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Open D Tuning For Guitar

Updated on January 12, 2023
Jon Green profile image

I've found it really useful to dedicate a guitar to this tuning, heavier strings can also help with intonation.

Guitar in open D tuning

Open D is one of the most widely used tunings for guitar. It's been used by Joni Mitchell, Nick Drake, John Martyn, and many other acoustic guitarists.

Also really useful for playing slide guitar, as used by Ry Cooder.

It really is an easy tuning to enable you to get quick results on the guitar, and it sounds great.

Starting from standard tuning, which is E A D G B E from the lowest and thickest string:

Take strings 1, 6 down to D, slowly. You can use open string 4 as a reference note.

Now tune string 2 down two frets, and string 3 down 1 fret. You should now have an open D tuning: D A D F♯ A D.

Open D tuning chord shapes

Chord shapes

I've put these shapes into a sequence, the harmonised scale of D. The I IV and V chords (major chords) are D, G, A , and you can play these easily by using a barre chord shape.

As the open strings make a D chord, you can also play the same notes in harmonics at fret 12, as shown. Just rest your finger directly above the fret to produce harmonics, which should then sustain after you remove your finger.

The minor chord shape is the same for each minor chord, it's like an E chord in standard tuning, with the lowest two notes moved over a string. You can dispense with the note on the 5th string too, which gives you the option to slide between chords.

So with just two different chord shapes you can play most songs.

At the end I've shown another couple of useful chords, plus the way Joni plays Big Yellow Taxi chords, hammering on an E7 shape onto the barre chord.

Big Yellow Taxi is probably the best-known song to use this tuning. Try using a capo at fret 2, which will change the key to E, and brighten up the tone of your guitar too.


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