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DADGAD Tuning (Guitar Lesson)

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Jim Deeming


Jim Deeming teaches the many wonders of DADGAD tuning.

Taught by Jim Deeming in Fingerstyle Guitar seriesLength: 32:25Difficulty: 2.0 of 5
Chapter 1: () Welcome to DADGAD - Jim Deeming Intro to DADGAD Tuning

Welcome to our first look at "DADGAD" also known as a "D Modal" or "D sus 4" tuning.

Precise history and origins of this tuning are hard to pin down, but the English finger style guitarist Davey Graham is widely credited for bringing it to the attention of modern guitarists, ranging all the way from Celtic players to Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin fame.


I recommend using harmonics on reference notes to move from standard to DADGAD. It is fast, simple, and accurate. However nearly all modern electronic tuners are capable of dealing with this and other open or drop tunings so if you have trouble getting it right, use a tuner.

As with any alternate tuning, it is common to have to retune all six strings after making a change. This is not uncommon, because you are changing the tension on the neck. It's not necessarily a defect of your guitar. Be patient. The more you do this, the better it will go.

What has changed?

As you study this (or any other) alternate tuning, there are two main things to keep in mind: What has the new tuning changed with regard to

1.Chord shapes

If it helps, keep in mind that as in standard tuning the first and sixth strings are still the same note, just down a whole step. So if you learn the notes on the first string, you automatically know the notes on the 6th and 4th string as well. Also notice that the interval between the first and second string is still the same as standard tuning, just down a whole step.


It is worth your while to spend time studying at least the basic D scale, which I have offered here in two formats. We start with the D scale in first position. This is necessary for you to have a starting point for finding melodies.

From there though, the second scale shown (still a D scale) is set up to specifically demonstrate putting sequential notes of the scale each on a different (and adjacent) string. In addition to giving a very smooth, fluid (and potentially fast) cascading scale, this allows adjacent notes in a scale to ring simultaneously, contributing to the Celtic droning sound that makes DADGAD so distinctive.

For this introduction we only deal with the basic chords in the key of D - D, G, and A. However, many other chords are readily available in this tuning. Also, we are not limited to the key of D. In fact, Laurence Juber, former guitar player for Paul McCartney's band Wings calls DADGAD the other standard tuning, and even plays songs in the key of F using this tuning.

Have fun!
Chapter 1: (01:22) Musical Introduction Welcome back to the Phase 2 Fingerstyle Series with Jim Deeming! Jim kicks off lesson 12 with a fingerstyle arrangement of "Amazing Grace" played in DADGAD tuning. This alternate tuning is quite popular in folk, country, and bluegrass music. It is remarkably similar to open D tuning. However, in DADGAD tuning ("dad gad") the third string is tuned to G instead of an F#. Due to the open strings involved in this tuning, it lends itself extremely well to playing in the keys of D and G major.

In the scenes that follow, Jim explores the basics of DADGAD tuning. He begins with rudimentary concepts such as how to tune to DADGAD, simple chord shapes, and scales. Then, he applies this information to a basic arrangement of "Amazing Grace."
Chapter 2: (04:00) Tuning to DADGAD Jim uses standard tuning as a starting point when tuning to DADGAD. In this tuning, only the sixth, second and first strings need to be dropped. These strings are tuned down a whole step each.

Step 1

The fourth string can be used as a reference point when tuning the first string and the sixth string. You may want to match the harmonic at the 12th fret of the sixth string to the open D string so that both D notes are in the same octave. Also, remember that you must always tune up to the desired pitch instead of down to it. The strings will stay in tune better if this method is used.

Step 2

When tuning the first string, match it to the harmonic played at the 12th fret of the fourth string.

Step 3

Use the harmonic at the 12th fret of the fifth string when tuning the second string to A.

Step 4

When tuning down, the overall level of tension that the strings put on the neck is reduced. Due to this change in tension, the strings will take some time to settle into the new tuning. Consequently, the strings must be stretched out. Then, you must re-tune each of them. Once you have re-tuned each string, check the accuracy of your work with an electronic tuner.

