Alternate Tuning of the Week; The Celtic Tuning

Graham was a pioneer in the use of DADGAD


One of the best things about music is the vast amount of creative freedom we as musicians have. Although there are “rules” in music, they are much more like guidelines in the true sense of the word with nothing being truly off limits (whether it sounds pleasing to the ear… that’s a completely different subject as one man’s off-note is another man’s mode scale). Instruments are no different, and one of the more exciting aspects of guitars in particular is the vast amount of alternate tunings available. We have been featuring a few every Thursday here and this week we bring our attention to something a bit more exotic, although definitely familiar.


The How-To's of DADGAD Tuning

If you are coming from standard EADGBE tuning, DADGAD (pronounced dad-gad and is also known as Celtic tuning, which I’ll explain later) simply requires a full step drop of the 1st, 2nd and 6th strings (high E, B and low E) which will give you an open D suspended 4th chord(Dsus4). This simply means that when played open, it’s a D chord, and the suspended 4th part explains the replacement of the major or minor 3rd of the open chord with that of a perfect 4th that is neither intrinsically minor nor major, hence, suspended. It is also good to note that suspended chords replace the major or minor 3rd with either a major 2nd or perfect 4th, giving it both an open and dissonant sound when played.


Birth of the "Celtic" Tuning

 The DADGAD has been used across multiple popular genres like blues and rock, but no other genre is more associated with the tuning as is Celtic music. The reason that DADGAD works so well with Celtic music such as Irish folk is because several of the movable chords retain open strings which act as a sound pillars of sort, sustaining certain notes consistently even as the chords change which is very similar to the arrangement for traditional Irish or Scottish pipe music.


The DADGAD tuning was first popularized in modern music by English folk singer-songwriter Davey Graham who pioneered its use in his adaptations of not only traditional Celtic music but folk music of India and Morocco as well. In popular music, Jimmy Page was known to have extensively used this tuning in not only his early years as a session guitarist but with Led Zeppelin as well. Take a listen to the song “Black Mountain Side” or “Kashmir” to hear Page’s take on Celtic tuning.


Now It's Time to Try It Out

There you have it, not so hard and actually pretty fun once you get the hang of the chord shapes. Whether you want to call it a dad-gad, Celtic, or even Dsus4, if you’re trying to add a little Irish spice to your arrangements, this D modal tuning should definitely give you a kick in the clovers!

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