Open D is one of the most popular choices for slide playing. It gives a bluesy flavor and a lot of open strings ringing throughout songs.
In this tuning, strumming all strings without fretting any notes produces a D Major chord.
Since you only need to play a barre chord over the fretboard to get any major chord you want, playing in open D will make major chords extremely easy to play.
Slide playing is also easier in comparison to standard tuning, since all of the intervals across a given fret are consonant and will sound “right”.
Some players such as Warren Haynes still play slide in standard tuning, but it becomes a lot more challenging to use some of the typical vocabulary we’ve grown used to from players such as Dwayne Allman, Derek Trucks, and other players who favor open tunings for slide.
Since you’re loosening your strings by down tuning some of them, it is usually a good idea to put on a heavier set of strings.
This makes even more sense if you’re going to be playing with a slide, in which case you could even raise the action slightly.
That way you can apply a little bit more pressure and still not touch the frets with the slide, which is unwanted.
If you’re all about challenging yourself on the guitar or finding new ways to approach the guitar, be sure to check out our full guide on alternative tunings, as well as our guides to open G, open E and drop c tuning.
Want to learn more about music theory?
Check out our ultimate guide to music theory to find more jumping off points.
- How to Tune Your Guitar in Open D tuning
- How to Play Chords in Open D Tuning
- Scales in Open D Tuning
- Popular Songs In Open D Tuning
How to Tune Your Guitar in Open D tuning
The notes played by the open strings in this tuning spell out a D Major chord.
The D Major triad has the following notes: D (root); F# (major 3rd) and A (perfect 5th).
This means that instead of having EADGBE, you’ll have these notes (starting from the lowest string):
Notice that only the 4th string stays the same in comparison to standard tuning. All other strings are dropped either by a whole tone or a semitone. However, memorizing where the notes are isn’t so bad, since you have three D strings and an A string. It is almost as if you only need to memorize 3 strings in total.
If you don’t have a tuner nearby, here’s how you could tune to Open D by ear:
- Play the 4th string (D), and then drop the 6th and 1st strings until their pitches match.
- Play the 4th string (A), and then drop the 2nd string until their pitches match.
- Finally, the trickiest part, is to play the 3rd string (which is now a D), and then drop the second string until you can hear a major third interval.
If you can’t identify a major third interval by ear yet, you can also play the 4th string on the 4th fret, which gives you the F# you want on the second string.
Also, make sure you check all strings again after tuning. As you’ve changed the string tension significantly, there’s a good chance the strings you already tuned will drop out.
Always tune from a lower pitch up until the pitch you want, and not the opposite. This will help you maintain tuning stability more efficiently.
How to Play Chords in Open D Tuning
Major chords in Open D tuning
Open D is built around a major chord shape, so these should be a piece of cake to play. The only thing you need to acquire is a good awareness of where the notes are on the 6th string.
In comparison to standard tuning, you’ll find every note 2 frets higher than it used to be, since you’ve dropped your low E to a D.
Below are diagrams that illustrate how to play major chords in this tuning:
Minor Chords in Open D Tuning
Minor chords have a root, minor third and a perfect fifth. Unfortunately, you can’t play them with just barre shapes like the major chords, but they aren’t that hard to play, anyway.
Here are a few examples of what you could use:
Seventh Chords in Open D Tuning
Seventh, or dominant seventh chords have a root, major third, perfect fifth and a minor seventh (speaking of fifths – check out our primer on the circle of fifths).
They are built upon the 5th degree of the major scale and they’re frequently used in order to resolve to a major or minor chord, such as in II V I cadences.
Here are a few voicings available to play in Open D:
Open Chords in Open D Tuning
Like in any open tuning, taking advantage of your open chords is a guaranteed way to make the most out of the guitar’s open strings, especially when some of them repeat themselves.
Scales in Open D Tuning
In Open D, scale shapes are noticeably different from standard tuning because of the different intervals you have between strings. In this section, you’ll be able to learn where to find the notes that belong to scales used in all genres of music.
D Major Scale
The major scale’s formula is 1 2 3 4 5 6 7.
In D Major, we have all natural notes except for F# and C# (third and seventh, respectively).
The following tab shows where you’ll find all the notes belonging to the D Major scale in Open D:
D Natural Minor Scale
The natural minor scale is built upon the sixth degree of the major scale. This is the same as the Aeolian mode.
Its formula is 1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7.
In D minor, this means we have all natural notes except for Bb (the b6 of the scale).
The notes from this scale can be found in the following locations on the fretboard:
D Minor Pentatonic Scale
The minor pentatonic has always been a favorite scale among many guitarists, and the truth is that you can do a lot with very little.
Its formula is 1 b3 4 5 b7.
Pentatonic licks and riffs sound great, and it is definitely worth spending some time getting used to the new patterns!
D Minor Blues Scale
The Minor Blues Scale is another favorite when soloing. This one is basically the minor pentatonic with an added note, the b5, or “blue note”, which sounds great when used in an appropriate context.
This means that its formula is: 1 b3 4 b5 5 b7.
D Major Blues Scale
The major blues scale is similar to the major pentatonic scale, except it has a b3.
Its formula is 1 2 b3 3 5 6.
Here’s where you’ll find the corresponding notes on the fretboard when you’re tuned in Open D:
Popular Songs In Open D Tuning
Boys Like Girls – Thunder
This song is a good example of how easy it is to use this tuning when you’re accompanying yourself with an acoustic guitar.
There are voicings that are easy to switch in between, and the chords sound very full from the open strings and repeated notes.
Allman Brothers Band – Little Martha
Open tunings can be heard throughout all of the Allman Brothers Band’s discography. They played with slide a lot, which was one of the major reasons for them to embrace these tunings the way they did.
Little Martha is a great acoustic guitar song to show off your skills in Open D.
Reo Speedwagon – Time For Me To Fly
A very accessible tune to start off with Open D, you can play it by using barre chords throughout the entire song.
Take advantage of that to help you memorize the notes on the 6th string and get to know where your root notes are
The Rolling Stones – Street Fighting Man
There are many more Rolling Stones songs written in Open G, and they have also experimented with other tunings, as they did on Street Fighting Man.
Learning this tune is recommended since it teaches you the kind of voicings that are used the most in this type of context
Mumford and Sons – The Cave
A simple riff that uses a lot of open strings, this is also a nice choice if you’re trying to get used to Open D tuning.
Use a capo on the second fret if you want to play along with the original recording of this song.
More Songs In Open D Tuning
- The Tallest Man on Earth – The Gardener
- My Bloody Valentine – Sometimes
- Lonnie Johnson – Got The Blues For Murder Only
- Bon Iver – re: Stacks
- Pearl Jam – Even Flow
- Bob Dylan – Shelter From The Storm
- The Black Crowes – She Talks to Angels
- Elmore James – Dust My Broom
- Joe Walsh – The Confessor
Like most open tunings, Open D has a particularly pleasant sound for bluesy riffs and slide licks (making it popular for lap steel guitar), but it has found its place in other genres of music as well, such as classical music.
Experiment with heavier string gauges, try out different types of slides, and learn a couple of songs that have been written in Open D.
You might end up being inspired by this new approach to the guitar and write something that you probably wouldn’t have otherwise come up with if you were playing in standard tuning.