"Modal" Tunings

DADGAD is sometimes referred to as a "modal" tuning. This specification is used to make a distinction between modal tunings and open tunings. Open tunings typically outline a specific triad. Common open tunings are open G, open D, and open E. DADGAD outlines an ambiguous chord sound that can be analyzed as a Dsus4 chord.
Chapter 3: (10:53) Chords D5 Chord

To play an "open" D5 chord in DADGAD, only one fretting finger is needed. Fret the note A at the 2nd fret of the G string. The remaining strings are played open. Now, you have a chord comprised of three D notes and an A unison played on the third and second strings. The notes D and A form a D5 power chord.

D Major Chord

The note F# must be added to the D5 chord to form a D major triad. F# can be fretted by the pinky at the 4th fret of the first string. Now, the first finger must fret the A note on the third string.

G Chord

Jim demonstrates two different ways to play a G major chord in this tuning. The first example listed under the "Supplemental Content" tab can be rather cumbersome especially when switching back and forth between other chord shapes. Also, this voicing features two G notes an octave part played in the bass register. Voice leading complications may arise due to this low octave.

The second example listed under "Supplemental Content" is far more practical in most musical situations. It is much easier to fret. This voicing also produces a slightly richer sonority.

A Chord

An A major chord can be played by moving the first G chord option up two frets. The open first string must now be omitted since the open note D is not part of an A chord.

"Open" A7 Chord

An A chord can also be played in "open" position. Fret the fourth and first strings at the 2nd fret with the second and third fingers respectively. Do not play the low sixth string. This creates an A7 chord with the third (C#) missing. The lack of the third gives the chord a harmonically ambiguous quality.

Getting Familiar with DADGAD

A. Note Locations / Orienting Yourself

The note names and locations on the 6th, 4th, and 1st string are exactly the same since these strings are tuned to the same pitch. These strings are just tuned to different octaves. At this point in your guitar training, you should already be familiar with the note locations on the fourth string. Use these notes as a reference when playing on the sixth and first strings. The same trick can be used when playing across the second string. Just think of this string as the fifth string tuned an octave higher.

B. D Major Scale in First Position

Tablature and standard notation to all musical examples presented in this lesson can be found under the "Supplemental Content" tab.

Pay careful attention to the fingering that Jim uses to play this scale. This fingering will allow you to play the scale with maximum precision and speed.

6th String notes – D, E, F#, G (open, 2nd, 4th, and 5th frets)

5th String Notes – A, B, C# (open, 2nd, and 4th frets)

4th String Notes – D, E, F# (open, 2nd, and 4th frets)

3rd String Note – G (open)

2nd String Notes – A, B, C# (open, 2nd, and 4th frets)

1st String notes – D, E, F#, G (open, 2nd, 4th, and 5th frets)

Open String Scales

In DADGAD tuning, open strings are frequently combined with higher fretted notes within the context of a lick or melody phrase. The contrast in tone between the open strings and the fretted notes creates a unique cascading effect. Watch as Jim demonstrates this idea within a D major scale at 06:40. The scale is played in fourth position. Open strings are substituted for fretted notes within the pattern whenever possible.

DADGAD lends itself to playing fingerstyle very nicely. However, you can also play some very effective music in this tuning with a pick. When playing the scale variation above with the fingers, use the fingering that Jim discusses in the lesson video. A break down of this fingering is also provided below.


D – I

E – P

F# - I

G – M

A – A

B – P

C# - I

D – M

Practicing Scales

Follow the guidelines listed below when learning / practicing any new scale.

1. Say each note name out loud as you play it. Combining multiple brain functions will allow you to learn new material in the most efficient manner possible.

2. Do not simply memorize the visual shape of the scale pattern. You must learn where each individual note is located within the scale.

3. When you can play the scale from memory, begin to practice along with a metronome. Tap your foot along with the metronome to further internalize the pulse.

4. Always begin and end the scale on the lowest root note in the pattern. Begin with the C note played at the 3rd fret of the fifth string. Then, ascend to the highest note in the pattern (A). Next, descend down to the lowest note available in the pattern (F). Finally, ascend back up to the root note that you started with. Watch as Matt plays through the scale in this manner at 03:42.

