#1
Hi, I'm a pretty capable guitarist and I can jam endlessly in standard tunings, but some of my favourite guitarists (Nick Drake, John Martyn etc.) are pretty big fans of using alternate tunings, and whilst it's easy enough to find out what tuning they use for a particular song and learn it, I'm completely lost as to how someone can write so many songs in so many different tunings.
I mean, surely they don't thoroughly learn all these different tunings (well I know for a fact John Martyn didn't), so I'm basically wondering how to get a handle on using and writing within multiple alternate tunings? Any tips/advice is appreciated, thank you.
#2
Check out Don Ross - he has different tuning for nearly every song.

Composing in alternate tunings is actually much easier than composing in standard most of the time - the tunings lend well to easy moveable voicings and open notes that sound great played over most of the song. In my experience, any song in an open tuning is about 100 times easier to play than it sounds.

Most of these players just tune and then dabble until they find something that sounds good. Don Ross would know the theory behind it because he's a University educated musician.
#3
they're musicians
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#6
For perfect fourths, that's the general pattern in standard E already so it's not a large adjustment. Same with major thirds (interval between G and B strings). For other intervals, it takes a little adjustment, but only a little if you're used to the instrument.

As for chords, once you figure out a few, you can transpose them anywhere.
#7
When I want to learn a new tuning I write down the first twelve notes for each string and then start building chords (Major, minor, 7th etc). Writing it down makes it a lot easier for me to see where everything is so when I go to play it on guitar I already have an idea on what I can play.
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#8
Learn intervals between strings and then it is easy because you know the shapes.
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#9
I imagine those guys could play a lot of English and Scottish folk music in altered tunings. Once you know a few chords and you can identify the main advantages of a tuning, you're pretty much good to start writing.
#10
I've written plenty of stuff in alternate tunings and I use the same method a lot of people like Don Ross, Andy Mckee and others use. First off, learn the intervals between adjacent strings (do it for all strings, but for now just focus on 6-5,5-4 etc.), then find some basic chord shapes within this tuning. From there I generally start fiddling around (I'll usually have an idea of the kind of song I want to write at this point as to keep me focused on what needs to be written, and not let the whole song become me just wanking around in an open tuning), find some cool chord voicings, a neat riff or a bassline that I can apply a melody on top of. It's good to figure out what that chord/bass progression is in theory, that way later I can apply it in different ways throughout the song. It's mainly an experience thing though, you'll get better at adapting to new tunings and being able to write more complex pieces with uncommon tunings.

Quote by reverb66
Composing in alternate tunings is actually much easier than composing in standard most of the time - the tunings lend well to easy moveable voicings and open notes that sound great played over most of the song. In my experience, any song in an open tuning is about 100 times easier to play than it sounds.


I'm inclined to disagree with that. If all you want to do is tune to an open tuning and just have your song be moving some chords up and down with lots of open strings, then yes it is easy. But writing a song where every single note and chord is finely crafted is much harder than in standard tuning, because we're so used to standard tuning, and alternate tunings are so alien to most. You have to find your own chord shapes, scale patterns and fingerings.
Pierre Bensusan said it best when he said "You have to make the tuning transparent", he plays exclusively in DADGAD, but most of the time you probably wouldn't even guess that he's in an alternate tuning, because he writes like anyone would with standard tuning. You can't let the tuning write the song, YOU have to write the song, the tuning is merely a tool for. A good example is Pino Forastiere, he writes his songs on piano first, then he comes up with the tuning and then transposes what he wrote for the guitar.

Also the difficulty thing depends on who wrote the song, listen to Masaaki Kishibe, songs like miracle mountain (in open D tuning) are actually much harder than they sound.
#11
Quote by Jimjambanx
I've written plenty of stuff in alternate tunings and I use the same method a lot of people like Don Ross, Andy Mckee and others use. First off, learn the intervals between adjacent strings (do it for all strings, but for now just focus on 6-5,5-4 etc.), then find some basic chord shapes within this tuning. From there I generally start fiddling around (I'll usually have an idea of the kind of song I want to write at this point as to keep me focused on what needs to be written, and not let the whole song become me just wanking around in an open tuning), find some cool chord voicings, a neat riff or a bassline that I can apply a melody on top of. It's good to figure out what that chord/bass progression is in theory, that way later I can apply it in different ways throughout the song. It's mainly an experience thing though, you'll get better at adapting to new tunings and being able to write more complex pieces with uncommon tunings.


I'm inclined to disagree with that. If all you want to do is tune to an open tuning and just have your song be moving some chords up and down with lots of open strings, then yes it is easy. But writing a song where every single note and chord is finely crafted is much harder than in standard tuning, because we're so used to standard tuning, and alternate tunings are so alien to most. You have to find your own chord shapes, scale patterns and fingerings.
Pierre Bensusan said it best when he said "You have to make the tuning transparent", he plays exclusively in DADGAD, but most of the time you probably wouldn't even guess that he's in an alternate tuning, because he writes like anyone would with standard tuning. You can't let the tuning write the song, YOU have to write the song, the tuning is merely a tool for. A good example is Pino Forastiere, he writes his songs on piano first, then he comes up with the tuning and then transposes what he wrote for the guitar.

