3 Most Important Alternate Guitar Tunings

Commonly, many people that learn guitar only learn to play in standard tuning (EADGBE).

However, there are a variety of other alternate tunings available that can open up a wide array of new options.

Some songs written in alternate guitar tunings can be quite difficult, if not impossible, to play from standard tuning. A familiarity with some of the more common alternate tuning options can be quite helpful for learning songs that may seem impossible to play and get to sound just right.

Drop D Tuning (DADGBE)

Drop D Tuning is created by lowering the low E string down one step (two frets) to change the note to D, all the other strings are the same as in standard tuning.

This tuning is most commonly associated with harder styles of music for making power chords easier to hold, but the reason acoustic guitarists (and some rock guitarists) use it is quite different. The key of D is fairly commonly used in music, this is even more prevalent in styles like Celtic guitar, where the guitar is a reliably new instrument to be introduced into the musical genre. In standard tuning, the lowest D note is fairly high pitched (the open D string), which is not a very good low bass note in a finger style piece. Using this tuning gives the guitarist a D note one more octave lower than that one, which makes a good bass note for a key of D finger style piece.

DADGAD Tuning (DADGAD)

This tuning is very similar conceptually to the usage of Drop D acoustic guitar tuning, but taken to a slightly more extreme level.

This tuning is usually used to play in the key of D. It makes all the open strings useful in the song. Muting is often done more sparingly and the open strings are allowed to vibrate a bit while the instrument plays. This is in part due to the association of the tuning with Celtic guitar, which uses it to somewhat mimic the effect on instruments like the harp have by allowing the other strings to vibrate a little while playing.

Open Tunings (Example: Open G: DGDGBD)

There are a large number of open tunings, but they all work in a similar way.

The purpose of an open tuning is tune the open strings to form a chord.

Once this is done we can play any chord just barring all of the strings at the appropriate fret. While this tuning can be used to play full chords without much effort, the main reason to use it is to allow progressions to be played that would otherwise be impossible. Since the guitarist only needs one finger to make the basic chord, it leaves the rest of their fingers open to alter the chord, throw in little riffs, or seamlessly swap to other chords.

This tuning is somewhat less common with finger style guitarists, and more common with chord focused, strumming guitarists.

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