5. Remember the proper fingering rules for position playing.

6. Apply the rhythm exercises presented in past lessons to the new scale.

7. Practice through the pattern using a variety of picking techniques. Use the following picking patterns when practicing all scales:

1. All Downstrokes
2. All Upstrokes
3. Alternate Picking Beginning with a Downstroke
4. Alternate Picking Beginning with an Upstroke
Chapter 4: (10:50) Amazing Grace Origins of DADGAD

The first used of DADGAD tuning is unknown. English fingerstyle player Davy Graham is credited for popularizing the tuning. Many British rockers such as Jimmy Page also frequently employed DADGAD. This tuning is used in Led Zepplelin songs such as Kashmir and Black Mountain Side. Jim breaks down a few of the key riffs to "Kashmir" in this scene. Refer to the "Supplemental Content" section for a transcription of the remaining guitar riffs in the song.

Amazing Grace Arrangement

Learning this arrangement will provide you with an introduction to what is possible within this tuning. When learning any new piece of music, it is always a good idea to follow the steps listed below.

1. Listen to several different interpretations of the song.

2. Make a note of the official title and composer. The official title of this song is "Amazing Grace." John Newton composed the lyrics to this song. The composer of the melody is unknown.

3. Note the tempo and style of the piece. Since none is listed, style and tempo are left to the performer's discretion. You are probably familiar with how this song is sung in church. Or, you have probably heard some famous interpretations of this song. Use these performance examples as a basis for your own interpretation and performance of the melody. You can also listen to Jim's interpretation of the song in this lesson as a source for interpretation ideas.

The lyrics to a song will always provide a clue as to how a song should be sung or played. The captain of a slave ship wrote this song. It was written after he witnessed the barbaric and cruel nature of the slave trade. Consequently, he wrote solemn, yet uplifting lyrics to capture this experience. When playing this melody, try to capture the solemn nature of the lyrics.

3. Note the key signature. This arrangement is played in D major

4. Note the time signature. This song is played in 3/4 time.

5. Are there any pickup notes? The first measure is not a complete measure. This measure begins with a quarter note played as a pickup into the first complete measure.

Help with Phrasing

When learning an arrangement, always learn and isolate the melody line. In addition, learn the lyrics so you know how the melody should be phrased and interpreted. Learning the lyrics will also help you memorize the piece. The lyrics to this melody are listed below in a phrase-by-phrase fashion.

Phrase 1: Amazing grace how sweet the sound,

Phrase 2: To save a wretch like me.

Phrase 3: I once was lost but now am found,

Phrase 4: Was blind but now I see.

Playing the Arrangement

The most basic versions of the tune are harmonized solo by the I, IV, and V chords. Jim opts to spice things up a bit by substituting the vi minor chord for tonic in certain situations. The vi chord is often substituted for I since these two chords are relative major and minor chords. Both Bm and D major contain the notes D and F#.

Open Strings and Unisons

Many unisons occur throughout the arrangement. This gives the arrangement a droning sound characteristic of Celtic music. Try to incorporate as many open string notes as possible when devising your own arrangements in DADGAD tuning.

Note: Both Matt Brown and Steve Eulberg have taught lessons pertaining to "Amazing Grace." Check out these lessons for additional information.
Chapter 5: (05:19) Octaves As mentioned previously, the sixth, fourth, and first strings are all tuned to a D note. These notes are simply played in different octaves. The fifth and second strings are both tuned to A (different octaves). Consequently, licks and melodies can be played in octaves on these string sets. To illustrate this concept, Jim plays through a D major scale in diatonic octaves.

Descending Chord Progression

Jim demonstrates a descending chord sequence that utilizes the I, IV, and V chords in D major. Various inversions of these chords are used in the progression. The low sixth and fifth strings as well as the second string are played as ringing drone notes throughout the progression. It is important to analyze how these open notes function in relation to the I, IV, and V chords. The notes D and A are the root and fifth of the I chord. D is the fifth of the IV chord, G. In relation to G, A functions as the ninth. When D is played in the bass of this structure, a Gadd9/D chord is formed. Within the V chord (A major) the note D is normally a dissonant tone that should be avoided . However, since the low D note is played as a pedal tone throughout the rest of the progression, it does not sound displeasing when played in the bass of the A chord.

