Understanding Alternate Tunings on Guitar

Dive into the captivating world of alternate guitar tunings. Discover the many layers of this technique, the musicians who have harnessed its power, and the impact it can make on your sound. What are alternate tunings on guitar? Join us on this sonic journey and expand your guitar playing horizons.

Stepping Off the Beaten Path

Ever feel as if you’re spinning your wheels with your guitar playing? Like you’ve maxed out on standard tuning and you’re yearning for fresh creative terrain? Many guitarists find themselves in this exact spot.

The good news? A world of sonic possibilities is closer than you think, right there in the twists of your tuning pegs. Welcome to the fascinating universe of alternate tunings.

In this article, we’ll pull back the curtain on this topic, probing the question: What are alternate tunings on guitar? But before we plunge in, let’s take a moment to lay the groundwork.

Back to Basics: The Standard Tuning

Standard tuning is your guitar’s home base. You know it well, EADGBE – from the heaviest string (the 6th string) to the lightest (the 1st string). This is where most guitarists start and stay for a good chunk of their playing journey. It’s reliable and well-known. But it’s not the only game in town.

Understanding Alternate Tunings on Guitar - guitar player

Alternate Tunings on Guitar: What are they?

Now to the crux of the matter: Alternate tunings on guitar. These are any tunings that step away from the standard path. They involve the adjustment of the pitch of one or more strings from the standard tuning.

This might sound like a minor tweak, but it can profoundly transform the tonal character of your guitar, opening up new melodic and harmonic territories to explore.

Reasons to Venture into Alternate Tunings

  1. Foster Creativity: Alternate tunings can shake things up, propelling your songwriting and improvisation into new dimensions.
  2. Simplify Playing: Some tunings can streamline complex chord formations, making them easier to play.
  3. Discover New Sonic Landscapes: They can help to produce unique tones and resonances that you can’t achieve with standard tuning.

A Deep Dive into the World of Alternate Tunings

1. Open Tunings: Harmony at Your Fingertips

Open tunings create a chord when the strings are strummed open, without fretting any notes.

a. Open G Tuning (DGDGBD)

A mainstay in blues and rock, particularly synonymous with Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones.

b. Open D Tuning (DADF#AD)

A staple in folk, blues, and slide guitar styles.

2. Modal Tunings: A World of Modes at Your Disposal

Modal tunings are custom-tailored to facilitate the playing in specific modes, like Dorian, Mixolydian, or Lydian.


A versatile tuning adopted across diverse music genres, renowned for its exotic, droning sound.

3. Dropped Tunings: A Single Step to a Heavier Sound

Dropped tunings involve lowering the pitch of one string, typically the 6th string.

a. Drop D (DADGBE)

Favored in heavy metal and rock genres for its facility for power chords and heavier riffs.

4. Slack-Key Tunings: The Island Vibes

Originally from Hawaii, these tunings involve loosening one or more strings.

a. Taro Patch Tuning (DGDGBD)

It produces a distinct, island-like sound, ideal for fingerstyle guitar.

Iconic Artists and Their Beloved Alternate Tunings

A host of renowned artists have made alternate tunings their signature, including Joni Mitchell, Jimmy Page, and Nick Drake, each extensively using alternate tunings in their masterpieces.

Understanding Alternate Tunings on Guitar - guitar player

Approaching Alternate Tunings: A Guided Route

  1. Begin with something familiar like Drop D.
  2. Progressively delve into more complex tunings.
  3. Regular practice to develop comfort and dexterity.
  4. Venture out and devise your own unique tunings!

FAQs: Clearing the Air on Alternate Tunings on Guitar

  • Q1: Can alternate tunings harm my guitar?
  • A1: Not if executed correctly. Extreme tunings could potentially stress the guitar neck, so mindful adjustments are crucial.
  • Q2: Which alternate tuning is best for beginners?
  • A2: Drop D is a solid starting point as it requires changing the pitch of just one string.
  • Q3: Do I require a special guitar for alternate tunings?
  • A3: Not necessarily. While most guitars can handle alternate tunings, some are specifically designed to accommodate them.
  • Q4: How can I learn alternate tunings?
  • A4: Online tutorials and resources are plentiful. Regular practice, experimentation, and patience are fundamental.
  • Q5: Can alternate tunings enhance my playing?
  • A5: Indeed! They can broaden your fretboard knowledge, refine your ear, and stimulate creativity.
  • Q6: What are some tips for novices trying alternate tunings?
  • A6: Start simple, tune mindfully, invest in a reliable tuner, and don’t shy away from experimentation.
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Conclusion: Closing the Alternate Tunings Chapter

So, there it is, a comprehensive response to “what are alternate tunings on guitar?” Now that you’ve got the theory down, why not dive into practice?

It might feel unfamiliar initially, but with patience, you might stumble upon your unique sound. Remember, the sonic landscape of music is ever-evolving, and sometimes, all it takes is a simple twist of your tuning pegs.

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