5 ways to use DADGAD tuning

Jimmy Page
(Image credit: Art Zelin/Getty Images)

Not just the open tuning that’s most fun to say, DADGAD is also one of the most versatile guitar tunings. When you strum the open strings it produces a Dsus4 chord which, being neither major nor minor, has the potential to create a world of different moods. Jimmy Page exploited it in Kashmir, Black Mountain Side and White Summer, inspired by the folk guitarists Davy Graham and Bert Jansch, who popularised the tuning. 

Although best known as a folk tuning, DADGAD has a world of applications. It crops up in All Time Low’s 2008 pop-punk classic Dear Maria, Count Me In, and ’80s rockers Tesla used it for the hard-driving riffs of Heaven’s Trail (No Way Out). Slipknot, Ed Sheeran, and Johnny Cash have all used it, and it powers the solo acoustic guitar arrangements of Smells Like Teen Spirit by Eric Roche and Gabriella Quevedo.

If you explore the tuning, you’ll find that powerchords are the same as in drop D, and with the top strings ringing, these can create some beautiful extended chords. You can play a killer version of Everlong by the Foo Fighters with this approach. The tuning encourages you to stick to the key of D, but you can use a guitar capo to reach other keys, as in Del Amitri’s Tell Her This

To get the benefits of DADGAD, most of the time you’ll want to keep open strings ringing as much as possible. The main technical challenge will be to arch your fingers enough to keep the top strings clear while you fret the lower strings. If you can play open chords, you’ve already conquered the technique.

Remember to keep your thumb centred on the back of the neck and use the tips of your fingers more than the pads for maximum clearance.

Example 1. Cascading major scale

(Image credit: Future)

Sustain every note here for as long as possible. The main challenge is from the second to third note: keep your fourth finger down to sustain the second note without choking the fourth string. 

Example 2. Extended chords

(Image credit: Future)

Have fun composing your own progressions with these. If F#mb6 is too much of a stretch, you can leave the  string open for a tense (but cool in the right context) F#maddb9. 

Example 3. Folky strumming

(Image credit: Future)

These simple shapes sound radically different from typical standard tuned guitar voicings. Keep your strumming wrist loose and experiment with different rhythms. 

Example 4. Jimmy Page-style riff

(Image credit: Future)

You can also strum all six strings on these voicings, especially if you’re playing unaccompanied. As Zeppelin proved, these can work on electric guitar, too. 

Example 5. Cascading lick

(Image credit: Future)

Here’s how you can use the cascading scale concept from Example 1 to create melodies. Again, the goal is to let every note ring into the next as much as possible. 

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Jenna Scaramanga

Jenna writes for Total Guitar and Guitar World, and is the former classic rock columnist for Guitar Techniques. She studied with Guthrie Govan at BIMM, and has taught guitar for 15 years. She's toured in 10 countries and played on a Top 10 album (in Sweden).