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Learning Guitar: Open D Tuning

Part of what makes Joni Mitchell songs sound so great is her innovative use of open tunings, this is one of the most useful.

Strings 1 and 6 go down to D (use string 4 as a reference note), string 2 goes down to A, and string 3 goes down to F sharp, or down one fret from normal tuning.

Strings 1 and 6 go down to D (use string 4 as a reference note), string 2 goes down to A, and string 3 goes down to F sharp, or down one fret from normal tuning.

Why Open D?

Open D is a great alternative tuning for guitar. I think of it as the "Big Yellow Taxi" tuning, as Joni Mitchell used it for several songs.

Strings 1 and 6 go down to D (use string 4 as a reference note), string 2 goes down to A, and string 3 goes down to F sharp, or down one fret from normal tuning.

Normal tuning: E A D G B E

Open D: D A D F♯ A D

  • String 6 is the thickest, left hand side of the chord diagram. String 1 is the thinnest, on the far right hand side.

Now when you play the open strings you get a D chord, and a barre at fret 5 will produce a G chord. Fret 7 barre will give you an A chord. A barre is when you use your first finger to cover all the strings on the same fret.

Versatile Tuning, With or Without Capo

As most simple songs in folk, blues, rock and country can be played with just 3 or 4 chords, there is almost no limit to the number of songs you can play in this tuning if you choose to do that.

I've shown the chords here as a harmonised scale in the key of D, which gives you chords in the following order:

  • Major (I) minor, minor, Major (IV) Major (V), minor, m7 flat 5, Major(I)

This will give you an ascending series of chords, sounding like a major scale (do, re, mi, etc) but it's important to run it in descending order too, which would start at fret 12.

Note that string 5 is muted, which tends to happen without any effort anyway as your first finger can stop it sounding.

As this is the same for all keys, you could get the same pattern of chords in the key of E by using a capo at fret 2, and the chords in G by using a capo at fret 5.

Further Reading

My new hub, Guitar Open D Tuning, Guitar Chords, contains more info, with a guide to playing Irish songs and more chord shapes.

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Read More From Spinditty

  1. Using the chord pictures below: You can play the major shapes as a barre chord, covering all the strings.
  2. For the minor shapes, try adding the same fret on string 5, as well as string 6. In other words, you're using a modified E shape.
  3. If you want to learn Open G tuning, most of the chord shapes can be transferred up one string, which saves a lot of time and effort
  4. If you really like open tunings, consider buying the complete Joni Mitchell songbook. It has some inaccuracies, but there's a huge amount of useful info.

Chords in Open D Tuning

open-d-tuning-for-guitar

Slide Guitar

You can use a slide at frets 0, 5, 7, 12 to play the basic 12-bar blues changes.

When you have this down, try using notes from fret 3 as blue notes.

Play this note, fret 3 on string 3, slightly flat for a more authentic blues sound.

"Dust My Broom" is a Robert Johnson song made famous by Elmore James that works well in Open D.

Harmonics

Harmonics are produced by lightly touching the strings with your left hand, right above frets 5. 7. and 12 (not where you would normally fret the note, but right above the fret.)

In this tuning you can easily play a whole chord of harmonics by playing a barre shape at any of these fret positions.

D Major Scale

This will be the same for strings 1, 4 and 6 as they are all tuned to D.

The fret numbers are 12, 11, 9, 7, 5, 4, 2, and 0.

Comments

Jon Green on April 10, 2018:

Well, it's not right stylistically....but you could.

Sandy perkins on April 10, 2018:

Why can't I play any Irish songs on a slide guitar

Jon Green (author) from Frome, Somerset, UK on November 22, 2010:

Thanks Steve, you're welcome.

Steve Webb from Great Wakering, England on November 22, 2010:

practical,interesting & informative as always. Thanks for posting!

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