Ultimate Guide to Open D Tuning – Chords, Scales, Tab and Songs

Much like other open tunings, Open D is one of the most popular picks for slide playing, 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. 

This will make major chords super accessible to play, since you only need to play a barre chord over the fretboard to get any major chord you want.

Slide playing also becomes 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 might be sensible 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.

By the way, make sure to check out our guides to open G and open E 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):

  • D
  • A
  • D
  • F#
  • A
  • D

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.
  • Lastly, 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. It is expected that the tuning isn’t extremely stable as you’ve just changed the string tension significantly.

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 basically built around a major chord shape, so these will be a piece of cake to play. The only thing you must 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:

Guide to Open D tuning - D Major Chord Tab
Guide to Open D tuning - E Major Chord Tab
Guide to Open D tuning - D6 Chord Tab

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 anyways. 

Here are a few examples of what you could use:

Guide to Open D tuning - D Minor Chord Tab
Guide to Open D tuning - E Minor Chord Tab
Guide to Open D tuning - Emin7/D Chord Tab

Seventh chords in Open D tuning

Seventh, or dominant seventh chords have a root, major third, perfect fifth and a minor seventh.

 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’s a few voicings available to play in Open D:

Guide to Open D tuning - D7 Chord Tab
Guide to Open D tuning - D7 Chord Tab
Guide to Open D tuning - E7 Chord Tab

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.

Guide to Open D tuning - Dadd2 Chord Tab
Guide to Open D tuning - A7sus4 Chord Tab
Guide to Open D tuning - C/D Chord Tab

Scales in Open D tuning

In Open D, scale shapes are certainly 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).

Here’s where you’ll find all the notes belonging to the D Major scale in Open D:

Guide to Open D tuning - D Major Scale

D Natural Minor Scale

The natural minor scale is built upon the sixth degree of the major scale. It 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:

Guide to Open D tuning - D Natural Minor Scale

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! 

Guide to Open D tuning - D Minor Pentatonic Scale

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.

Guide to Open D tuning - D Minor Blues Scale

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:

Guide to Open D tuning - D Major Blues Scale

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.

Guide to Open D tuning - Boys Like Girls - Thunder tab

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 must have been one of the 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!

Guide to Open D tuning - Allman Brothers Band – Little Martha tab

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 songs. 

Take advantage of that to help you memorize the notes on the 6th string and get to know where your root notes are!

Guide to Open D tuning - Reo Speedwagon – Time For Me To Fly tab

The Rolling Stones – Street Fighting Man

There are certainly more The Rolling Stones songs written in Open G, but 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!

Guide to Open D tuning - The Rolling Stones – Street Fighting Man tab

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.

Pay attention, you must use a capo on the second fret if you want to play along with the original recording of this song.

Guide to Open D tuning - Mumford and Sons – The Cave tab

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

Conclusion

Like most open tunings, Open D has a particularly pleasant sound for bluesy riffs and slide licks, but it has found its place in other genres of music as well.

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 come up with if you were playing in standard tuning!

Andrew Bell

I don't think I'll ever stick to one instrument - but the great thing about life is you don't have to.