Troponin C (TnC) is the calcium-binding subunit of the troponin complex responsible for initiating striated muscle contraction in response to calcium influx. In the skeletal TnC isoform, calcium binding induces a structural change in the regulatory N-domain of TnC that involves a transition from a closed to open structural state and accompanying exposure of a large hydrophobic patch for troponin I (TnI) to subsequently bind. However, little is understood about how calcium primes the N-domain of the cardiac isoform (cTnC) for interaction with the TnI subunit as the open conformation of the regulatory domain of cTnC has been observed only in the presence of bound TnI. Here we use paramagnetic relaxation enhancement (PRE) to characterize the closed to open transition of isolated cTnC in solution, a process that cannot be observed by traditional nuclear magnetic resonance methods. Our PRE data from four spin-labeled monocysteine constructs of isolated cTnC reveal that calcium binding triggers movement of the N-domain helices toward an open state. Fitting of the PRE data to a closed to open transition model reveals the presence of a small population of cTnC molecules in the absence of calcium that possess an open conformation, the level of which increases substantially upon Ca2+ binding. These data support a model in which calcium binding creates a dynamic equilibrium between the closed and open structural states to prime cTnC for interaction with its target peptide. We also used PRE data to assess the structural effects of a familial hypertrophic cardiomyopathy point mutation located within the N-domain of cTnC (A8V). The PRE data show that the Ca2+ switch mechanism is perturbed by the A8V mutation, resulting in a more open N-domain conformation in both the apo and holo states.