Thursday, February 19, 2009

Alternate Guitar Tunings

Sometimes I like to use alternate guitar tunings to spice up my playing and creativity. It's not hard to do, but if you've never done it before, it might seem a little confusing at first.

One of the most common alternate guitar tunings is DADGAD. To get this tuning on your guitar...

1. Tune the 6th string down one octave from the open D on the 4th string.

- To check if it's right, compare the tone on 6th string at the seventh fret (now an A) with the open 5th string. They should match.

- The strings on the 5th, 4th and 3rd string remain the same as in standard tuning.

2. Change the 2nd string to an A by matching it with the A that is played on the 3rd string, second fret.

3. Finally, move up the 2nd string until you are on the fifth fret. This tone is now a D. Play the tone and then lower the first string until they blend and sound the same.

You now have DADGAD.

Whenever I use alternate guitar tunings I don't try to figure out what chord I'm playing, or what note, etc. Instead, I simply allow myself the freedom to explore sounds and rhythms. That way, my mood can express itself without restriction! It's great fun and very intuitive.

Of course, if I'm learning something written by another composer, I need to pay attention to the tab and notation. However, I only use the notation to read the rhythm because the tones on my fretboard have moved! Believe me when I tell you that it's a real cerebral challenge to try and read the music note for note. Besides, it's really unnecessary- with the exception, perhaps, of double-checking a particular trouble spot should the need arise.

Some of my favorite artists who frequently use alternate guitar tunings include: Michael Hedges, Alex DeGrassi, Andrew York, Ed Gerhard, David Crosby and Stephen Stills, all of whom I've been privileged to see in concert. I also admire and respect John Rehbourn.

Celtic instrumentals often incorporate the use of alternate guitar tunings, but there really isn't any limit regarding the style of music you play. Alternate tunings are used for fingerstyle blues, slide guitar and more! The child prodigy in the film August Rush even uses an alternate guitar tuning!

Experiment a little with playing in DADGAD tuning. Strum the open strings and listen to the sound. Try some standard chord shapes in different places and strings. Don't worry about making mistakes. Just play and have some fun!

1 comment:

Davy Rogers said...

My website at contains many DADGAD guitar arrangments of traditional Irish tunes