Also the difficulty thing depends on who wrote the song, listen to Masaaki Kishibe, songs like miracle mountain (in open D tuning) are actually much harder than they sound.


I don't really agree with Pierre Bensusan's quote at all ( love him as a player though!) - the whole point of alternate tunings is that they provide new colour that is not achievable with a standard tuning. The point is not to make the tuning transparent so that someone doesn't hear it! Nearly all of Don Ross' composition's use the tuning to their full effect ( see Andy McKee as well). They are much easier to play than they sound because all of the complex chords you are hearing are not achieved through awkward stretched fingerings but rather achieved through the use of open notes or voicings which are unavailable on a standard tuning. There is a distinction to be drawn between a player who only uses one tuning, such as Bensusan and Don Ross types who switch constantly.

When referring to "easy" composing I'm not referring to Don Ross or Andy Mckee type instrumentals, which are intense and require a lot of work, but rather the songwriters that use the tunings. They nearly always just hammer away at a few moveable voicings. If Led Zeppellin writes a song in an open tuning - chances are it's easy to play.

The only exception to this generalization is Kurt Rosenwinkel - the Next Step album - he's inhuman for having made that - it's amazing.
#12
I recall watching a CSNY concert on HBO many years ago (70s...) and Stills seemed to use a different guitar in a different tuning for every song. Must have kept his guitar-tech guy jumping...Hope he paid him well.

Anyway....It's like anything else. Some folks have a "head" for this sort of thing and some don't. I've been playing for 40 years and the only open tunings I use are on my resonator guitars played with a slide. Not much to memorize there....
Still wrapping my head around standard tuning and all the possible chord inversions.

There's the joke I saw on the "Fingerstyle Guitar Forum"....

Guy walks into a club frequented by fingerstyle players and does a set. Knocks out some really great tunes. All the regulars are impressed! "Wow man, what tuning are you in?"
"Uh...Standard."
#13
Alternate tunings are used to get sounds you normally can't, or to accommodate something like a slide. I play strictly in standard, but as a rule of thumb, your best bet for creative output is to be creative. You have to explore the tuning to see what sounds are possible, and if they're actually different from what you'd play in standard.

Honestly, you'd be surprised what unconventional sounds are possible in standard once you know all your chords and have a mind for intervals. Lots of interesting sounds once you start working outside of the "stacked thirds" concept of chord construction.
#14
Quote by cdgraves
You have to explore the tuning to see what sounds are possible, and if they're actually different from what you'd play in standard.

Honestly, you'd be surprised what unconventional sounds are possible in standard once you know all your chords and have a mind for intervals. Lots of interesting sounds once you start working outside of the "stacked thirds" concept of chord construction.


Alternate tunings allow you to have smaller or larger intervals between strings. This can allow you to easily play more densely or widely spaced chords than in standard tuning.

For example, my favorite chord voicing ever is the 3561 6th chord voicing. It's the most Hawaiian sounding thing ever. So let's say I want a C6 (EGAC). In standard, that would be

8
10
12
14
X
X

Good luck making that stretch. But just by lowering the high E string, as in Open G or Double Drop D, you can get the same chord by going:

10
10
12
14
X
X

That's pretty doable. In DADGAD, the same thing would be

10
12
12
14
X
X

which is a little bit more difficult, but still easy. Or in C6 tuning CEGACE it is literally just strings 2345 open or a barred at the 12 fret.

Or try a 7135 voicing for a CM7. Sounds absolutely beautiful arpeggiated in 6/8, especially when followed by the same voicing of BM7. In standard tuning, this would be

8
10
10
14
X
X

Again, ouch. With DADGBD OR Open G, we get:

10
10
10
14
X
X

It couldn't get much easier than that.


The thing is, there are times when tight voicings are needed, especially when mimicking the sounds of other instruments such as steel guitar or ukulele.

At the same time, a 5ths based tuning such as New Standard (CGDAEG) allows chords made up of entirely 5ths and 6ths that would be completely impossible to play in standard.

And let's not forget playing styles that make heavy use of open tunings, like that stupid percussive tapping acoustic stuff that is filled with natural harmonics and open strings. That can be a real no-go in standard. A lot of Celtic and English folk musicon guitar also makes heavy use of open drone notes.

And the thing is, even if some of these things are doable in standard (and none of those really are), they are so much easier in Open tunings, as are many other things. Why not make things easier for yourself?
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#15
^Cuz I can stretch that far, and the guitar is hard enough to play in standard, why have to learn the instrument twice?
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#16
It's not my fault that guitar is too hard for you to play.
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#18
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#19
we don't know if carlbolton identifies as a he, let's not assume
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#20
It's not carlabolton though
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#21
#adamandeve #notcarlabolton
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