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.
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 "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.
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.
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:
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".