If you’ve been using an open root string such as the sixth string as a point of reference to map out a tuning, it may not necessarily be the tonic. In this lesson we’ll examine a new tuning and look at part of a piece that demonstrates this concept. The tuning is:

D A D G# A E
1 5 1 #4  5  9

The open strings of this tuning form the chord Dsus2#11, which can function only as a IV chord, due to the presence of the #11. Therefore, Lydian is the only mode that will work in this tuning when using the open D string as the tonic.

In using this tuning to illustrate the concept of the tonic being a note other than an open root string, I want to make it clear that you can do this in any tuning. There’s nothing about this tuning that makes it better suited than any other to shift the tonic. I just chose this one because the piece we’ll be drawing from is in this tuning.

This tuning works great for playing in D Lydian, but like any tuning, you could establish the tonic around any number of the other chords in the same key. Such is the case in my piece, “Faster Than Alone” from Vanishing Borders.

In the main chord progression, the vi chord, located at the 4th fret, is actually the tonic. Although it still makes sense to use the open sixth string and Lydian mode fretboard map as a point of reference, understand that in this case, it’s only a fingering reference. The tonic chord actually dictates the mode in which we hear the progression, although the fretboard map stays the same. The main progression is vi–I–IV–V, which clearly resolves to the vi chord. This puts us in Aeolian or natural minor. When analyzed from the Aeolian perspective, the progression is i–bIII–bVI–bVII in the minor key.

Note that “Faster Than Alone” makes occasional use of the raised 7th and also includes a bridge section (not shown here) that goes through a number of key changes before coming back to this key.

What follows is the main A section chord vamp. There are two versions here. The first is the chord progression with simple fingerpicking, so you can quickly learn it to hear the chordal movement and tonic. The second version is the actual strum/picking pattern I use in playing the piece. I’ve included this for those who might want to learn the groove. The important thing, however, is to fingerpick through the chord progression to get a sense of the chord movement and tonic.

Download Example Audio

Download Example Audio

This lesson comes from:

Mastering Alternate Tunings