Video Subtitles / Captions


Member Comments about this Lesson

Discussions with our instructors are just one of the many benefits of becoming a member of JamPlay.

Jason.MounceJason.Mounce replied

Hey everyone, we've rerendered scene 3 of this lesson which should fix the iPad/iPhone freezing issue with that scene. Please in the future contact us at [email protected] if you run in to any video problems. We can correct these things in minutes or hours if we are made aware of them. Thanks!

mustard4allmustard4all replied

Keeps freezing up on chords ..g chord.....please tell me when you will fix this

bobhodderbobhodder replied

the video of the chord video, number three, alway freezes around the 1:20 sec point. the audio continues fine but video never comes back. using ipad. tried many times, different days. always the same issue.

aquiguillermoaquiguillermo replied

Great lesson Jim!!! In my opinion challenging and very enjoyable... Thank you and regards.

ajgreeajgree replied

I have very much enjoyed your series.There is a gentle way of teaching that you have. Thank you. I look forward to more lessons from you. I will move on to songs for a while. BTY the part 3 does not label songs as to tuning. This might be useful coming off of a lession in DADGAD

ajlewisajlewis replied

check out Pierre Bensusan, probably the undisputed master of DADGAD discussing theory and application

andrew kandrew k replied

that was cool. can you make some more

jim bahamjim baham replied

My computer keeps pausing....what can I do?

SylviaSylvia replied

whoa Jim! Kashmire? You rock 'n roller you!

Fingerstyle Guitar

Found in our Beginner Lesson Sets

Fingerstyle guitar allows you to play the bass, harmony, and melody of a song all within the context of a single guitar part.

Intro to FingerstyleLesson 1

Intro to Fingerstyle

This lesson serves as an introduction for Fingerstyle Guitar with Jim Deeming. Come on in and get started!

Length: 24:32 Difficulty: 0.5 Members Only
Basic FingerstyleLesson 2

Basic Fingerstyle

Jim demonstrates a basic fingerstyle exercise that you can use with any of the chords you know.

Length: 16:05 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
More Picking PatternsLesson 3

More Picking Patterns

Jim expands on lesson 2 and teaches several different picking patterns. He also covers the basics of muting.

Length: 14:23 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Using SyncopationLesson 4

Using Syncopation

Jim Deeming explains how to integrate basic syncopation into your rhythm playing.

Length: 17:00 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Picking Melody NotesLesson 5

Picking Melody Notes

This lesson is all about picking melody notes. Fingerstyle guitar really gets interesting when you combine bass, harmony, and melody.

Length: 33:00 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Aura LeeLesson 6

Aura Lee

Jim Deeming teaches a fingerstyle version of the classic Civil War era song "Aura Lee."

Length: 43:23 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Chet Atkins StyleLesson 7

Chet Atkins Style

Jim explains key components of Chet Atkins' guitar style.

Length: 18:12 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
3/4 Time and a SongLesson 8

3/4 Time and a Song

Jim Deeming teaches a fingerstyle arrangement of "Bicycle Built for Two." He uses this piece as an example of 3/4 or waltz timing.

Length: 37:34 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Two Songs at OnceLesson 9

Two Songs at Once

Jim Deeming teaches a fingerstyle arrangement of "Yankee Doodle" and "Dixie." Both songs are played simultaneously!

Length: 30:03 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Open G TuningLesson 10

Open G Tuning

Jim Deeming teaches the basics of open G tuning. He also teaches a song entitled "Spanish Fandango" to show how the tuning can be used.

Length: 39:58 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Carter Family StyleLesson 11

Carter Family Style

Jim Deeming introduces a playing style called "Carter Family Style." The technique is also referred to as "Frailing" or "Clawhammer" style.

Length: 13:07 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
DADGAD TuningLesson 12


Jim Deeming teaches the many wonders of DADGAD tuning.

