"Looking At Your Sound, The Other Way Around..."

Jordan Warford here, Editorial Manager for Guitar Tips.

Welcome to our Guitar Tips newsletter and thank you for tuning in. We have an awesome article for you that's going to blow your mind and challenge you to reach new heights with your guitar. We encourage you to try new things that you may have never thought of before!

In this edition:

Have you ever felt like you've been playing in a box and you keep getting that same old sound that everyone else already seems to have? Today is the day that you can change the way you think about playing your guitar for the rest of your life as we take a look at altered tunings.

Who ever said that we had to play in the same tuning for the rest of our lives? The fact of the matter is that altered tunings can give you a tone that's simply unmatched by standard tuning and virtually impossible to achieve if you don't use those altered tunings.

We're going to show you how altered tunings work, why they are so effective, how you can tune to them using your standard tuning, and what you can play using them! That's enough information to keep you going for a year!

Tunings That Keep You Swooning...

Why new tunings are cool.

Over the last few months, I have talked a lot about getting yourself out of the trap that many guitarists typically fall into at one time or another. The solution to pulling yourself out of that ditch varies from person to person but for me, altered tunings have helped me grow as a musician.

Believe it or not, even the editor of a guitar site can get into the same monotonous groove over and over again. Recently, I started playing in other tunings other than standard. As a classically trained guitarist, I was very much bent on standard tuning because theoretically, everything you need to get the sounds you want is there.

However, what I have learned in recent months is that it's not necessarily what you can do with standard tuning, rather, what tones and chords you can't get by using it all of the time. Alternative tunings offer a new, and often easier method of playing chords and a very rich tone that is unmatched.

I mention chords for an important reason. You may have noticed that the guitar isn't laid out in a fashion that allows for easy access to every single chord combination. According to theory we can achieve incredible sounding chords but the problem is having the technique to stretch that far. Some of those chords are often impossible for any of us to play. Tuning your guitar to different tones bridges that gap between theory and technique, allowing us to play new chords.

Altered tunings involve playing around with the notes that your guitar is currently tuned to. For example, standard tuning is what you're probably tuned to at the moment and your six strings from top to bottom are tuned to the notes E, B, G, D, A, E. An altered tuning will use different notes in our musical vocabulary and replace the notes in standard tuning.

There's really an unlimited array of alternate tunings to choose from because you can tune your strings to form any chord you wish. For example, tuning in open g will allow you to play a G chord simply by strumming your strings without any fret work!

You could do this with many other chords to get a lot of new sounds. These sounds form the building block for new music to be formed and is a lot of fun to explore with. Later in this lesson, we'll play around with new ideas evolving around using chords as your open tuning.

How you can achieve them without a tuner.

One of the many reasons why people choose not to tune their guitar using alternate tunings is simply due to the fact that they don't know how to tune their guitar to those notes. If you have a tuner that simply is made for standard tuning, you'll find that it's very inaccurate to use. You'll want a chromatic tuner for any alternate tunings you may wish to use. However, a much easier method is learned by the notes on your guitar neck.

We're not going to cover how to learn all of these notes on your guitar neck in this lesson as we will be covering it in a few weeks. However, there are some basic locations on the fretboard that you should learn now for reference.

I personally like to refer to the above circled notes as "CT" notes which is an acronym for core tuning notes. Once you are familiar with these particular notes, you can use them to insure that you are tuning to the right pitch and the correct tuning. Please make sure that your guitar is tuned to proper standard tuning before beginning or the new notes that you tune to will be out of tune.

In this hypothetical situation, we can only assume that we knew how to tune to standard and didn't have a chromatic tuner to check to see if it was in tune. That's why you need to be able to trust that your strings are in tune.

Now, if you're one of the many who has a chromatic tuner then I advise using it in most situations for accuracy. Also, it does help keep many peoples' tempers down.

So you're all dressed up with nothing to play.

Nothing breaks me up more than seeing a guitarist who has just discovered a new way of playing guitar but has no clue as to the location of the new chords or what tunings are available to them. Let's run through the different tunings and how to tune your guitar to them. Sound bites are included for reference so you will know if you're in tune.

