Even when you tune your guitar in standard tuning (EADGBE), you have a big range of notes to use, which allow you to make the most out of your guitar, both melodically and harmonically.
Many players like to take things further and experiment with alternative tunings, which consist in changing the pitch of one or several strings, in order to achieve different sounds.
This is often achieved by having lower notes available that you didn’t have before, making certain types of chords easier to play, among others.
This KillerGuitarRigs guide will focus on a very particular tuning which is commonly known as the DADGAD tuning. Its name is literally the pitch of each string, from the lowest to the highest one.
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- DADGAD: Overview and Tuning Guide
- How to Play Chords in DADGAD Tuning
- How to Play Scales in DADGAD Tuning
- Popular Songs Written Using DADGAD Tuning and Tabs
- Additional Song Examples Using DADGAD Tuning
- Final Thoughts About DADGAD Tuning
DADGAD: Overview and Tuning Guide
The DADGAD tuning can also be called Celtic tuning, since it is often associated with that kind of music. It is also used by guitarists that play folk, rock and other genres.
Many known artists have experimented with this exquisite tuning, such as Jimmy Page, Andy McKee, Russian Circles, Rory Gallagher, Neil Young, and many more.
To tune your guitar to DADGAD, you only need to lower the pitch of half of your strings. It would still be recommended to adjust your string gauge in order to accommodate for the difference in tension on the guitar’s neck.
Especially if you’re using a .009 set, you should really consider changing to .010 or maybe even .011, depending on how you like your string tension to feel.
Let’s look at standard tuning and DADGAD side by side to see exactly what changes from one to the other.
Standard tuning has the following notes (from lowest to highest string):
DADGAD, on the other hand, has the following notes:
As you can see, the 3rd, 4th and 5th strings are left untouched, and you only need to lower the pitch of your 1st, 2nd and 6th strings by a whole tone (2 semitones).
Since the 3 strings that remain the same are all adjacent to one another means that you can still use any triad/scale pattern that you know from standard tuning.
Check below for a visual representation of both of these tunings:
One of the most interesting aspects of this tuning is that you get a Dsus4 by strumming every open string.
Since it does not have a major or minor third interval in it, this tuning isn’t classifiable as major or minor, it can go either way depending on your further note choices.
It is also very suitable to use the open strings as some sort of drone, and play contrasting melodies and several chords by sliding your fingers in the adjacent strings.
How to Play Chords in DADGAD Tuning
DADGAD is a tuning that excels at giving you interesting options when you need to play chords.
Due to its particular set of string pitches, you have access to voicings that are impossible to play in standard, drop and many open tunings.
In any case, keep in mind that you still have 3 strings tuned the same as in standard tuning, so try to make the most out of the knowledge of you have those.
Also, take into account that many of the chord shapes featured in this guide are movable, or you could use a capo to transpose the very same fingering a few frets higher on the neck.
Major chords are made up of a root note, a major third and a perfect fifth. Check below for a few chord diagrams of voicings you can use in DADGAD tuning.
Minor chords only differ from major in their third, which is a semitone lower in comparison.
They have a root note, a minor third and a perfect fifth. Here are some minor chord voicings in DADGAD tunings.
Dominant 7th Chords
Dominant 7th chords have 4 notes, unlike triads, which have 3. They are made up of a root, a major third, a perfect fifth and a minor seventh.
They are constantly used in blues, but you find them in every other genre of music.
Here are some examples of dominant 7th chords you can play in DADGAD tuning:
One of the most unique sounds you can get out of a guitar is chords that have open strings ringing. They have a characteristic resonance that can’t be achieved when you fret every string.
DADGAD tends to work very well with open chords, and players who use it usually play them as often as possible, regardless of the chord quality (major, minor, etc).
Use some of the following chord voicings shown below when comping to a song or composing your music to get a fuller sound out of your instrument. These work great on acoustic guitars.
How to Play Scales in DADGAD Tuning
Since DADGAD tuning has a low D on the 6th string (plus 2 other strings tuned to D), many players frequently chose to write music in the key of D in order to make the most out of these 3 open strings.
Taking this into account, the following scale diagrams will be shown in the key of D, which you will probably play often.
Here are some of the most popular scales in music, and where to find their notes in DADGAD tuning.
D Major Scale
The major scale is one of the most used scales across every music genre, and it is the foundation of many other scales that we know and use frequently.
It can be described numerically by its formula: “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7”, or by “W, W, H, W, W, W, H”, in which W refers to “whole tone” and H to “half tone”.
In the key of D Major, this means that we’ve got the following notes:
Check the diagram below to learn the location of the notes of this scale in every position when you’re tuned to DADGAD.
