Don’t fear the ‘dark art’ of alternate guitar tunings – they could revolutionise your musical approach
Alternate guitar tunings are one of those things that some players shy away from a little. Perhaps it’s a fear that you might find yourself musically, lost, and that all our your efforts to learn to play in standard EADGBE tuning might be redundant.
However, with just a little effort, alternate guitar tunings can offer an easier way of playing in certain styles, and in many cases a completely different creative direction.
Here, we take a look at three of the most popular alternate tunings, their uses and some of their most well known adopters. All you need is a guitar and a chromatic tuner.
D.A.D.G.A.D. or Modal D
One of the most popular alternate guitar tunings, DADGAD is an open tuning. This means that the open strings play a chord when strummed. As a result of this, one of the most popular applications is for slide guitar. Fingerpickers also find much to like with this tuning, as many chords can be played without difficult stretches.
These days, however, the tuning has become incredibly popular with acoustic players who employ tapping. Listen to Andy McKee’s Drifting to see what I mean. Perhaps the most famous DADGAD exponent was Jimmy Page, however. Kashmir is a great example of this.
One of the great things about this tuning is that the altered strings are only changed by two frets. Re-learning scales is not a major task, as a result.
D.A.D.G.B.E. or Drop D
You might have gathered that Drop D is similar to the above. In actual fact it is one of the most straightforward and widely used alternate guitar tunings in modern music. The bass ‘E’ string is merely tuned to a ‘D’. And that’s it.
So why would you use this tuning? In a nutshell, the bottom three strings form a ‘fifth’ interval, with an octave on the root note. Basically, holding down these three strings on the same fret forms a power chord. All except the low ‘E’ remain in standard tuning, meaning that the player has to adapt their playing style very little.
Grunge music popularised this tuning, in no small part due to the easy, one-finger power chords, but also because the lower pitch conveyed greater power. Rock, and metal also employ this tuning extensively.
D.G.D.G.B.D. or Open G
Another open tuning that has become incredibly popular within areas of modern popular music. Again, as an open tuning, it lends itself incredibly well to slide playing. In fact, it lends itself incredibly well to blues and many other styles. This in no small part down to having fifth notes on multiple open strings, allowing the player to add great variety to the ‘bass’ elements of guitar parts amongst other things.
Perhaps the most famous open G enthusiast is Keith ‘Keef’ Richards. ‘Brown Sugar’, ‘Honky Tonk Woman’, ‘Start Me Up’ and many others were played with his trademark, 5-string open-G. The tuning very closely resembles 5-string banjo tuning, and typical Dobro tuning, so this perhaps explains why it is so well suited to blues styles…
Why not dig your chromatic tuner out, and give alternate guitar tunings a go? You’ll be surprised at how inspiring they can be…
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Joe is a contributor for the Dawsons Music blog. Specialising in product reviews and crafting content to help and inspire musicians of all musical backgrounds.