rear of guitar headstock
You will need to change the tuning pegs to enter DADGAD tuning

In this article, we'll explore how to tune your guitar in a popular alternate tuning: DADGAD tuning. We will show how it differs from standard tuning, and how Sungha Jung uses it to create breathtaking music.

Using DADGAD tuning in Celtic Music

If you are familiar with Celtic music, you have most likely already heard guitarists using this alternate tuning. Fingerstyle guitarists such as Tony McManus and Stephen Wake use this tuning with their arrangements.

What makes DADGAD tuning unique

DADGAD tuning makes frequent use of drone notes or drone tones. These are notes that are continuously repeated or sustained even when they don't form part of the chord .

By using open strings and strumming simple chords, you can take advantage of these drone tones and sound them even if they are dissonant with the chord.

Other Instruments That Use Drones

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.

How to change your guitar into DADGAD tuning

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

DADGAD tuning in standard notation

To tune to DADGAD, the strings should be tuned to the following 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

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.  

How To Get Started Learning DADGAD tuning

You can explore DADGAD tuning very quickly by learning a few chords. The first chord you can learn is the D chord, by placing a finger on the fourth string, fourth fret and on the third string, second fret.

The Dmaj7 chord in DADGAD tuning

The "All In The Same Fret" Line Chord

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. 

Fingers all in the same fret with DADGAD tuning
The DADGAD line shape chord

The Line Chord: Three Fingers In The Same Fret

The Line Chord will produce a major chord sound with lots of drone tones created by the open strings.

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

Experiment by placing your fingers on different strings to create different drone effects or chords.

Limitations of DADGAD tuning

The tuning lends itself to songs which are in D Major. It is not practical to modulate away from D major in DADGAD tuning.

To change keys you will have to use a guitar capo. This means that your chord shapes will become more cramped, owing to the smaller distance between the frets.

Illustration of a DADGAD chord with a capo
The Line Shape chord with a Capo on the fourth fret

The Absurdly Complicated G Major Chord in DADGAD

If you want to play the G major chord, without any dissonance or drone tones, it's not a very nice chord in DADGAD. Check out the stretch that you need to make in order to play a pure G Major chord:

G Major chord fingering for DADGAD tuning
The uncomfortable way to play G Major in DADGAD

If you insist on playing a major chord that is not the tonic "D" chord in DADGAD, be aware that most other three note chords have awkward fingerings like this.

Again, the point of DADGAD tuning is to take advantage of the drone notes caused by open strings. The dissonances caused by the closely spaced intervals between your fretted note and the open string is a feature, not a bug.

How to Tune to DADGAD Tuning By Ear

The method to tune DADGAD tuning by ear involves changing to Drop D tuning, then tuning the higher strings to other open strings on the guitar.

Tuning to Drop D

Start by lowering the sixth string from E to D. This is called going into Drop D. If you are tuning by ear, use the method of listening for the beats.

Tune down the sixth string and listen as you simultaneously pluck the fourth string. This should produce beats which will slow down and disappear as the string note approaches and reaches the note D.

The Fifth, Fourth and Third Strings

There is no change for the A, D, and G strings.

Tuning the First and Second Strings

We will now tune the first string, the smallest string. 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. 

Drop "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”.

Now Drop "B" to "A"

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’.

Examples of songs in DADGAD tuning

Songs that you can learn by Sungha Jung in DADGAD tuning include “Sprint” and "The Milky Way".

Drop D Tuning: A Common and Useful Alternate Tuning

Tuning the sixth string on the acoustic guitar

Drop D is one of the most common tunings in use in both Fingerstyle and Classical guitar. In this article we will show you how to enter Drop D tuning on the Guitar

Read more: Drop D Tuning: A Common and Useful Alternate Tuning