Length: 32:25 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Thumb Independence Lesson 13

Thumb Independence

Jim Deeming tackles the topic of thumb independence.

Length: 31:51 Difficulty: 1.5 FREE
The JamPlay SongLesson 14

The JamPlay Song

Jim Deeming teaches a more advanced version of the aptly named "JamPlay Song."

Length: 7:24 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
The Wayfaring StrangerLesson 15

The Wayfaring Stranger

Jim Deeming teaches a fingerstyle version of the classic song "The Wayfaring Stranger."

Length: 31:27 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
The Official Thumbpick GuideLesson 16

The Official Thumbpick Guide

Jim Deeming answers one of the most common fingerstyle questions, "which thumbpick should I use?"

Length: 13:03 Difficulty: 1.0 Members Only
Fingernail GuideLesson 17

Fingernail Guide

Jim Deeming presents his thoughts on how to properly grow and groom your fingernails.

Length: 7:07 Difficulty: 1.0 Members Only
The EntertainerLesson 18

The Entertainer

Jim Deeming teaches a fingerstyle arrangement of "The Entertainer," a classic piano song ported over to the guitar.

Length: 20:40 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Arranging Fingerstyle SongsLesson 19

Arranging Fingerstyle Songs

Jim Deeming teaches the skills necessary to transform any song into a solo fingerstyle masterpiece.

Length: 37:04 Difficulty: 4.0 Members Only
Arranging Fingerstyle Songs Pt. 2Lesson 20

Arranging Fingerstyle Songs Pt. 2

Jim talks more about arranging fingerstyle songs. This time around he discusses harmonization and chord inversions.

Length: 13:35 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Arranging Fingerstyle Songs Pt. 3Lesson 21

Arranging Fingerstyle Songs Pt. 3

Jim Deeming demonstrates alternate ways to play the CAGED chords that can be very useful when playing melody and accompaniment simultaneously.

Length: 30:38 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Arranging Fingerstyle Songs Pt. 4Lesson 22

Arranging Fingerstyle Songs Pt. 4

In this lesson Jim Deeming talks about a simple way to add harmony notes to the melody section of fingerstyle songs. This technique is quite simple and can add a whole new dimension to your playing.

Length: 5:51 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Jim Deeming

About Jim Deeming View Full Biography Jim Deeming got his first guitar when he was only six years old. His Dad was taking fingerpicking lessons, and Jim wanted to be just like him. The Mel Bay books didn't last very long before he strapped on a thumb pick and added the Chet part to Red River Valley so it sounded better.

Most of Jim's early learning was by ear. With unlimited access to his Dad's collection of Chet Atkins albums, he spent countless hours decoding his favorite songs. They were never "right" until they sounded just like Chet. Around the age of 12, Jim heard Jerry Reed for the first time and just knew he had to be able to make that "Alabama Wild Man" sound. The styles of Chet & Jerry always have been a big influence on his playing.

More recently he has pursued arrangements by Tommy Emmanuel and Doyle Dykes, in addition to creating some of his own and writing originals.

Jim has performed in front of a variety of audiences, including concerts, competitions, weddings and the like, but playing at church has always been a mainstay. Whether playing in worship bands or guitar solos, gospel music is deep in his roots and is also the driving theme behind his debut CD release, titled "First Fruits".

Jim has been playing for about 38 years. He also has taught private lessons in the past but believes is an exciting and better venue with many advantages over the traditional method of weekly 30 minute sessions.

Jim lives in Berthoud, Colorado with his wife, Linda, and their four children. Although he still has a "day job", he is actively performing and is already back in the studio working on the next CD. If you wonder how he finds time, look no further than the back seat of his truck where he keeps a "travel guitar" to take advantage of any practice or song-writing opportunities he can get.

The opening song you hear in Jim's introductory JamPlay video is called, "A Pick In My Pocket". It's an original tune, written in memory of Jim's father who told him early on he should always keep a pick in his pocket in case he ever met Chet Atkins and got the chance to play for him. That song is slated to be the title track for his next CD, which will feature several more originals plus some of his favorite covers of Chet and Jerry arrangements.

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