DADGAD tuning …. also known as Open D Modal, and D Sus 4 …. Is a very different sound when compared to open major or minor tunings. Why? Because it’s neither major nor minor. And that in between quality is one of a few things that make it swirl with possibilities!
Just one semitone away from Open D, DADGAD has some of the same advantages and opportunities. So some of the same techniques and tricks you learn in one tuning can be applied in the other.
The power chord is on the sixth, fifth and fourth strings (1, 5, 1). Many other chord forms are usable in both of these tunings, although they might not be used exactly the same way.
As well, DADGAD makes the creation and playing of single note melody lines, runs and riffs very accessible.
The available drone strings in both treble and bass .... reminiscent of bagpipes .... is one reason for DADGAD’s wide use by those who play Celtic music. And Celts are not the only folks who employ pipes and drones to express themselves musically. Cultures in many parts of the earth have their own locally developed pipes, string instruments with drone strings and tunings. Areas as diverse as Italy, Turkey, India, North Africa, Greece, Crete and the island Kingdom of Bahrain in the Persian Gulf share these similarities.
Although drone strings are a feature of open tunings generally, they seem to be more noticeable in a modal tuning like DADGAD. This can be a double-edged sword. Here’s why.
If there are any Irish or Scots among your family or friends, you may have a fondness for “the pipes.” Getting personal for a minute, I come from both of these roots, and although I don’t hear pipes often, when I do they propel a surge of emotion hard to fathom.
Bagpipes seem to have no neutral ground. You either love ‘em or hate ‘em. And the same could be said for the use of drone sounds whether it’s bagpipes or guitar. Here’s just a small note of caution if you are starting out with any open tunings and perhaps especially in DADGAD. We all have our likes and dislikes. (Wow! Do I have an extreme gift for stating the obvious or what!) Anyway ... Constant droning strings can be very wearing for some.
If you are strictly an instrumentalist, this is important. If you sing and accompany yourself on guitar, DADGAD's droning strings are somewhat less noticeable because the greater focus is on your voice. However, they're still there .... so caution is good.
Drone strings can be wonderful in a piece of music, and can give it a special, even memorable quality. But if every one, or even most of the tunes you play have drones, you will likely not provide the amount of variety sufficient to hold your audience’s attention. Thats true if you play most of the time in any tuning that emphasizes drones .... not just DADGAD.
I don’t mean to step on anyone’s toes, so if you’re someone who could love to listen to tunes employing drones the whole day long, good on ya. Musical tastes are almost as varied as fingerprints. No worries.
A variety of folk music styles from North America, Europe and elsewhere use DADGAD tuning. However, this tuning is definitely not limited to any one style or genre. Pierre Bensusan plays everything from Celtic to jazz. He plays exclusively in DADGAD.
Here’s how to tune to DADGAD tuning from Standard.
1. Lower the 6th string, (the thick one) so that when you put your finger on it at the 7th fret and play the string, it sounds the same as the open 5th string. D
2. The 5th string stays the same. Don't retune it. A
3. The 4th string stays the same. Don't retune it. D
4. The 3rd string stays the same. Don’t retune it. G
5. Finger on the 3rd string at the 2nd fret. Lower the 2nd string to match that tone. A
6. Finger on the 2nd string at the 5th fret. Lower the 1st string to match that tone. D
From Open D it’s even easier to get to DADGAD tuning. Only one note has to be changed. Raise the 3rd string F# to G by fretting the 4th string at the fifth fret.