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EADGBE "Standard"
or "Universal" Tuning
universal tuning
useful for all keys
DADGBE Dropped D gives a better sounding
basic D chord
or D modal
also known as "Irish Traditional Tuning" or "Celtic tuning"
(a capo is needed for certain keys)
DGDGBD Open G [major] also known as "Slack Key", "Hawaiian", "Spanish" or "Sebastapol" tuning
(a capo is needed for certain keys)
DGDGBbD Open G [minor] great harmonics
(minor version of above)
EADEAE Open E [modal] good "droney" feel.
Used by Dick Gaughn
CGDGBD Open G [major]
(with C bass)
bass C useful in some tunes
DADF#AD Open D [major] also known as "Vestapol" tuning much used in blues
and slide guitar
DADFAD Open D [minor] also known as "Crossnote" tuning minor version of above
CADFAD Open D [minor]
(with C bass)
bass C is very handy
in some tunes
CGCGCE Open C [major] watch out for
broken B strings
Convention used in expressing a tuning is Bass (6th) string first (left)  -  Highest pitched (1st) string last (right)

For an excellent chord finder in DADGAD tuning (by Paul McSherry) ~ click HERE


An example of my tablature
(first 9 bars of "Miss Eliza Mae Cawley" (jig) in DADGAD tuning)




For convenience use has been made of colour coding in the tabulated lists of tunes
(on Page 2, Page 3, Page 4, Page 5, Page 6, and Page 7)

By far the most widely used guitar tuning is 'Standard' tuning (EADGBE) but many guitarists over the years have been intrigued by the different sounds the guitar has to offer when the open strings are tuned differently. These 'Alternate' tunings can inspire creativity because of the unique chord voicings they offer and many artists have utilised these sounds over the years and produced a lot of great music.

Tuning your guitar to sound a major, minor or modal chord is very useful in performing

traditional Irish music, especially in interpreting music originally played on the harp.

A modern harpist would use semitone levers to raise the pitch of selected strings

one semitone in order to tune the harp to any major or minor key. A guitar player

can emulate this by using the any of the above "open" or "alternative" tunings.

The TablEdit programme comes with a built-in tuner for the guitar tuning used.

A good quality capo is also required. I use a "Kaiser" clothes peg-type

for quick changes, or a "Quickdraw" (recommended).

The most basic alternative tuning is DADGBE (by convention from the bass or 6th string) or "Dropped D tuning". This tuning is better suited to tunes in the key of D or Dm, than standard tuning EADGBE, where the bass string is tuned to E and is effectively redundant when the first position D chord is played. A much fuller and richer basic D chord can be produced with the bass string tuned to low D. As with most open tunings strings are lowered rather than raised in pitch to prevent breaking strings. If you decide to tune your guitar to any of the above tunings you'll be slackening tension only in selected strings. You'll never need to tighten the tension in any string higher than standard tuning, so don't be afraid of breaking strings. There is one exception to this, Open C (CGCGCE) is the only tuning where a string (the B string) is raised in pitch one semitone to C.

DADGAD tuning is also known as "D Suspended" and "Celtic tuning" and is one of the most popular tunings of all time. It all started with Davey Graham and other English and Irish fingerpickers including Jimmy Page. The string layout is quite simply: D, A, D, G, A, D, from bass to treble. To get there from standard tuning simply slacken the 1st, 2nd and bass strings one while tone (2 semitones). Essentially, you tune to a Dsus4 chord (that is what you hear if you play all string open). Since the tones are close to many D chords, the tuning is extra suitable for playing in the D key. DADGAD tuning is a tuning that really opens up the guitar. As with most of the alternate tunings, DADGAD requires medium gauge strings. When working with DADGAD it's important to leave the guitar in this tuning for a while. This allows the guitar to settle into the new string tension and even out the tone. If possible, dedicate a guitar to DADGAD and keep medium gauge strings on it. You can then experiment with the other open tunings, which are fairly close in terms of string tension and sound.

There are
many more open tunings for the guitar. See Steve McWilliams's comprehensive list at:
I have found, like many other guitarists, that the above 11 alternative guitar tunings are the most
useful for playing both traditional Irish tunes and other types of folk and modern music.

DADGAD and Open G (DGDGBD) are my favourites and I use them more than any other tuning.
There may be more tunings out there such as "
Orkney" tuning (CGDGCD) with which
I am currently experimenting and discovering new possibilities.
Thanks Steve Baughman

Also thanks to Simon Prager, blues and ragtime guitarist from the U.K. for suggesting
To quote from Simon's message in my Guestbook:
". . . .because you can play in D, G, A, E and a few other keys without a capo".
It would seem to be a variation on Open E modal (
EADEAE) which was
kindly given to me by Dick Gaughn many years ago

(see "Baptist Johnston" on the o'Carolan page)

Download this
Alternate Tunings (PDF).rar
and unpack this folder for much more information

Happy plucking,






I've been asked by several people to write some advice for
beginners struggling to master these arrangements. Well...........

Firstly, learn how to read guitar tablature (TAB) It's much easier to read than
standard musical notation and an excellent guide to this can be found on my
fellow tabber
Steve McWilliams' Guitar TAB Website CLICK HERE to visit.
Not wishing to re-invent the wheel, I take the liberty of steering you there.

Secondly, experiment with open guitar tunings and then begin
with relatively easy
pieces such as the jigs
"Tripping Upstairs" , "Off She Goes", "The Swallowtail" and "The Humours of Ennistymon"
which can be found here on
the JIGS page
There are also FREE MP3s for these tunes

Thirdly, try to play along with the playback through your
computer speakers or earphones,
adjusting the speed of playback
TablEdit to very slow to begin with, and gradually
increasing the pace up to session speed as you progress.

, get to know the tunes by repeated listening to the MIDIs or MP3s
then try to build up your speed.
I've arranged each tune to be as easily playable as possible on the guitar,
but some are really tricky to play. Practice makes perfect, as they say.
I suggest you set aside at least a half-hour every day for practicing.

Advice to young musicians from Willie Clancy, piper

Q.  Willie Clancy, if you were asked to give advice to
young musicians today what would it be?

A.  Get a grasp of the Gaelic tongue and develop a love for it.
Go to the Gaeltacht and the old people who have it, and learn it.
I feel that a knowledge of our language is essential if you are to express
the true spirit of our music and, as the saying goes, "Don't settle for the
skim milk when the cream is at hand".
Apart from that have patience; learn to walk before you run.
You might have a flair for the music, you might think you're good at it,
and you might be tempted to plunge ahead without perfecting your technique;
well it might be in your head but your fingers will let you down.
So, start playing early and develop your technique
with patience, practice and perseverance.

If you are more interested in accompaniment rather than fingerstyle on guitar
I highly recommend Frank Kilkelly's excellent tutor books and CDs


Good Luck          Keep on Plucking


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