DADGAD is an alternate method of guitar tuning that sometimes is called Celtic tuning. A standard tuned guitar uses EADGBE starting with the low E and ending with the high E. DADGAD on the other hand is tuned pretty much as the name shows - DADGAD or D for the low 6th string and D for the first or high string.
DADGAD then refers to first the low D on far left of this diagram and then the next A and next D and so on.
So to get to DADGAD tuning from standard guitar tuning you would de-tune the low E to a D and then keep the next A the same and then keep the next D the same and then keep the next G the same and then de-tune the next B down to A and then de-tune that final high E then to D. I will be creating a video on this soon also.
My approach to DADGAD guitar both playing and composition is very different then the approach to standard guitar tuning and composition and although it works very well for me it might not be for everyone. Having said this I will now explain my approach and outline why this works so well for me.
A bit of background first. I studied music theory and song writing privately with Jai Josefs in Los Angeles area some years back. My study with Jai took almost 4 years and was extremely valuable. What I have created then over the years is kind of my own hybrid approach to DADGAD based on the music theory learned from my lessons with Jai.
Here is where things get perhaps a bit creative and not so main stream. Rather then rely on learning chord shapes in the DADGAD guitar tuning, which is what I did learning guitar as most of us have done with standard tuning, I based my approach to composition on melodic structure only with harmony added but not in a strict chord sense but more of a harmonic triad or set. I will explain.
I recently recorded a CD of DADGAD Hymns titled appropriately Hymns For Guitar. I rarely used chords in DADGAD tuning but based my arrangement entirely on melodic structure and basic harmonic support really relying on the aspects of DADGAD tuning for supportive harmonic additions.
While studying DADGAD guitar with Alex De Grassi at a three day camp some years back I ran by my arrangement of the DADGAD Hymn - Amazing Grace and Alex commented that it really does work so it was kind of a ah ha moment for me that I was on the right track.
If you asked me what chords I used with this arrangement I would have to figure them out to tell you because it was so melodically driven and figured out on the spot as needed based on theory. I am realizing that as I write this Blog I could in fact turn this into a downloadable E-book there is a lot to say on this topic indeed!
So in the first verse of the arrangement of Amazing Grace I found the first note of the melody which is an A and found that on the G string of DADGAD tuning second fret, but then to make things more interesting I used a slide from 1st fret G string to the 2nd fret on same G string then I found a very nice and desirable first harmonic "chord" which turned out to be open low D that same A on G string and open A and open D both first and second string. This was nothing short of magical to me because DADGAD tuning provides me a pretty easy but beautiful harmonic structure here all in the same basic location. As it turns out this particular "chord" is made up of just two notes namely A and D which would be really close to a D chord triad BUT here is the magic, at least to me; it is basically a D triad without the third or F#. This it is sort of an ambiguous chord in the sense that it is really neither D minor or D major but a bit ambiguous in nature. If you then add the drone low D you have a very classic DADGAD harmonic structure that I would die for, just a great sound and one that has captured my imagination fully over the years.
The melody then requires an F# note next which I found 1st string fourth fret and just play that single note while letting the other strings ring out some. After this I found the notes for a V7 of V or something like that and then played that with the next note of the song.
I will conclude this blog post with a very important point that I just brought up in the previous paragraph and that is the idea of string ringing. This is for sure one of the great advantages of DADGAD. You can play the desired note and then you can let other strings around that note ring out and then often, though not always, but often work very well.
DADGAD tuning can be an adventure in creativity with the guitar and I hope you fall in love with this tuning too as I have done over the years.