DADGAD guitar tuning is used by Celtic and folk guitar songs because of its ability to change the sounds that chord shapes make. You can bring a brand new sound to a song without having to learn new chords by figuring out how to tune to DADGAD.
What Is DADGAD Guitar Tuning?
DADGAD guitar tuning is pronounced as it is written – Dad Gad. Other names for it include modal, Dsus4, and Celtic tuning due to its prevalence in Celtic music. You can also find this technique used in folk, blues, and other genres that use fingerpicking guitar techniques.
While DADGAD sounds much different than the standard tuning, you will not need to jump through hoops to use this method. In that way, it resembles drop D tuning. If you have practice with the drop D alternative tuning, you are more than halfway there. You tune the four bass strings in the same way while the fifth and sixth string intervals are the same as standard.
Keep in mind that modal tuning is not synonymous with DADGAD. While DADGAD is a form of modal tuning, this moniker means that not all strings are tuned to a minor or major chord. If you play every open string in the DADGAD tune, you produce a Dsus4.
Where Can I Hear DADGAD Tuning?
Davey Graham popularized the term in 1964 when he applied the technique to his folk music. He experimented with tunings on his guitar after hearing a Moroccan oud player so that he could replicate the sound on a different instrument. Ouds have 11 strings and resemble shorter lutes, which they preceded. You can hear the oud played in the Mediterranean and the Middle East today.
Other 1960s folk guitarists who used DADGAD were John Renbourn and Bert Jansch. Contemporary rock and pop musicians like Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Ben Howard, and Ed Sheeran have all utilized it to add a folky flair to their tunes.
Songs that use DADGAD guitar tuning include:
- “She Moved Through the Fair” by Davey Graham
- “Sandwood Down to Kyle” by John Renbourn
- “Nottamun Town” by Bert Jansch
- “Black Mountain Side” and “Kashmir” by Led Zeppelin
- “Poles Apart” by Pink Floyd
- “In Dreams” by Ben Howard
- “Photograph” by Ed Sheeran
- “White Summer” by Jimmy Page
- “Black Hole Sun” by Soundgarden
- “That’s When You Came In” by Steel Panther
- “Goin’ Back” by Neil Young
Note that many of the folk musicians interpreted these traditional songs in DADGAD, but not all are original pieces.
The Advantages of DADGAD Guitar Tuning
There are many advantages to learning how to tune to DADGAD, especially if you want to move to other alternative tunings. DADGAD is easy to learn and remember. The name even tells you the open string notes! You will not need to learn new chord shapes and can interpret your old compositions into new songs by making these minor alterations.
DADGAD creates an open, airy feeling because the tuning allows you to move between chord shapes easily. You can make drones that linger for dramatic effect and contrast them with sharper tones. DADGAD encourages artistic playing and lets you transform your guitar playing.
Since you have two As and three Ds open, the A and D keys allow you to move chords readily and produce ethereal sounds. These open strings lie an octave apart, so chords with notes that are at a lower or higher octave have a grandiose feel. You only need to add or replace the nearby D or A strings at that position.
Fully written out, DADGAD extends to D2, A2, D3, G3, A3, and D4. The sixth string, or low D, comes from the second octave, and the first string, or high D, is from the fourth.
DADGAD and drop D compete for the most popular alternative tunings, so you will have plenty of pieces to choose from when practicing. It offers some familiarity because the three middle strings remain in the standard tuning formation.
The unchanged ones are next to each other, and so you can play several chords and notes in their standard tuning format. You can also experiment with triads of those strings. Anything you play will have a unique sound that does not stray too far from the novice guitarist’s comfort levels.
How to Tune to DADGAD
Below we will outline several ways to tune to DADGAD depending on your starting position.
Starting at Standard Tuning
If you keep the name in mind, you can quickly remember how to tune to the correct spots. The acronym makes DADGAD one of the most accessible alternative open tunings to learn. Keep in mind that the standard tuning notes have E, A, D, G, B, and E as the open strings.
You can tune to DADGAD by following these steps:
- Use the fourth (D in standard tuning) string for reference to tune the sixth (low E) to D. This action moves it down one whole step and lies an octave apart from the fourth D.
- Leave the fifth (A), fourth (D), and third (G) strings alone in their standard tuning.
- Use the fifth (A in standard) string for reference to tune the second (B) string to A. This action moves it up one whole step. This A on the second string is one octave apart from the fifth string’s A.
- Conclude by once again referencing the fourth (D) string to tune the first (high E) to D. You will move it down one whole step. The first string lies one octave apart from the middle D.