D Natural Minor Scale
The natural minor scale can be described by its formula: “1, 2, b3, 4, 5, b6, b7”, or by “W, H, W, W, H, W, W”.
In comparison to the major scale, we have 3 flattened degrees (one semitone lower): the 3rd, the sixth and the seventh.
In the key of D, this means we have these notes:
Here is the location of every note of the D minor scale on the fretboard of a guitar tuned to DADGAD tuning:
D Harmonic Minor Scale
The harmonic minor scale is known for its exotic sound, which is caused by its 3 semitone interval found between the 6th and 7th degrees (same as a minor third interval).
You can think of this scale as a natural minor scale with a major 7th if it helps you visualize it better.
It can be represented numerically as “1, 2, b3, 4, 5, b6, 7”.
As such, the D harmonic minor scale has the following notes:
The diagram below represents the location of each of these notes on the guitar when you’re in DADGAD tuning:
D Major Pentatonic Scale
Pentatonic scales are some of the most widely used resources to write and improvise music across all genres. It is a 5 note scale, hence its name.
The Major Pentatonic scale is basically a major scale without its 4th and 7th degrees (the ones that form a tritone interval, one of the most unstable intervals).
It can be described by its formula: “1, 2, 3, 5, 6”.
In D Major, we get the following notes:
Here’s the fretboard diagram that corresponds to this tuning so that you can find its scale patterns in every neck region:
D Minor Pentatonic Scale
The minor pentatonic scale is the go-to scale of many guitarists when they want to improvise or compose melodies. It is frequently the first scale they learn, and the blues scale is very similar too.
In short, it is the same as the natural minor scale, but without its 2nd and 6th degrees.
It can be described by its formula: “1, b3, 4, 5, b7”.
In the key of D minor, this corresponds to the following notes:
Here is a diagram that illustrates the location of the D minor pentatonic scale’s notes after you tune your guitar to DADGAD:
Popular Songs Written Using DADGAD Tuning and Tabs
Let’s get into a few examples of songs that have been written with guitars in DADGAD tuning. Learning some of these can give you a better idea of how guitarists make the most out of the new possibilities that this tuning offers.
Led Zeppelin – Kashmir
The legendary guitarist Jimmy Page also helped popularize the DADGAD tuning by using it in some of Led Zeppelin’s songs, such as Kashmir.
This song features a hypnotic riff that ascends chromatically, taking full advantage of this tuning’s string arrangement.
Other Led Zeppelin songs such as Black Mountain side also feature this tuning.
Andy McKee – Drifting
Andy McKee is a guitarist well known for his compositions and fingerstyle playing on the acoustic guitar.
His famous song “Drifting” features a series of riffs and techniques that allow the DADGAD tuning to really shine.
The guitar tab below contains one of its interesting sections.
Rory Gallagher – Out on the Western Plain
The world famous blues rock guitarist Rory Gallagher used several different tunings.
He was mostly known for playing in Open G since he favored the slide technique so much, but the song “Out on the Western Plain” was written using the DADGAD tuning.
You should learn this one if you would like to get a better idea of how to use this tuning for blues.
Ben Howard – In Dreams
Ben Howard is an English singer-songwriter known for using several tunings different from standard, including the DADGAD tuning.
His song “In Dreams” features an intricate and creative riff that makes the most out of this tuning by taking advantage of having open strings ringing most of the time while adorning them with fretted notes in the melody and the bass.
Stephen Stills – Treetop Flyer
Stephen Stills is widely known for his work associated with Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. He also composes music under his name, and uses the DADGAD tuning in his song “Treetop Flyer”.
This song is a great example of how you can use this tuning in a blues context to accompany yourself while you sing.
You can also hear a short guitar solo using this tuning from where you can steal a few licks to yourself!
Additional Song Examples Using DADGAD Tuning
In the event you want to check out some more songs that use the DADGAD tuning, you can look into these examples:
- Justin King – Knock on Wood
- Slipknot – Circle
- Niall Horan – Black and White
- Steel Panther – That’s When You Came In
- Meadows – The Only Boy Awake
- Led Zeppelin – Black Mountain Side
- Trace Bundy – Dueling Ninjas
- Fionn Regan – Abacus
- Al Petteway – Sligo Creek
- Pierre Bensusan – Dia Libre
Final Thoughts About DADGAD Tuning
Alternative tunings can be an amazing way to rediscover your instrument. By having access to sounds that might be impossible to play in standard tuning, it is easy to be inspired to write different kinds of music.
Learning a new tuning can be tricky if there aren’t many strings tuned the same as in standard tuning, but there are always mechanisms and strategies that will help you nail the chords and scales that you rely on the most.
DADGAD tuning is a fabulous resource for composing songs on the guitar, so you should try it out whenever you have the chance to do it!