What Is DADGAD Solo Fingerstyle Guitar?

I am asked often when playing DADGAD fingerstyle guitar at church what style I am playing. People often comment that my playing appears to be somewhat like classical guitar even though I am playing in DADGAD tuning and on a steel string guitar. In one church I play at from time to time they still introduce me as a classical guitar player even after repeated corrections of my playing as fingerstyle.

So then, what is the real difference between classical guitar and fingerstyle guitar?  In my mind, classical guitar is played on primarily a classical nylon string guitar and follows a very methodical approach to music score reading. Individual right hand fingers do pick the strings playing melodies, counter melodies as well as chordal structures.  Classical guitar tends to work from the large body of classical music written over history.

Fingerstyle guitar itself has similarities and differences to classical guitar playing. Fingerstyle guitar playing also uses the individual right-hand fingers to pick strings and also playing melodies and so forth but there is a difference here. What I play is fingerstyle guitar which, yes, uses some of the same individual right-hand fingers to play notes, but this is done on a steel string guitar rather than a nylon string classical guitar and as noted in DADGAD tuning. Some say this style sounds somewhat like folk guitar since still strings are used.

The careful methodical approach to score reading I believe is not as intense with fingerstyle guitar as with classical guitar. So perhaps an easy definition for fingerstyle guitar might be using a steel string guitar and individual right-hand fingers to play songs.

I would like to now outline various techniques for DADGAD fingerstyle guitar in hope that it will help you in your learning of this great option for the approach of the steel string guitar using fingerpicking or fingerstyle

Note Ornamentations:

There are a number of fingerstyle guitar ornamentations used in this song book. Each will be examined in detail to insure the guitarist is able to play effectively all the notes as written.

It should be noted that all of these ornamentations are truly optional but can add a fresh flavor to the piece.  You may find that you use some of these note ornamentation options and not others.

One of my music instructors in Los Angeles used to always tell me that contrast is so important to music writing and arrangement.  These fingerstyle guitar ornamentations outlined in this book will provide some good contrast to you your playing.

The note ornamentation options used in the Hymns for DADGAD Solo Fingerstyle guitar include grace notes, hammer-ons, pull-offs, combinations and both forward and reverse slides. I will examine now each of these techniques in more detail. You will also find some blog entries at my website located at with some YouTube videos with additional instructions.

Grace Notes

Grace notes are a great tool set to have in your DADGAD guitar tool belt and our first ornamentation we will look at. This is true for both composition, arrangements and daily playing with DADGAD.  Basically, I like to look at ornamentation as putting ornaments on a Christmas tree. You can certainly keep your Christmas tree bland without adding anything to it and it would be fine for your Christmas season activities. But adding ornaments to the tree really makes it come alive with beauty, interest and contrast. I see guitar ornamentation much in the same way. You can play a song without ornamentation in DADGAD and it will be fine and even move audience emotionally. But adding ornamentation can add both beauty and interest like our Christmas tree example and greatly enhance the experience and even take the listener to another level.

A grace note is a very quick hammer-on note that happens so fast you might miss it other than the fact the ear and mind are so fast they do in fact pick it up! Kind of magical how this works.  

Here is an example of a grace note in my Amazing Grace arrangement in the Hymns for DADGAD Solo Fingerstyle guitar song book. You can see that the note is very small and proceeds the primary note. It is good to practice grace notes in your playing an E note on the first DADGAD D string and then a very fast hammer-on to the F note on same string. With practice, you can hit the grace note as a very fast and passing note and it will add interest to your song.

It is important to play that grace note as kind of a 32nd note, with a really fast attack and then land on the primary note and let it ring as a normal quarter or whatever note it is. I like to think of a grace note as a hammer-on on steroids. The note happens very quickly, almost not happening at all, but almost a quick illusion to the note.

Here is an example from the Hymns for DADGAD Solo Fingerstyle guitar songbook on what a grace note looks like. Notice that it is in this case an eighth note that is shown smaller in size with a line through it and then a hammer-on sign after. This is pretty typical for all the grace notes in our song book. This example is from the Hymn Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing found in the song book on measure 5.  See how the E grace note quickly hammer-on to F#.