Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Return from Fingal

Excellent tune from guitarist Pierre Bensusan

DADGAD tutorial 1

Pierre Bensusan

Pierre Bensusan (born October 30, 1957) is a French-Algerian guitarist. His family came from Spain, Spanish Morocco and French Algeria. His CDs include Pres de Paris (1975), 2 (1977), Solilai (1982), Intuite (2000), An Evening With International Guitar Night (2004), and Altiplanos (2005). The genre of his acoustic guitar music is often characterized as Celtic, Folk, World music, New Age, or Chamber jazz.

Born in 1957 in Oran, French Algeria, he moved to Paris with his family when he was four years old. He took up the piano at the age of seven and, at the age of eleven, began to teach himself guitar. He signed the contract for his first album, Près de Paris, when he was just seventeen; it was released one year later, winning him the Grand Prix du Disque at the Montreux Festival. His many influences include Django Reinhardt, Martin Carthy, Nic Jones, Ry Cooder, Big Bill Broonzy, Reverend Gary Davis, Mississippi John Hurt, Doc Watson, Jimi Hendrix, John McLaughlin, Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, Ralph Towner, Wes Montgomery, Pat Metheny and Paco de Lucía.

Pierre Bensusan has a reputation as something of an innovator in the field of solo acoustic guitar, including his use of the DADGAD tuning system, and his experimentation with electronics such as delays, distortions and volume pedals, which have been largely abandoned on recent tours. Stylistically, his playing exhibits remarkable dynamics and tone control, usually to be found only in the playing of high-profile classical guitarists. The sophisticated, highly syncopated bass lines incorporated into his counterpoint arrangements also set him apart from the main host of contemporary fingerstyle players.

His unique style of scat-singing more than makes up in warmth, inventiveness and charm what it lacks in technical ability and he has continued to work this semi-improvised style into his compositions, both pre-composed and improvised. He has collaborated extensively with saxophonist Didier Malherbe, but today his tours are largely solo. He also performed the song "ELM" for the Cowboy Bebop soundtrack Cowboy Bebop No Disc for Yoko Kanno.

In 2001 he released Intuite, his first new studio recording in eight years and his first totally acoustic one. It won him critical acclaim and was followed up with Altiplanos in 2005 (see below for full discography). He continues to write and tour, playing occasional gigs with French wind maestro Didier Malherbe, as well as holding guitar workshops and writing guitar books. Often referred to as the "Mozart of Guitar," Bensusan is considered a virtuoso player by other virtuosos, including Michael Hedges, who wrote a piece for Bensusan. After Hedges' death, Bensusan wrote and recorded the song "So Long Michael" in tribute to Hedges' own masterful work as a virtuoso player.

Pierre Bensusan - Introducing DADGAD

A video from guitarist Pierre Bensusan

DADGAD tuning

DADGAD, D modal tuning or Celtic tuning is an alternate guitar tuning most associated with Celtic music, though it has also found use in rock and other genres. Instead of the standard EADGBE tuning, the six guitar strings are tuned, from low to high, DADGAD. When tuning to DADGAD from standard tuning, this is accomplished by tuning the first and sixth strings down a whole tone (two steps) from E to D, as well as the second string from B to A.

DADGAD was popularised by British folk guitarist Davey Graham. Graham employed the tuning to great effect in his treatments of celtic music, but also the folk music of India and Morocco. The first guitarists in Irish traditional music to use the tuning were Mícheál Ó Domhnaill and Dáithí Sproule; today it is a very common tuning in the genre. Other proponents of the tuning include Russian Circles, Stan Rogers, Jimmy Page, Artie Traum, Pierre Bensusan, Eric Roche, Laurence Juber, Tony McManus, Bert Jansch, Richard Thompson, Dick Gaughan, Soig Siberil, Gilles Le Bigot, Imaad Wasif, Jeff Tweedy, Paul McSherry, Ben Chasny and Trey Anastasio.

The suitability of DADGAD to Celtic music stems from the fact that it facilitates the use of a number of moveable chords which retain open strings. These act as a drone on either the bass or treble strings, approximating the voicings used in traditional Scottish and Irish pipe music.

The DADGAD tuning was used extensively by Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin and The Yardbirds in the late '60s and '70s. While with The Yardbirds, Page recorded an instrumental entitled White Summer, itself heavily derived from the first recorded DADGAD tune, Davey Graham's arrangement of the traditional Irish tune 'She Moved Through the Fair'. On Led Zeppelin's eponymous first album, Led Zeppelin, he used this guitar tuning to perform "Black Mountain Side", though he detuned the entire guitar by one-half a step for the recording, so it was really Db-Ab-Db-Gb-Ab-Db (where the 'b' denotes a flattened note)--the piece which was strongly influenced by Bert Jansch's earlier arrangement of a traditional Irish song called "Blackwater Side" (though Jansch actually used a simpler 'drop D' tuning). Page later revisited the DADGAD tuning for the song "Kashmir", which appeared on the band's sixth album Physical Graffiti.

DADGAD Backing Patterns

Chord patterns for backing in DADGAD, from Michael Eskin's excellent website

Click here to download the .PDF chord charts with the patterns.

The patterns are written out relative to the position of the capo on the fretboard.
The numbers in the small circles represent the finger to use to fret the note.


A selection of DADGAD chord shapes.