DADGAD Tuning

This lesson is aimed at intermediate guitarists... it shows some easy concepts for getting started with a versatile alternate tuning.

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Playing an alternate tuning can be somewhat intimidating to beginning and even intermediate guitarists, but with just a little work, you will be amazed at just how versatile the DADGAD tuning can be. You can play some of the most beautiful major chord voicings along with some of the most haunting minor voicings, and it's not that difficult to pick up. Let's get started. First, let's learn how to tune the guitar. You simply lower the 1st, 2nd, and 6th strings one whole step. If you tune the guitar to itself without a tuner it looks like this....
D------------------------------0(D)---
A-----------------------0(A)---5(D)---
G----------------0(G)---2(A)----------
D---------0(D)---5(G)-----------------
A--0(A)---5(D)------------------------
D--7(A)-------------------------------
Ok, now that we can tune the guitar, how do we play it? First, undertand the notes of the open strings played together form a Dsus4 chord, so the best place to start is the key of D since you can play any of the open strings at pretty much anytime, which makes for some really nice "drone chord" voicings. Let's learn a few chords in the key of D Here's a pretty common chord progression.
  D5    A5     Bm7     G5 

D--0-----2------0-------5---
A--0-----0------0-------5---
G--2-----2------4-------0---
D--0-----2------4-------0---
A--0-----0------2-------x---
D--0-----x------x-------5---
Here are a few other chord voicings within the key of D major
Em11   224000
F#m    xx4244
C#dim  x4567x
Ok, now that we have some chord shapes under our belts, let's learn a few tricks to make them more interesting. First, when you are playing the D5 chord, or any other 5 chord, understand that it is neither major nor minor, it is what's called a power chord. To make the D5 chord major, we need to add an F# note, and to do that, simply add the 4th fret to any of the open D strings and it will function as a major chord. Or to make it minor add the 3rd fret to any of the open D strings.
   major 3rds          minor 3rds 

D--------4---------------------3--
A---------------------------------
G---------------------------------
D-----4--------------------3------
A---------------------------------
D--4-------------------3----------
If you don't understand what I mean by major and minor 3rds, I highly recommend that you take some time to look at my other lessons. A technique I like to use when strumming the D5 power chord to give it a major feel is to pull-off 4th fret to open on the first string and hammer-on from open to 4th fret on the 2nd string...like this...
D--0-----0--0-----4-p-0--------0---------0--
A--0-----0--0------------0-----0--0-h-4-----
G--2--2-----2--2------------2-----2---------
D--0--0-----0--0------------------0---------
A--0--------0-------------------------------
D--0--------0-------------------------------
Try the same example, but instead of pulling off from the 4th fret to open on the 1st string, pull off from the 3rd fret to open on the first string and hammer on from open to the 3rd fret on the 2nd string for a minor feel. If that is too confusing, just look at the tab above and where you see the two 4's....change them to 3's. Let's look at some alterations to the A5 chord. The most obvious would be to go from an A5 to an Asus4, you simply lift your finger off the 1st string and play the open D. x02200 Or to play a true Amaj chord, you can barre the 2nd fret up to the 4th string and pick up the C# note at the 4th fret 2nd string. x02242 (drop the open 5th string and that is a moveable shape with the root on the 3rd string) Now the G5 chord...lift your fingers off of the 1st and 2nd strings and play them open to get a Gsus2 5x0000 or 550000 To play a Gmaj chord, add the B note at the 4th fret, 3rd string 5x0455 Let's examine another easy technique that makes this tuning interesting. Look at the tuning itself, you have 3 D notes on open strings, the 1st, 4th and 6th strings. So you know when you move up the neck to play octaves you simply play those strings on the same fret... Something I like to do when playing is to walk down the D major or minor scale using the octaves on the 1st and 4th strings and letting the open 2nd string ring through as a drone tone, or pedal tone...
D--12-----11-----9-----7-----5-----4-----2--------0--
A----0------0------0-----0-----0-----0-----0------0--
G-------------------------------------------------2--
D------12-----11-----9-----7-----5-----4-----2----0--
A-------------------------------------------------0--
D-------------------------------------------------0--
Kind of sounds like Zakk Wylde's idea on Momma I'm Coming Home Now try the same principle using the D minor scale
D--12----10----8-----7-----5-----3-----2--------0--
A----0-----0-----0-----0-----0-----0-----0------0--
G-----------------------------------------------2--
D-----12----10-----8-----7-----5-----3-----2----0--
A-----------------------------------------------0--
D-----------------------------------------------0--
You can also mix up the order of the scale rather than walking straight up and down. And you can also strum these examples picking up some open strings rather than play single notes...whatever sounds good to you is right! One last idea for this lesson...for the "metal heads"...or for anyone looking to add a slightly heavier feel to their playing...alot of people already know about dropping the 6th string E note down a step to a D note..or a "dropped D" tuning...one reason behind this is to get a lower bass note, which gives a deeper, heavier sound...another reason is because it makes playing power chords on the lower strings extremely easy and can allow for some really fast changes. To play a power chord on the 6th and 5th strings you simply barre the two strings and play them at the same fret...here's an example of a simple riff using power chords
D--------------------------0--
A--------------------------0--
G--------------------------2--
D--------------------------0--
A--3p0--0--3/5--0--3--0----0--
D--3p0--0--3/5--0--3--0----0--
You can also play power chords by barring the 4th, 5th and 6th strings, you just add an octave of the root and if you want a really deep sound go up 2 frets from the barre and play an octave of the 5....like this... F 4446xx or barre all 6 strings, just like the original D5 chord F 444644 Now try coming up with your own songs using some or all of these ideas. If this lesson goes over well, I may do a short series on some more advanced chord voicings and playing ideas using the DADGAD tuning. As always, feel free to post questions or comments and I will answer all questions to the best of my ability. Now get to practicing.

