can. It's just that the voicing I suggested sounds better (to myself and to many people I know) than the other voicings in that position with a third. Any by the way, it's way easier to mute the A string than to play the third (2nd fret, B) on it without changing anything else. The latter voicing is a pain to play and it actually doesn't sound any better (this is subjective, of course).
    – Matt L.
    Jan 5, 2016 at 12:32
  • @MattL. - got to say I prefer either of mine, but, yes, it's in the ear of the beholder! Is that a mixed metaphor?
    – Tim
    Jan 5, 2016 at 12:35

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