guitar headstock showing a guitar tuner
Use a chromatic guitar tuner that clips on to the headstock of the guitar to enter DADGAD tuning.

Want to explore how to play fingerstyle guitar in DADGAD tuning? Here is how this alternate tuning differs from standard tuning, and how you can use it to create breathtaking music.

DADGAD tuning is an alternate guitar tuning where the strings are tuned to the notes D, A, D, G, A, and D (low to high). This creates beautiful chords mostly due to the unique sound of drone notes.

Unfortunately DADGAD tuning is only really suitable for playing in the key of D. If you want to play in another key with DADGAD tuning, you will need to use a capo.

Fingerstyle guitarists such as Tony McManus and Stephen Wake use DADGAD tuning with their Celtic fingerstyle arrangements.

What Are The Notes in DADGAD Tuning?

In this tuning, the strings are tuned to the following pitches, from lowest to highest: D, A, D, G, A, D.

Notes for DADGAD tuning in standard notation
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DADGAD tuning in standard notation

The online course Play Fingerstyle Guitar Now! will show you exactly how to read and understand guitar notation, such as the one above.

Is DADGAD An Open Tuning?

DADGAD tuning is almost, but not quite, an open tuning. Playing all of the strings on the guitar in DADGAD tuning does not produce a major or minor chord, because of the G string.  

In contrast, the Open D tuning produces a D major chord when strumming all the strings, because the third string is tuned to F sharp.

How to Tune Your Guitar Into DADGAD With A Guitar Tuner

First make sure your guitar is tuned correctly in standard tuning. Make sure your guitar tuner is set to Guitar mode, and tune each string of your guitar correctly.

Next, switch your guitar tuner from "Guitar" to "Chromatic". Then follow the steps above as you carefully loosen the sixth, second and first strings to the correct notes.

  • String 1 (high E) tune down to D
  • String 2 (B): tune down to A
  • String 3 (G): Stays the same
  • String 4 (D): Stays the same
  • String 5 (A): Stays the same
  • String 6 (low E): tune down to D

How to Tune A Guitar to DADGAD By Ear

The method to tune DADGAD tuning by ear involves changing to Drop D tuning, then tuning the first and second strings to other open strings on the guitar. There is no change for the A, D, and G strings.

How To Tune a Guitar to Drop D by Ear

When you pluck the fourth and sixth strings simultaneously while you tune the sixth string down from E to D, you will start to hear the beat frequency.  Beats are an acoustic phenomenon that sound like a pulsating effect, sort of a wah-wah. The beats will get slower as your sixth string approaches the note D, and will finally disappear when the sixth string note is tuned to the note exactly one octave below the fourth string.

How To Tune a Guitar from Drop D to DADGAD

Now that you have successfully dropped the sixth string from E to D, it’s time to do the same with the first string: it also needs to drop from E to D.  Play the sixth and fourth strings simultaneously as you loosen or "drop" the first string, in order to precisely tune all three strings to the same note “d”.

Finally we must tune the B string down to "A". Again, loosening the strings the whole time, drop the B string down to A while playing the fifth string and listening for the beats. The beats should slow down and finally disappear when the second string is precisely tuned to ‘a’.

What Are Some Beautiful Chords in DADGAD tuning?

The most beautiful chord in DADGAD tuning is the D major 7 chord, which you can play by placing your third finger on the fourth string fourth fret, your first finger on the third string second fret and your fourth finger on the second string fourth fret.

The D major 7 chord in DADGAD tuning
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The D major 7 chord in DADGAD tuning

Another beautiful DADGAD chord is the G Major chord with an added sharp 4, which you can descend to the third. This is a chord that Sungha Jung is particularly fond of.

G sharp 4 chord in DADGAD tuning
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The G major chord in DADGAD tuning with a sharp 4 (C sharp note)

Perhaps the most common and useful chord is what I call the "Line chord". Sungha Jung makes good use of this simple chord shape that you can move up and down the fretboard.

The Line Chord involves placing a second finger on the fundamental note, then stopping or blocking the other strings with the other fingers of the fretting hand. 

Fingers all in the same fret with DADGAD tuning
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The DADGAD line shape chord with all fingers in the fifth fret. This produces an open G chord.

To produce a G chord in the fifth fret using the line shape, the second finger goes on the sixth string, the third finger on the fourth string and the pinky finger on the second string.

Another beautiful line chord is the E minor 7 chord.

A beautiful E minor 7 chord in DADGAD tuning
 
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This line chord in the second fret produces a beautiful E minor 7 chord.

To play Em7 in DADGAD, place the second finger on the sixth string, the third finger on the third string and the fourth finger on the second string, all in the second fret. You will need to mute the fifth string if you don't want a drone note to sound.

Pros and Cons of DADGAD Tuning

DADGAD tuning is perfect for playing songs which are in D Major. Many popular folk or "fiddle" tunes are in this key. However, it is not practical if you want to modulate into different keys, or play in higher positions on the guitar.

Pros: Drone Tones. By playing simple DADGAD chords, you can take advantage of drone notes or drone tones. These are open strings which are continuously repeated or sustained even when they don't form part of the chord.

The bagpipe, an instrument closely associated with music from Scotland and Ireland, contains drone pipes. These are tubes that sound the same note constantly, regardless of the melody.

You can use one of the D strings in DADGAD tuning to sound the drone notes in your arrangement, like the bagpipe. This is one way that DADGAD tuning has a Celtic sound.

Cons: Difficulty To Play In Different Keys.  If you would like to use DADGAD tuning but have your guitar sound in another key, you will have to use a guitar capo.

Pros: Relatively Easy Chords in D major. DADGAD tuning also lets you play relatively easy chords. The simplest chord in DADGAD tuning is the D chord. Place a finger on the fourth string, fourth fret and on the third string, second fret to produce the D major chord.

Cons: Cramped hand position. Unfortunately, chords such as the line chord become cramped in higher positions. This is made worse when you use a capo, owing to the smaller distance between the frets.

Illustration of a DADGAD chord with a capo
The Line Shape chord in the second fret with a Capo on the fourth fret becomes quite cramped if you have fat fingers

Pros: There are no dissonant notes. The point of DADGAD tuning is to take advantage of the drone notes caused by open stringsThe dissonances caused by the closely spaced intervals between your fretted note and the open string is a feature of DADGAD tuning, not a bug.

Cons: Major chords besides D are hard to play. If you want to play the G major chord, without any dissonance or drone tones, you need to make a wide stretch between frets. Furthermore hand shape is "inverted".

G Major chord fingering for DADGAD tuning
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The uncomfortable way to play G Major in DADGAD. Here, the pinky finger is above the index finger, meaning you will have to twist your wrist and have a strong little finger.

To play the pure G major chord in DADGAD tuning, place your pinky finger on the sixth string at the fifth fret, on the note G. Then place your first (index) finger on the second string at the second fret, for the note Be aware that most other three note chords have awkward fingerings like this.

Is It Safe To Leave Your Guitar In DADGAD Tuning?

If you are practicing songs in DADGAD tuning on a regular basis, such as “Sprint” by Sungha Jung, then it is perfectly fine to leave your guitar in DADGAD tuning.

However, if you find yourself switching between DADGAD and standard tuning on a regular basis, consider getting two instruments and leaving one guitar in DADGAD tuning and another in standard tuning, to avoid constantly having to change tunings.

If you are new to fingerstyle guitar, I recommend starting out with standard tuning first, and following an online course such as Play Fingerstyle Guitar Now!