Drop D: Drop D tuning is a very easy tuning to achieve. Simply place your finger on the fifth fret of the A string and tune your low E down one tone to match the D. This tuning is popular if you're planning on playing a lot of d chords, or in the key of d. I can't say enough about how beautiful this voicing is for any piece of music written in D, and the tone is superior. The order of notes from highest to lowest are as follows:

E (Standard)

B (Standard)

G (Standard)

D (Standard)'

A (Standard)

D (Down one tone)

DADGAD Tuning: This tuning isn't as popular as drop D but has a kick of it's own. The history can be traced to the 60's and was born out of folk music. Great for melodic work and fun to play around with. This tuning is yet another personal favorite that I highly reccomend trying. The tuning, in order from highest to lowest is as follows:

D (Down one tone)

A (Down one tone)

G (Standard)

D (Standard)

A (Standard)

D (Down one tone)

Open G Tuning: Now we're moving into open chord tunings. When you strum your strings without fretting a single note, a G chord will be heard. Lots of fun to mess around with and come up with new voicings and leads. If you like barre chords, open G makes them easier and allows you to play chords that were once impossible (more on that in a bit). The tuning, in order from highest to lowest is as follows:

D (Down one tone)

B (Standard)

G (Standard)

D (Standard)

G (Down one tone)

D (Down one tone)

Open E Tuning: Not unlike the open G tuning, you can also use this tuning for the same purpose. Be careful when tuning up, strings break easy sometimes and if one snaps under the pressure, you need to make sure your hand is ready to move because it stings. Usually this won't happen but being prepared never hurt anyone. The tuning, in order from highest to lowest is as follows:

E (Standard)

B (Standard)

G# (Up one semi-tone)

E (up one tone)

B (Up one tone)

E (Standard)

With the above tunings, you can create a solid foundation that eliminates the excuse, "I feel like I'm stuck in a box." There's a world of alternatives for you out there and this is one way to jump start your playing skills and have fun while doing so. You may have also noticed that this is a great example of composition and transposition, the two things we have been taking a look at over the last month.

When you try the above tunings and find your bearings (meaning finding familiar major and minor chords) you will absolutely love using alternate tunings. They add that special touch which truly adds to your music and inspires your audience.

Personally, I love playing in drop D and DADGAD tuning. The heritage of the DADGAD tuning may be rooted in folk but the rock tunes I've composed from it make that part of its history a little hard to believe. Take some time and try them out. Be patient when tuning, it will be well worth the extra five minutes it may take you!

Putting It All Together

Now that we have some awesome tunings to work with, having some familiar chords would be a great place to start. We're going to take two tunings, Drop D and DADGAD and locate some chords like D Major, G Major, and A Major and work out some new music. First things first... the chords.

Listed below are the most common chords for Drop D:

...Now you may be checking out those A and C chords thinking, "How on earth do I finger this?" The answer is quite simple, you don't! This is where you take your thumb from it's proper position, wrap it around the neck of your guitar and clasp onto the E string. It takes a little getting used to but it's fun once you get into the swing of things.

The rest of the fingerings are standard and are played just like you usually would. Do whatever is the most comfortable for you. I like to use fingerings as a guide but they don't always work depending on the chord you may be switching to so analyze the situation and go from there.

Now we'll show you three major chords that can be found in DADGAD tuning:


We hope that you've enjoyed this edition of our Guitar Tips newsletter. Everyday there is a new world to discover in the realm of music, which is partially what makes being a guitarist so much fun. You have many options to expand your knowledge and skill sets, so being stuck in a box is no longer an option.

Alternate tunings require a new kind of patience and a better ear. Whether you realize it or not, you're making connections between different areas of music from theory to technique. Experimentation is key when dealing with a new concept. 

Over the coming weeks, we will be taking a look at different genres of music and how to go about playing them. We'll cover everything from rock to country in anticipation that we have stars out there waiting to be discovered. Learning a new style of music is challenging as well as rewarding, which is why it's so important to try some of them out!

Until next time, keep on picking!



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