Open Tunings

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Folk Guitar By: Tutor no longer registered
Subject: Guitar » Folk Guitar
Last updated: 15/08/2017
Tags: acoustic guitar, dadgad, tuning

Open tunings are a great way to explore new terrain on the guitar. They're popular in folk music and have been used by the likes of Martin Carthy, Bon Iver and John Fahey. I've experimented with a number of different tunings myself, and love the blank canvas of a new tuning, the potential for self-accompaniment and the extended pitch range possibilities. Below are a few that I've played around with.

Drop D
This just means tuning the Low E a tone down to D. It's great for playing in the key of D, giving you a nice bassy lower end. It's quick and easy to do which makes it ideal for playing live (avoiding too much on-stage tuning), and because you're only detuning one string, most of your finger shapes and fretboard knowledge survives intact. Listen to my version of Dink's Song for an example of this tuning.

D-A-D-G-A-D
Probably the most well-known open tuning, DADGAD was popularised in the 1960s by folk guitarist Davey Graham, who was inspired to discover it by Moroccan oud music. The Low E, G and B strings are each tuned down a tone. Like most open tunings, there is great potential for using open strings as drones sustaining around movable chord shapes. DADGAD lends itself well to major or minor scales. As well as being common in folk music, this tuning was used by Led Zeppelin in 'Kashmir'.

A variation on this is D-A-D-F#-A-D (or Open D) – string three is now an F#, making a decidedly major tuning. Used by Bon Iver on his beautiful Stacks, as well as Joni Mitchell, John Martyn and many others. I love this variation and have used it a lot, for example on this song from my debut album, Time Machine Man.

Open G
The guitar lends itself to open G as three of the standard tuned strings already make a G chord (D, G, B). There are a few different variations of open G. The one I currently like is CGDGBE which gives you a juicy low C for moving to Chord IV.

C-G-C-G-C-D
Taking us further away from standard tuning, we get the lovely low C and also a D at the top giving us a 9th. Like DADGAD, this has the root note (C) three times and the 5th (G) twice, and can be used equally well in major or minor. I learned this tuning from the wonderful folk guitarist and songwriter Chris Wood, and highly recommend giving it a go! Also used by Nic Jones on the classic Canadee-I-O.

Make up your own!
Open tunings are a great way to broaden your palette on the guitar. Because our learned shapes and left-hand patterns don't work in the same way, open tunings encourage an exploratory, experimental approach, which can yield some surprising and original results. Pick a tuning from above and have a play around, or better still, make up your own. That's what Davey Graham did with DADGAD. Turn a few tuning pegs until they sound good with the other strings, then use your tuner to find out which tuning you've discovered!





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