Another way to remember is by tuning the sixth, first, and second strings down two frets or semitones. This movement is also known as one step.
Starting at Double Drop D or Drop D
Both of these tunings are similar to DADGAD. You can move to DADGAD from double drop D by moving the second string to A from B. Drop D requires you to move the first and second strings to D and A, respectively.
Consider Using a Tuner
If you have followed the above steps and something feels off, try to use a tuning app or device to make sure you have tuned all of the strings correctly. There is no shame in it as even experts use tuners!
Choose Your Key Wisely
Alternative tunings usually benefit the sound of a few keys, but not all. Some voicings will come out readily on DADGAD while others may prove challenging. As the name would suggest, the DADGAD guitar tuning is most advantageous for D major and minor keys.
You can use the circle of fifths to see which keys are least compatible with DADGAD. The keys furthest away from D on the circle of fifths have fewer notes in common, so you may struggle to play in them with the DADGAD tuning.
Possible DADGAD Chord Shapes
One of the reasons people learn to play DADGAD is because you can play many simple chord shapes with it. For instance, you can play with one finger and create open-string drones. You may hold a fretted note while letting the string underneath it ring out.
Strumming every open string creates a Dsus4 chord, which is the simplest chord to play in DADGAD. The next easiest chord is the D5. You can play it in two different ways:
- Press one finger down on the third (G) string on the second fret, OR
- Mute the first (high D), second (high A), and third (G) strings using any fingers you would like
- You can strum all of the chords
With some slight movements, you can create the Gadd9 chord:
- From the first D5 position, move your finger to the fifth (A) string while remaining on the second fret
You can use two fingers to play the A7sus4:
- Mute the sixth (low D) string using one of your fingers
- Move your finger to the fourth (middle D) string, still on the second fret
Another two-finger chord is a standard D:
- Place your index finger on the third (G) string on the second fret
- Put your middle finger on the fourth (middle D) string on the fourth fret
Movable Chord Shapes
Using four fingers, you can create multiple chords using the same shape. Here you can play a D, G, Gadd2, A, and Aadd4 with one pattern moved on different frets. The pattern is as follows:
- Set your index finger on the third (G) string
- Press your middle finger on the fourth (middle D) string
- Hold your ring finger on the fifth (low A) string
- Place your pinky finger on the sixth (low D) string
- The middle, ring, and pinky fingers are all one fret below the index finger, and you mute the first (high D) and second (high A) strings.
Then, you can set this pattern on these frets to play the chords:
- D chord – index on the eleventh fret, the rest on the twelfth
- G chord – index on the fourth fret, the rest on the fifth
- Gadd2 chord – index on the fourth fret, the rest on the fifth, and leave the first (high D) and second (high A) strings open
- A chord – index on the sixth fret, the rest on the seventh
- Aadd4 chord – index on the sixth fret, the rest on the seventh, and leave the first (high D) and second (high A) strings open
You can play a few E minor chords with this pattern:
- Place your index finger on the fourth (middle D) string
- Set your middle finger on the fifth (low A) string
- Put your ring finger on the sixth (low D) string
To play the Em chord, you mute the first (high D) and second (high A) strings. With Em11, you leave all of the strings open.
The final pattern we will go over can play the F#m, F#madd, Bm, and Bm7 chords:
- Hold your index finger on the third (G) string
- Put your middle finger on the fourth (middle D) string
- Place your ring finger on the fifth (low A) string
- Set your pinky finger on the sixth (low D) string
- Your index finger is two frets above the rest of them in all of the patterns
Here are the needed voicings to play these chords:
- F#m chord – index on the second fret, the rest on the fourth, and mute the first (high D) and second (high A) strings
- F#madd – index on the second fret, the rest on the fourth, and leave the first two strings open
- Bm – index on the seventh fret, the rest on the ninth, and mute the first (high D) and second (high A) strings
- Bm7 – index on the seventh fret, the rest on the ninth, and leave the first two strings open
If you are looking for an easy way to change up your guitar routine from the standard tuning, consider learning an alternative like DADGAD. You can expand your catalog to more folk, blues, and Celtic classics while also adding an old-fashioned flair to contemporary songs. As long as you enjoy playing in the D key, you can benefit from learning how to tune to DADGAD.
As the Head Editor at Music Grotto, Liam edits content produced from over 30 professional music/media journalists and contributing writers. He works closely with journalists and other staff to format and publish music content for the Music Grotto website. Liam is also the founding member of Music Grotto and is passionate in disseminating editorial content to its readers.