Open D Tuning: Notes, Chords, and Songs

by Rodrigo Sanchez, Feb 27, 2023 . 5 min read

Open D Tuning: Notes, Chords, and Songs

Open D Tuning offers another world of possibilities on the guitar.

It is one of the most popular tunings because it offers a unique sound that is very different from standard tuning. Additionally, open D tuning also allows the player to create major chords easily. In this article, we’re going to look into this tuning, learn how to tune your guitar to open D, and more.

What are alternate tunings?

The first thing to understand is that open D tuning belongs to the universe of alternate tunings. These are different from standard guitar tuning and involve changing the pitches of the strings by turning the pegs on the masthead.   

Although popular, alternate tunings can seem challenging to master at first. However, disciplined and constant practice can certainly make it seem easier. 

Why use alternate tunings? 

Alternate tunings are a wonderful way to extend your musical choices. This is particularly true for folks that feel stuck in a rut with the same chord positions. As a matter of fact, alternate tunings may even help you ease the frustration that all musicians feel at one time or another. 

Songwriters also love to try to go beyond standard tuning. This opens up new channels of creativity that can lead to new and fresh ideas. One of the best alternate tunings for creating is precisely open D.  

How to tune to drop D 

Now that we understand the great reasons to try alternate tunings, let’s look into how to tune your guitar to open D.

First, take your low E string (the one closest to your face when the guitar sits on your lap) and tune it down a whole step. You do this by loosening the tuning peg and turning it towards you until you hit the D note.

Our Roadie 3 tuner is a fantastic choice for tuning to open D, or any other tuning for that matter. It will take the guesswork out of tuning, so make sure you check it out.

Once you have detuned the low E string to D, its time to move on to the third string. In other words, the fifth and fourth strings remain in the same pitches as in standard tuning: A and D, respectively. 

Now it’s time to tune your G string down by half a step to F#. Notice this is half a step less than the detuning you already did for the sixth string. In other words, you will loosen the tuning peg corresponding to the third string a bit less. Just like in the case of the sixth string, turn the tuning peg of the third string towards you, until it hits F#. Make sure you rely on a good tuner to double-check if you’re doing it right. Check out the Roadie tuner app, which features a fantastic tuner. 

Play some chords in open D tuning

As mentioned, if you play all your open strings in this tuning, you get a D major chord. That easy! All you have to do it pluck your guitar, without even using your left hand. 

Now, let’s play an E chord (E major). Make a bar on the second fret of the guitar, across all six strings and strum. That is it. This is your E major chord played in a easy way up the freboard.

Let’s try an F chord. Simply move the bar you have for the E major chord one frets up. Now that you are barring all the way through on the third fret, pluck all the string. There is your F chord on open D tuning. Although you still have to barre it well, it is easier than playing the F chord on standard tuning. That is because you don’t all need your middle, ring and pinky finger to play it on open D tuning. 

Now, how about we play a G major chord? Place your bar on the fifth fret, across all strings. Strum, and there you have your G chord. In other words, you can now three chords using the same exact bar in different frets, plus the open string D chord. 

Songs in open D tuning

There are plenty of songs that feature this tuning. Take for instance the worldwide smash song “Loser“, which made Beck a superstar back inthe ’90s. 

Another famous song that features open D tuning is “The Cave” by Mumford and Sons. Other artists like Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Pearl Jam, and many more also used Open D tuning with great success.

Check out our Ukelele and Guitar app for more songs and a great variety of resources to get better at your instrument while having fun.

Open Dm tuning

A common variant for open D tuning is open Dm tuning. The only thing that is different is how far down we detune the third string. Open Dm tuning uses an F natural, instead of the F# that is featured in open D tuning. From the bottom string to the top string, open Dm tuning is DADFAD.

What is the difference, you might ask. In open D tuning, you produce a D major chord when you strum all the open strings at once. However, in open Dm, you get a Dm chord once you pluck all open strings. Although it is just one note of difference, the chord shift between D to Dm is striking.

We hope you enjoyed this guide on open D tuning. This is one of the most fun and easy alternate tunings, so make sure you practice well. Soon enough, you’ll be able to have it under your finger in order to unlock a whole new side of your instrument. In the meantime, remember to practice and have fun!

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