In the September issue, we began exploring DADGAD. Now
we dive in deeper with some advanced studies in the world
of alternate tuning.
In an earlier issue (September 2007) I introduced
the fundamentals of DADGAD and gave you some shapes that
move up and down the fretboard. If you have spent some time
with those shapes and played around with this alternate tuning
a bit, you have probably discovered some interesting sounds on
your own. If you’re particularly enchanted you may be looking fo
some guidance to help you venture beyond the key of D.
So, let’s dive in a bit deeper and tackle some more advanced
ideas. I’ve included some additional chord shapes for you to add
to your DADGAD palette. I have indicated fret numbers, but most
of them can be moved around at will. Experiment with allowing
different strings to ring open, or closing
others to change the voicings.
You can play in almost any key center if
you find a way to use the open strings
as common tones. I have a song centered
around G minor [see chord charts
in fig 1] that uses the ringing high A
and D strings to lend a haunting but
consistent tension to the harmonization.
The key center is Bb, so A and D are
not intuitive common tones, but they
work in the context of DADGAD. Bb is relative to the key of F,
and D minor is the relative minor of F, so D and A really do work,
they’re just not intuitive.
The thing is, you are almost never going to be playing in the “key
of what you think” – it all becomes very modal; for example, if
you’re centering something around A minor, that’s usually the key
of C, but in DADGAD it could be something quite different. There
is wonderful tension between an F# and the open G string [see
Amb7 below] that puts A minor into an entirely different space;
you’re playing from the key of G, of which A minor is the II chord,
which changes the normal A minor pallette by one F#. That
may not seem like a huge shift, but give it a listen and see how
strange and wonderful it sounds. And that is the real beauty of
DADGAD – you will find the way you think about chords and
chord progressions expanding as you experiment more. In fact,
you may find that it changes the way you approach standard tuning
as well. Remember, standard is an open tuning, too – it’s an
There is one chord shape that works with both the open A and
open D strings in the bass. See the shape labeled Am/D below.
It’s a bit of a stretch for the fingers and it takes some practice to
drop into it quickly from other chords, but it’s so cool sounding
that it’s worth the effort.
The key of F is great when you center around D minor. It’s perfect
– you get D minor, Bb, F and C, and then just for kicks you
can use G5 and A minor as terrific substitutions. With the open
G-string serving as a suspension, you’ve got yourself some fabulously
For the key of C, I often like DADGAE, too. You get the high Estring
you’re used to hearing, and you also gain an exhilarating
drop down to a D minor chord. DADGAE also makes an interesting
“cross tuning” for the key of A; it feels good to drop down to
the IV chord, sort of like relaxing into it instead of rising up.
To help you explore the world of
DADGAD further, I’ve posted a
transcription of a piece of mine
called “Wednesday in the Park with
Rinpoche” (How Can I Keep From
Singing? from Ivanhoe Road Music)
that is chock full of jazz-style chords,
surprising modulations and loads of
tension. It’s actually in the key of D, but
there are so many accidentals and augmentations
that it doesn’t sound like D
at all. One of the reasons I chose this
piece is because of the way the chords move – by moving one
finger at a time you get an entirely different chord. The textural
mix between open and closed voicings adds more tension.
I usually put a capo on the 2nd fret for this piece, which is how
it was recorded. Feel free to try it with and without. I have been
playing it on a nylon string guitar recently and really love the
sound. Experiment and see what feels right to you. Use these
chords as a jumping-off point to explore some ideas of your own.
There’s very little “wrong” to be done.
One caution – DADGAD has a very specific sound and it’s easy
to get lazy and let the tuning do the heavy lifting for you. Don’t
be lulled into the predictable by thinking a few suspensions and
a 9 chord or two are going to cover for a lack of invention on
your part. Sadly, some guitarists have made entire CDs falling
on the predictable side of DADGAD, forgetting that it can be so
Above all, let yourself fall in love with the rich, deep sound of your
guitar; remember what made you buy it in the first place. Let the
inspiration of new and unique harmonizations sweep you up and
spark more creativity. It’s a journey, so relax and enjoy the ride!
Wednesday in the Park with Rinpoche
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