Ultimate Lessons: DADGAD. Part I

author: jasonmetal love date: 01/08/2009 category: music styles
rating: 8.2 / votes: 25 

Introduction

Hello and welcome to Part I of my lesson on DADGAD. Before we start, I think it's only fair that I tell you a little bit about myself and what I plan to accomplish with these lessons. First off, my name is Jason and I've been playing the guitar for a little over seven years now. In that time I've been an instructor at a music academy, played in several bands, recorded an album, and most recently, been accepted into the Herberger College of the Arts at the Arizona State University where I will be pursuing a degree in music. I'm writing these lessons so I can educate the average guitarist on the wonder that is DADGAD. Obviously some of you are probably advanced players and may have already had a lesson or two in this subject. If that describes you, then you may want to advance to a different part in the lesson so I don't bore you. So, without further adieu, I'll go ahead and begin.

What Is DADGAD?

Good question. DADGAD is simply an alternate tuning with celtic origins that shares qualities with the D modal scales. Now that I said it however, it doesn't sound so simple. The letters D A D G A D stand for notes that the open guitar strings will be tuned to. If you're familiar with the notes of the open strings in standard tuning, you will know that they spell EADGBE. If we compare that to our alternate tuning, we can see that the notes A D and G are still prevalent. This makes things a little easier when tuning from standard to DADGAD because now, we only have to deal with three strings rather than six. We will get into the basics of tuning however in the next section. Right now, I want to go over a little history of the tuning. Like most innovative ideas, there is usually more than one person or culture that claims ownership. For the most part though, we can safely say that DADGAD was brought to the americas by Irish immigrants sometime in the late 19th or early 20th century. Since then it has been used widely in genres of music that I'm sure its potato loving ancestors would never have dreamed of. Bands such as Led Zeppelin and Creed have dabbled in the use of DADGAD. Since I have some Irish blood in me, this concept of guitar is a lot more personal and I can have more respect and understanding for it. Alright, that wraps up my little history lesson. Let's now move onto the basics where I will explain some key fundamentals that will allow you to play in DADGAD.

The Basics

In the previous section above, I started to explain a little bit about how the tuning of DADGAD works. The letters D A D G A D stand for notes that the open guitar strings will be tuned to. If you're familiar with the notes of the open strings in standard tuning, you will know that they spell EADGBE. If we compare that to our alternate tuning, we can see that the notes A, D and G are still prevalent. This makes things a little easier when tuning from standard to DADGAD because now, we only have to deal with three strings rather than six. Now we are faced with the task of tuning the strings E, B and E to D, A and D. When I refer to DADGAD, I am spelling out the six strings from what you know as the E3, Low E, 6, or Fat E string to the High E, Skinny E, or 1 string. Just like reading from left to right, we are going to start with the first note we come to; D. Assuming that you're in standard tuning right now, this string should be an E. So how do we get it to a D? If you already know how to tune to the popular "Drop D" tuning, you can go ahead and do this now and that will solve our problem. If not, there are several other methods that you can try. One would be using an electronic tuner to find the D note. Remember that you're going to be tuning the E down to a D. Don't tune up. If you don't have an electric tuner you can always use another note on your guitar to help you. Let me explain what this means. When you're in standard tuning, your open notes spell EADGBE. If we look at that series of letters, we can identify another D on our 4th string. Since we are trying to change our 6th from an E to a D, we can use the 4th string as a reference note and hit the two strings, one after the other, until you tune the 6th string to a lower octave of D. Once this is accomplished we can go ahead and move to our next string that needs to be down tuned. This is going to be our 2nd string which is a B but, we now want it to become an A. Again, let's look at our standard open notes. There's another A on our 5th string that we can use as a reference note. If you've got this far, then you're doing a great job. We only have one more string to go! Our 1st string which is an E right now needs to be tuned to a D. Our 6th and 1st strings are exactly the same note wise in standard tuning. This is the same in DADGAD, except instead of E's, they are D's. So, we can use the same way of tuning the low 6th string with the tuning of the high 1st string. Take your 4th string and reference it with your 1st until you get it to a higher octave of D. You're done! If everything went well, you should get a pleasant sound when you strum your open guitar strings. If that was a little confusing, I've made a video on YouTube that explains it again. Go ahead and check it out if you're still stumped. Also remember that if this is your first time tuning to DADGAD, chances are high that your guitar will go out of tune pretty quickly. This is common so don't worry. Simply re-tune it using one of the methods described above. You can also stretch your strings out or tune to DADGAD often in order to overcome this problem. It's simply your guitar neck reacting to the change in string tension. Alright! So now that you're all tuned up you can go ahead and start to play around a bit. When you hit the open strings you should have noticed that they sound great (If something sounds off, refer to the YouTube video and make sure you're tuning correctly). This is because they're all in the same key now and they are actually making a modal based chord. Go ahead and tool around your new tuning for a while. You'll quickly notice that things you could play in standard tuning now sound completely different (and probably bad at that). Get familiar with the open sounding tone that DADGAD produces. Try playing single fretted notes mixed with open notes and see what happens. Basically, this is your chance to experiment and go wild because in the next section of this lesson, I will go over some basic chords that you can play using your new tuning.

Basic Chords

Now that three of your strings have gone down a whole step in tone, the chords that you would regularly play in standard tuning no longer sound the same. We have to compensate for our de-tuned strings by playing chords a little differently. Let's start with a D chord (after all, we're in DADGAD). Normally you would play a D chord like such: xx0232. After the change to DADGAD however, we're going to play it this way:
D Major:

d---0------------------------
a---0------------------------
g---2------------------------
d---0------------------------
a---0------------------------
d---0------------------------
Pretty easy huh? You'll find that some chords that previously utilized three fingers now only make use of one. Also note that technically most of these chords have added fifth and eleventh tones. For lack of complication though, I have called them Major or Minor to start with. In later parts of this lesson, I will get into more complicated chords. I will now give you some basic chords for you to try out.
A Major:
d---2------------------------
a---0------------------------
g---2------------------------
d---2------------------------
a---0------------------------
d---x------------------------

G Major:

d---0------------------------
a---5------------------------
g---4------------------------
d---0------------------------
a---x------------------------
d---5------------------------

C Major:

d---0------------------------
a---3------------------------
g---0------------------------
d---2------------------------
a---3------------------------
d---x------------------------

E Minor:

d---x------------------------
a---2------------------------
g---0------------------------
d---2------------------------
a---0------------------------
d---2------------------------

B Minor:

d---0------------------------
a---0------------------------
g---4------------------------
d---4------------------------
a---2------------------------
d---0------------------------
Those are just a few basic chords to get you started. Get comfortable with the new hand positions and try playing them together in a random order. You'll find that they all share the same open quality about them and that they work quite well together.

Conclusion

By now you should have learned how to properly tune your guitar and should also be in the process of messing around with your new found chords. The use of this alternate tuning is a great way for guitarists of all skill levels to advance their playing and I'm happy that you've gotten this far. Please join me in Part II of this lesson where I will cover scales, songs you can learn on your own, and advanced chords. I'll also cover some popular techniques that are commonly used with DADGAD. Until next time, keep practicing!
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