5 Alternate Guitar Tunings Every Songwriter Should Know

By Connor McCoy, Spire Contributor | November 20, 2018

 

5 Guitar Tunings Every Songwriter Should Know

It’s easy to fall into a rut when trying to come up with new song ideas. Maybe you’ve found that the songs you’re writing lately sound bland or overdone, or you’re just looking to find some new inspiration to stir up the cogs in your writing process. If you’re a songwriter that plays guitar, here are five alternate guitar tunings to the standard and beloved E-A-D-G-B-E—and the artist(s) and songs that popularized them—to consider when tuning your guitar

Drop D (D-A-D-G-B-E)

This is arguably the most widely used alternate tuning in popular music. All you have to do is tune down your low E string down a whole step to D. It’s featured in many rock and metal songs, due to the ability to easily create power chords, building a base upon which you can stack other chords. It’s also a great tuning to riff and solo on!

Here’s a video explaining how to tune your guitar to drop D.

And here’s an online tuner if you need one.

Popular songs in Drop D:

"Everlong" by Foo Fighters

"Dear Prudence" by The Beatles

"Black Hole Sun" by Soundgarden

D-A-D-G-A-D

An extremely popular alternate guitar tuning among fingerstyle guitarists, D-A-D-G-A-D has historically lent itself to many folk songs and traditional Celtic music. It allows for the melody (usually played on the G and low A string) to play on top of a droning D chord. This enriches the guitar’s sound and makes it sound very full, which is helpful when a songwriter is playing alone or with very little accompaniment.

Here’s a video explaining how to tune your guitar to D-A-D-G-A-D.

Popular songs in D-A-D-G-A-D:

"Photograph" by Ed Sheeran

"Kashmir" by Led Zeppelin

"Abacus" by Fionn Regan

Open D (D-A-D-G-F#-A-D)

Lower the open G string from D-A-D-G-A-D to an F#, and you’ll find yourself in Open D. This results in an extremely warm and rich sounding open-string strum, with an octave-fifth base on the bottom three strings (D-A-D) and an open triad on the top three strings (F#-A-D). This was first made popular by blues artist Elmore James and was used by many other blues artists after.

It’s a popular tuning in many folk and pop songs because of how easy it is to go from the I chord to the IV, V, and VI- chords by using the exact same shape. This creates beautiful consistency and results in a very full-bodied, major sound.

Here’s a video explaining how to tune your guitar to open D.

Popular songs in Open D:

"Big Yellow Taxi" by Joni Mitchell

"Little Martha" by Allman Brothers Band

"The Gardener" by Tallest Man on Earth

Open G (D-G-D-G-B-D)

Open G is another extremely popular tuning for both acoustic and electric artists. It also creates a mellow and full sound when strumming the open strings. This tuning was used widely by legendary guitarists Keith Richards (of The Rolling Stones) and Jimmy Page (of Led Zeppelin). It’s very popular among slide guitarists and blues artists as well.

Here’s a video explaining how to tune your guitar to open G.

Popular songs in Open G:

"High Speed" by Coldplay

"Nathan La Franeer" by Joni Mitchell

"It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry" by Bob Dylan

C-G-C-F-C-E (Nick Drake tuning)

This is an absolutely beautiful, dark alternate guitar tuning made popular by famous folk artist Nick Drake. Whether fingerpicking or strumming, it emits a very full, dark sound. It’s a difficult tuning to get to from standard; you have to detune every string but the high E string. Because the low E string gets tuned down to a C, it’s recommended that you have heavier gauge strings set on your guitar. Having lighter strings will cause the low C string to sound floppy and weak. If you take the journey to get your guitar to this tuning, you’re sure to get some warm, folky songs out of it.

Here’s a video explaining how to tune your guitar to Nick Drake’s tuning.

Popular songs in C-G-C-F-C-E:

"Place To Be" by Nick Drake

"Pink Moon" by Nick Drake

"Burden of Tomorrow" by Tallest Man on Earth