Acous­tic blues In three tunings

In­ject new life into your play­ing with lessons in three top tunings Drop D, Open G and DADGAD.

Guitar Techniques - - CONTENTS -

a great thing about open tun­ing is that it forces you to use your ear, be­cause your old licks no longer fall un­der your fin­gers

For this per­fect fol­low-on to Jon’s 50 Tips fea­ture, which hope­fully whet­ted your ap­petite for all things open-tuned, we will be look­ing in depth at three ex­cel­lent tunings to lift your acous­tic blues.

Open tunings are of­ten per­ceived to be a fairly re­cent in­no­va­tion, hav­ing en­joyed a steady rise in pop­u­lar­ity since the 1990s. Of course back in the ‘60s rock and folk mu­si­cians were ex­per­i­ment­ing with open tunings, but even they were not the first. In fact, most of the open tunings in use to­day can be traced back to the early days of Delta blues and its pi­o­neers. These mu­si­cians were solo per­form­ers, so open tunings made self-ac­com­pa­ni­ment eas­ier, they were fuller and louder sound­ing, plus they fa­cil­i­tated the use of slide tech­nique and sim­ple fin­ger­ings.

In this fea­ture you will learn three blues pieces in a trio of open tunings; at the very least they will en­cour­age you to re­think your blues tech­nique and, who knows, you might find it’s the per­fect way for­ward for cre­at­ing your own sig­na­ture style. So let’s have a close look at the three tunings you will be study­ing in this les­son:

Drop D. De rigueur for mod­ern metal play­ers (since a pow­er­chord can be played with just one fin­ger on the bot­tom three strings); this deeply res­o­nant tun­ing was first used by Delta blues vir­tu­osos such as Son House and Robert John­son over a hun­dred years ago. Con­tem­po­rary blues re­vival­ist Eric Bibb also fre­quently uses Drop D tun­ing. This is a great tun­ing for play­ing fin­ger­style blues be­cause al­ter­nat­ing bass pat­terns can be eas­ily played on the open fourth and sixth strings, leav­ing the fret­ting hand free to add melodies higher up the neck.

DADGAD. Be­lieved to have orig­i­nated in North Africa, DADGAD was pop­u­larised by 60s Bri­tish folk gui­tarist Davey Gra­ham. It is of­ten re­ferred to as ‘Celtic tun­ing’ be­cause of its widespread use in Celtic and folk mu­sic. This tun­ing is not nor­mally as­so­ci­ated with the blues style as it doesn’t have a fam­ily line that can be traced back to those Delta blues pi­o­neers, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be used for play­ing the blues. The ‘sus chord’ gen­er­ated by sim­ply hit­ting the open strings cre­ates an am­bigu­ous and blurred tonal­ity, that’s per­fect for play­ing blues with per­haps a more con­tem­po­rary feel.

Open G. Also known as ‘Span­ish’ tun­ing it was ex­ten­sively used by Charley Pat­ton, the ‘fa­ther’ of Delta blues gui­tar style. Other in­flu­en­tial open G play­ers in­clude Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Wa­ters, Blind Lemon Jef­fer­son, and Robert John­son. This tun­ing of­ten re­quires the sixth string to be muted, one rea­son why Keith Richards re­moved this string al­to­gether. If you don’t want to do that and don’t need the usual low D of this tun­ing, you can al­ways tune your sixth string up to G so it’s in uni­son with the fifth. Slide play­ers al­ready use lots of damp­ing so this is­sue is less of a prob­lem for them. And open G is per­fect for slide be­cause form­ing a barre (or lay­ing a slide) across any fret re­sults in a ma­jor chord.

The great thing about play­ing in any open tun­ing is that it forces you to use your ear in­stead of re­ly­ing on ro­botic fin­ger pat­terns, be­cause all those tired old licks no longer fall un­der your fin­gers. So don’t be put off if you feel a lit­tle lost with­out your favourite chord shapes and scale pat­terns. Re­mem­ber, if you’re out­side of your com­fort zone, then you’re learn­ing some­thing new.

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