Have you ever wondered how Irish guitarists get such a charming sound? Or how their guitar sounds so unique in accompanying traditional Irish music? Well fret not! Today we’ll explore one of the most valuable secret weapons that these guitarists have in their repertoire; the DADGAD Tuning.


What is DADGAD Tuning?

DADGAD Tuning is an alternative guitar tuning that has each of the six strings tuned to D,A,D,G,A,D. This contrasts the standard tuning quite a bit from the EADGBE that most guitarists are familiar with. The low and high ‘E’ strings are tuned down a full step as well as the high ‘B’ string to create this alternate tuning. This new configuration of notes creates an open D suspended 4 chord, giving the guitar a really unique and ambiguous feel that’s neither major nor minor and is very versatile as a result.


How is DADGAD Played in Traditional Irish Music

Most of the time, the guitar is an accompaniment for the many melody playing instruments in a session, like the fiddle or banjo. As such, the biggest challenge in Irish guitar accompaniment can be how quickly the chords switch alongside the melody. This can be a bit tricky to play if someone isn’t used to switching chords at a higher tempo. 

However, this tuning can make this process easier. DADGAD allows you to take a major or minor chord shape on the lower 4 strings (DADG) and move it up or down the neck to change chords. This also leaves the top ‘A’ and ‘D’ strings open to act as drone strings and create a rich addition to your chords. This can make them much more full-sounding. These drone strings really lend themselves well to this style as drones are a very common feature of Irish music. 

In addition, the change in tuning can lead to different inversions of chords being played which often makes the texture and timbre of the songs sound fresh and unique!

Here’s Aodan Coyne demonstrating some of these ideas, and how easy it is to change these chord shapes to suit the DADGAD tuning:




The History of DADGAD Tuning

It’s hard to say for certain who came up with this tuning first, or from where exactly it came from. However, it seems that the British folk guitarist Davey Graham is widely considered the man to have developed the tuning into what it is today. Most sources claim that Davey either discovered the tuning or was inspired by Oud music while on a trip to Morocco during the 1960s. 

(A young Davey Graham

Credit: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-leicestershire-38082496

Graham’s new revolutionary tuning made its mark on the Celtic music being played at the time in Britain. Over time though, it eventually made its way into Irish music thanks to Mícheal O’Domhnaill and Daithí Sproule who were both inspired by Davey Graham. Thanks to their influences, DADGAD has continued to be an absolute stable of Irish guitar accompaniment within traditional Irish music to this day.


How Can I Start Playing Irish Music in DADGAD?

Although learning this new tuning is relatively straightforward, it will take some time to become familiar with it. Here are a few steps to help get you started in DADGAD for Irish music: 

  • Start by learning all the standard chords in DADGAD. Learning these chords first will allow you to start playing songs right from the very start, which is ultimately where we want to be right?
  • After getting the hang of the standard chords, move on to major and minor chord shapes and familiarize yourself with how these chords move around the fretboard.
  • Progress to learning more complicated chord shapes.
  • After that, I’d start exploring some melodic licks to improve your playing and understanding of DADGAD.

Despite being a rough outline, these steps are a good place to start learning the ins and outs of DADGAD and will get you playing alongside all of your favourite jigs, reels, hornpipes, and polkas in no time!


Other Unique Aspects of DADGAD Tuning

As I’ve mentioned previously, the fact that DADGAD is an open D sus 4 tuning, makes it mysterious and versatile for many styles of music. The lack of any major/minor 3rds, 6ths, or 7ths in the tuning makes it tonally ambiguous and as a result, can be used to play many different styles.

On top of that, thanks to its tonal ambiguity, DADGAD is a very popular tuning in the world of percussive acoustic guitar playing. Some of the most well known percussive guitarists like Andy Mckee, Mike Dawes, Preston Reed, Bob Ross, Antoine Dufour, and many others, often use alternate tunings like DADGAD to play intricate melodies, while also playing countermelodies and harmonics, and by using the acoustic body as a percussive instrument to make full arrangements of their own compositions.

(Andy McKee playing his famous tune “Drifting” written in the DADGAD Tuning.

Credit: https://www.avalonguitars.com/artists/andy-mckee)


How Can I Learn More About DADGAD Tuning?

If you’re looking to learn more about this wonderful tuning, there are a plethora of resources and tutorials online to help you. At McNeela, we even have some books specifically about this wonderful tuning such as ‘The Irish DADGAD Guitar Book’ by Sarah McQuaid to get you up and playing in no time!

In addition, if you’re looking for a stunning guitar to learn this tuning, we have a wide range of high-quality Rathbone and Brunswick guitars for sale at mcneelamusic.com!

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