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Dadgad Tuning Guitar Guide

Updated on January 5, 2022

DADGAD Tuning tips

The DADGAD tuning for guitar has become increasingly popular over recent years. A tuning that was developed by Davy Graham in the 1960s has been widely adopted, mainly for folk and acoustic music, and it's a great way of making an acoustic guitar project a strong bass response - it can produce a very full ringing sound which is ideal for solo singer/songwriter guitar players.

Standard guitar tuning is E A D G B E ( strings 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 - low to high)

DADGAD involves lowering strings 1, 2 and 6 by a tone - which is two semitones, or 2 frets. If you hit an open D (string 4) you can take strings 1 and 6 down to the same note, then string 2 is the same note as open A. (string 5) This way, you don't really need to use a guitar tuner, and it's quicker.

An important tip - take the string to below the new pitch, and then tune up to the right note. That way, it will stay in tune better. This tip also applies to normal tuning.

Star of The County Down

DADGAD tuning Chord shapes

DADGAD and Irish music

DADGAD tuning is really helpful for capturing the vibe of Irish music, and here I've written out a chord chart for a great traditional tune called Star Of The County Down. You can play the chords in normal tuning too, but it sounds better in DADGAD. This tune is in the key of Em, so the home chord is Em rather than D, which is more usual in DADGAD tuning.

Each bar line (vertical lines) is 4 beats, so when there are two chords in the same bar, divide the 4 beats into 2 equal halves, 2 beats on each chord.

This tune can be harmonised in different ways, so this is not set in stone. For instance, the Bm chord could be a D chord instead, especially if you can't get there in time!

The song only uses 4 chords, all of which are derived from the harmonised scale of Em, which is effectively the same as G, the relative major key. The chords are: Em, D, C, Bm.

A good version of the song is on the Irish Heartbeat album, by Van Morrison and The Chieftains. This recording doesn't use DADGAD tuning, but the sound and arrangement is great.

Em scale

At the end is an example of playing octaves in this tuning. You can transfer the same shape across one string too, to strings 2 and 5, though the scale pattern will be different going up the neck.

The fret numbers are given at the side - frets 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 12, 14.

You can also strum the open strings 2 and 3 at the same time, and now you can get more of a mandolin sound going. You can play all four strings (strings 1-4) as a chord, but playing a melody line as well.

DADGAD experiments

Try integrating the scale and the chords. With a bit of experimentation, you can play a lot of other songs with the same material. Raglan Road is another great Irish song, based on Dawning of the Day, a traditional tune. Enigmatic poetry is set to a fantastic melody. This song uses chords from the harmonised scale of D: D, G, A, F sharp minor and Bm.

Harmonised scale in D:

D Em F♯m G A Bm C♯m7b5, D

Major scale in D:

D E Fsharp G A B C sharp D

Key signature = 2 sharps.

Raglan Road

Great DADGAD guitarists

I'm a big fan of YouTube, as you can check out great guitar playing with a minimum of effort. There are a few players who specialize in using DADGAD tuning, check out:

  • Pierre Bensusan
  • Laurence Juber
  • Jimmy Page and John Martyn also used DADGAD.


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