24 comments sorted by best / new / date

comments policy
    Ackj
    whoever thinks this tuning is not for metal, Opeth use this tuning on Ghost Reveries (maybe more, but I know that album for sure)
    odrizzle888
    or CGCCGC to give it a sitar feelin, use a slide or a metal or plastic object just touchin the strings in front of the bridge to give it that fret buzz sound.
    odrizzle888
    I use the tuning DADDAD a fair bit, for paul simon's version of peace like a river. it also serves well as an acoustic slide guitar tuning
    hounddogmusic12
    Camstrong, you can just drop the 6th string if you want, that's a very common tuning. It's called a dropped D tuning.
    klysandral
    I dont break the strings so much really, but if you tune up too fast it will definitely break them
    hounddogmusic12
    hey klysandral, if you like the open D2 tuning, check out in vein's tuning above, might relieve some string tension, keep you from breaking them :
    klysandral
    If you wanna try something pretty unique try the DAEAAD tuning, same as DADGAD but the two middle string are tuned up a whole step. Careful you dont break a string, but this tuning can be used for cool pretty open chord voicings and also lots of dissonant chards a la sonic youth.
    Oneirogenic
    Opeth actually used an open Dminor tuning DADFAD. very similar to DADGAD but not the same. An example of a metalish band that uses DADGAD is Russian Circles. Their guitarist really knows how to utilize the tuning for tapping and unusual chords.
    reaper_x
    Nice tuning. I came up with some beautiful sounding acoustic melodies with this. I still like drop C better, though. Good article.
    Regression
    Got to love DADGAD, and anyone who loves acoustic guitar should agree. I'd be more interested in tuning all my strings in 4ths (and a 5th for the "A") for metal. CGCFBE for example. Makes shapes the same regardless of which string you play them on (besides the low C). It can create problems with chords, but I don't think that should be a problem for most metal guitarists.
    Regression
    hounddogmusic12 wrote: interesting tuning regression, very similar to the "dropped C" tuning...drop the 6th string 2 steps to a D note and drop the other 5 strings 1 whole step. Or you can try this one for metal, or acoustic....CGDGBE...where you have the really low heavy sound on the 6th and 5th strings, but you can still play the triad chords on the higher strings without having to learn new shapes. I agree with DADGAD sounding great on an acoustic and it is widely used in fingerstyle music, but i didn't mention that because i didn't want to put that boundary in people's mind that it is only for acoustic music...i strongly encourage any and all to experiment with it on both acoustic and electric. that's what makes music great, there are no boundaries.
    Sorry, I listed the tuning incorrectly, it should be C G C F Bb Eb. Similar to what Stanley Jordan did, but down a step and dropping the 6th string.
    In Vein
    I also really like DADEAD, it allows you to get some really cool, unique sounds using E as the 2nd tone in the key of D.
    Cous Cous =>
    Nice one, i love this tuning but had no idea about any of the chord shapes or scales =>
    Blas3
    good column, you did cover all the basics needed to start with this. thx
    leftinflinflon
    Two words: Joni Mitchell, only recorded two songs in regular tuning, makes it very difficult to play live these days. gotta love her guitar playing though.
    hounddogmusic12
    interesting tuning regression, very similar to the "dropped C" tuning...drop the 6th string 2 steps to a D note and drop the other 5 strings 1 whole step. Or you can try this one for metal, or acoustic....CGDGBE...where you have the really low heavy sound on the 6th and 5th strings, but you can still play the triad chords on the higher strings without having to learn new shapes. I agree with DADGAD sounding great on an acoustic and it is widely used in fingerstyle music, but i didn't mention that because i didn't want to put that boundary in people's mind that it is only for acoustic music...i strongly encourage any and all to experiment with it on both acoustic and electric. that's what makes music great, there are no boundaries.
    arnob_oblique
    thanks a lot!! Goo Goo Dolls is my favorite band and i always wonder how they com with so many wonderful songs with so many weird tunings! would love to have more lessons on alternate tunings from you!