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playing guitar with DADGAD tuning.. is it really easier?

September 11, 2013

Note: I posed the question in the title hoping that someone might answer it. I was considering playing in DADGAD, but decided to write this post first. Fortunately, one helpful reader did answer my question. Scroll to the bottom of this post to see his comment.

The vast majority of guitar players out there, whether they are playing acoustic or electric guitars, use standard tuning : EADGBE.

The best way to remember the notes for the 6 strings on the guitar.. standard tuning.. is this:







I love that phrase.

Besides standard tuning, there are many alternate tunings that can be used on guitar. Some guitarists like to play blues and Americana music with a slide. They often use open tunings such as open E and open G. Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones made open G very popular.

There is another tuning, mostly used by acoustic players, which is called DADGAD. Those are the notes the strings are tuned to.

The disadvantage of using an alternate tuning is that the notes are on different places on the fretboard compared to standard tuning, Learning the notes on the fretboard can be a real drag. It takes some people, like me, a long time to learn. Each string that is re-tuned puts the notes in a different spot than they once were.

For example.. the lowest sounding string in standard tuning is tuned to E. That string, played open (not holding the string down anywhere) produces an E note. Put your finger on the first fret, and you get an F note.

Drop the E down to a D.. the note you are playing on the open string is D. Fret the first note, and you get a D# (or Eb.. same fret, but two different note names), not an F. All down the string, the notes are at a different place than they were when the string was tuned to E.

As far as I know, most alternate tunings do not require that every string be re-tuned.. but most probably require re-tuning at least three strings. So.. to learn the fretboard in an alternate tuning, you have to figure out where the notes moved to on those strings.

Fortunately, many players do not find it necessary to learn the fretboard. Some of us don’t want to bother with soloing or theory, and just want to play basic chords that we can sing along to, or use to jam with friends.

I have read that playing chords using DADGAG tuning is easier than playing chords using standard tuning. I have briefly checked some DADGAD chord charts online, and have tried a few chords. As of yet, I cannot determine whether using DADGAD is really easier.

I have had tremendous trouble learning how to play the guitar in standard tuning. I still want to play guitar, and so I am looking into playing with a slide (so I don’t have to fret chords at all with the fingers of my left hand) or using DADGAD, which might have easier chords.

I would like opinions from guitar players who use DADGAD, especially if they are using this tuning for Celtic or Americana music.



edit 11/5/13:

Here is a comment I received from reader MartynWylde that is quite helpful:

“I have used DADGAD as an alternate turning for many years. I perform “folk music of the British Isles”, sometimes referred to as “Celtic”, including English, Irish and Scottish folk tunes.
Is DADGAD “easier”? Perhaps, for the simplicity of the basic chords, but playing melodies in DADGAD requires as much technique as it would in standard tuning.
Good luck!”

8 Comments leave one →
  1. WilIam permalink
    September 14, 2013 7:12 PM

    Reblogged this on Celtic Tunes.

    • tomschronicles permalink
      September 17, 2013 10:59 PM

      Excellent, thanks!

  2. November 5, 2013 9:36 AM

    I have used DADGAD as an alternate turning for many years. I perform “folk music of the British Isles”, sometimes referred to as “Celtic”, including English, Irish and Scottish folk tunes.
    Is DADGAD “easier”? Perhaps, for the simplicity of the basic chords, but playing melodies in DADGAD requires as much technique as it would in standard tuning.
    Good luck!

  3. tomschronicles permalink
    November 5, 2013 3:03 PM

    Good for some chords, no easier for the melodies.. hmm. Yes, I was wondering if playing Celtic melodies would be any easier. Too bad it’s not. Thanks! Your comment is very helpful.

  4. Herb permalink
    November 3, 2016 6:08 PM

    I don’t think that learning the fret board is really necessary, or even very helpful if you’re only going to chord and finger pick. BUT, if you are going to solo, whether it’s rock, classic, Celtic or whatever, then knowing the fingerboard is a powerful advantage. Should say it’s necessary. That said, it’s a pain in the butt (for me anyway) to learn two different fret boards, say, standard and dadgad, so what do is play Celtic guitar for solo (learned THAT fret board) and learned the chords, finger picking, etc. for folk / pop guitar on my standard guitar. I keep two guitars, one tuned to each so I don’t have to mess around with retuning all the time, and then go with that. I wouldn’t bother with learning two different fret boards.

    • tomschronicles permalink*
      November 28, 2016 7:44 PM

      Good comment, good method. Yes, definitely having two guitars is the way to go if switching back and forth between standard tuning and DADGAD. No point in bothering with the re-tuning, since that takes awhile. Learning both tunings/fretboards? you are a very patient person!

      Yeah, I think you’re right. For basic chord playing, learning the fretboard is not necessary, but it is for soloing.. learning scales and even modes. Yikes.

      I think maybe I’ll concentrate more on bass.. of course, I had to go and buy a 5-string (love the low B string) but that’s one more string’s worth of notes to learn.. and for bass, I REALLY need to learn the fretboard, since I won’t be playing chords, well, mostly will not be playing chords.

      The only reason I would not need to learn the bass fretboard would be if I never intend to make up my own basslines. If I just play from tab, I can learn song by song. But that’s not what I want to do.

      As far as guitar goes.. I just pick up an acoustic once in awhile to make random noises and play a bit of blues. I use my electric guitar for crazy sounds (I plug it into my computer, running garageband with lots of wonderful effects). I don’t have to play well to make weird noises. Besides the noises, I just play basic power chords and metal riffs.

      Thanks again for your comment.

  5. Herb permalink
    May 13, 2018 2:17 AM

    This is an old thread, but here goes….
    Two important reasons to learn dadgad for Celtic is that it does facilitate playing across the strings and getting a somewhat harplike sound which is very helpful for the Celtic sound, but perhaps most importantly, so much of the tabs that are already out there are written for dadgad so unless you want to write your own tabs (my god what a headache!) save yourself a huge amount of grief, tune to dadgad and learn the tabs as written. In fact, you don’t really have to bother with “learning dadgad” just tune to dadgad (dead easy) and pay the tabs as given.

    • Tom Meninga permalink*
      May 16, 2018 1:13 PM

      Regarding tabs, you mean tabs specifically for Celtic music right?

      Yes, this tuning really does sound great for Celtic music.

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