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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.

DADGAD tuning in Fingerstyle guitar

DADGAD tuning is a common alternate tuning for the guitar. In this tuning, the strings are tuned to the following pitches, from lowest to highest: D, A, D, G, A, D.

You can explore DADGAD tuning very quickly by learning a few chords. I first learned of this tuning when accompanying Celtic music. The simpler fingering and use of open strings gives the guitar more volume when strumming chords. 

Modern Celtic guitarists use DADGAD tuning to great success in Fingerstyle guitar. Guitarists who use this fingering in Fingerstyle guitar include Tony McManus and Stephen Wake.  

Sungha Jung uses this tuning in a style that I wouldn’t describe as Celtic. He  was probably tired of playing the same old songs in standard tuning, so decided to use DADGAD tuning instead in a song we will show below.

Advantages of DADGAD 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.  

However, DADGAD tuning does allow you to use simple chord shapes that you can move up and down the fretboard. There are a few chord shapes in DADGAD tuning that you can slide up and down the guitar neck without changing them.

This tuning lends itself to the drone effect.  When open strings that are not technically part of the chord are allowed to ring, this creates a drone sound. Sungha Jung uses dissonances, or close intervals such as the half step, in his chords when he strums them.

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 likely have to use a guitar capo.

Sungha Jung's song "The Milky Way" is an example of using a guitar capo in DADGAD tuning.

How to change your guitar into DADGAD tuning

To change a guitar from standard tuning to DADGAD tuning, you will need to adjust the tension of the strings on the guitar.  When changing into DADGAD tuning, be aware that this tuning is lower pitched than standard tuning. You will not have to tighten any of the strings. 

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 

Here are the steps to tune your guitar to DADGAD:

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.

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

Next we will jump to 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.  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 “d”.

Finally we must tune the B string down to "A". In other words, we need to "drop" from B 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

I have provided tutorials of songs that Sungha Jung has played in DADGAD tuning, so you can try out this alternate tuning for yourself. An example of a song you can learn by Sungha Jung in an alternate tuning is “Sprint”.