I’d like to give you one more thing to think about while you’re spending a bit of time getting used to what 5ths feel like.  And I’d like to come at it from a different angle than what some folks suggest.  First, let me lay this on you–you can already play both some major and some minor chords, right?  (And just to confirm something you’ve probably already figured out, if it’s for instance called a D-chord that’s actually a D-major chord, or if it just says G that’s a G-major chord, kinda saves time.  Small point.  Got it?  Good.  Onward.)  Well, have you figured out that there’s only one tiny difference between a major chord and a minor one?    Absolutely.  And that difference is the middle note.

Remember that a major chord is made up of three notes, that they’re notes in a major scale (the scale that starts ‘doh, re, mi…’), and that they’re the 1st, the 3rd and the 5th notes of that major scale (‘doh’, ‘mi’ and ‘soh’ in doh-speak).  So if we’re talking about a C-major chord, and since the first five notes in the C-scale are C, D, E, F, and G, you and I can figure that a C-chord is made up of a C-note, an E-note, and a G-note.  And I guarantee you that every C-major chord you ever play has only those three notes, although it might have more than one of each just to keep things interesting.

fretc3The thing I want to focus on for the moment is the 1st and 3rd notes of that scale, the C and E-notes (the C-note is the bass note in your C-chord, and the E-note is the 2nd fret on your middle D-string, that’s the third from the bass, check out the diagram to see what I mean).  First of all let’s solid up the notion that the there’s a musical distance between those two notes.  That distance is called ‘a third’.  Actually a major-third, but ‘third’ will do.  Much like you’ve been reminding yourself that a 5th has a sound, a 3rd has a sound too.  It’s sweet and pretty, whereas I think the 5th sounds kind of square and hollow, like a frame that’s going to have some walls put on it to make it a house.  The 3rd is very different from that, can you hear it?

I love all kinds of intervals (that’s what the distance between any two notes is called, ‘an interval’, now you know).  All the different intervals have their own sound and feeling, kind of like all the different herbs and spices have their own taste when we’re cooking.  Trust me, when you’re looking for pretty, reach for a third.

fretcminorOkay, that’s all been fun, but here’s the thought I want to leave you with.  If you take that note you’re playing with your second finger and move it down one fret so you’re playing a note on the first fret instead, that E-note has now been changed to an E-flat note.  And if you leave the other two notes the same and play all three of these three notes now you’re playing a different chord.  That chord is a C-minor chord.  Cool, eh?

So the only difference between a C-major chord and a C-minor chord is that one fret, one note.  In official language you’d say that to make a C-major chord into a C-minor chord you lower the 3rd by one semi-tone.  So while you’re walking your way through all of those 5ths, I want you to think about what we just figured out.  You already know how to play G-major and F-major chords, for instance.  If you do a bit of figuring you might be able to turn them into minor chords.  See if you can make sense of that thought and I’ll follow it up later.  In the meantime, spend a little longer on those 5ths and then we’ll get back to sketching out chords.  Have fun.


You’re right, it’s time we had a look at what we’ve got so far.


D majorfretd3fretdminor

D/C-sharp bassD/C bassG

G major

G/B bassG/B-flat bassA (fifths)fretffretbflatbfretcE Minor 7B minorF-sharp minor

DADGAD chords–D-minor

fretdminorAnother one of those chords I haven’t had a chance to show you yet.  Can be interesting with all kinds of chords, including  an F-chord.  I’ll have to show you a few more of the minor chords, then we can start to string a few of them together.  May as well start here.  Only one small change from the D-major chord I showed you back when we began all this.  But a whole different sound.

DADGAD chords–G/B-flat bass

G/B-flat bass

Well, if we’re going to be playing around with bass lines you may as well know this one, add it in after the G/B bass-chord for the really fancy version of the ‘D through C-sharp to B-note’ bass line.

DADGAD chords–G/B bass

G/B bass

This one has a couple of uses, it’s a natural follow-up to playing your home D-chord, then the D with C-sharp bass–follow those two up with this chord, then finish it with home D-chord playing the A-string as your bass note and you have a nice bass line for ballads or fiddle tunes, it’s a pretty chord on its own, sounding a little less ‘stable’ than some of the others because it has B as the bass instead of a G or D-note, then you can always put your third finger onto the second fret of the treble A-string to make it even prettier.

From Here to There

I was going to touch on something about the tuning I use for my guitar, and yes it’s the only tuning I use, no big deal, I just seem to think better in it.  But it occurs to me that I’ve never really walked through with you how I go about taking a guitar from standard tuning to dadgad.  And maybe more important–how to get it back to standard tuning again so your friends don’t never let you touch their guitar again.  (In my early years I would sometimes forget, I’d get up from my seat at the party and someone asks if they can use my guitar, I say of course then go out to the kitchen for a bit.  I come back into the livingroom and buddy is sitting in the corner still unsuccessfully trying to get the strings to make the right sounds without knowing exactly why it’s not working.  And that’s not a very nice thing to do to someone.  I usually remember now.  Usually.)  And I know not everyone has the inclination to tune their guitar to dadgad and leave it there like I did, so being able to go back and forth between the two different ways of tuning the guitar is maybe a good skill to develop.  And happily it doesn’t take much to get the hang of it.  Maybe now’s a good time.  Won’t take long.

kbsitepicinstrument006It might be best if I assume that your guitar is in standard-issue tuning just now.  If it’s not, or if it’s tuned to something else maybe grab a tuner and get it close to normal, it’ll be way easier.  I’ll wait.

Okay…So first let’s walk through getting from where you are now to dadgad.  Some people begin the process by tuning their lowest-sounding string down from an E-note to a D-note using a tuner.  Somehow that doesn’t work so well for me.  So I’m going to suggest that you begin by playing your D-string (the 3rd-lowest sounding string) and listening to how it sounds.  No really.  If you’re going to spend any time in this tuning at all you want to train your ear to recognize what it sounds like.  Checking it with your tuner is maybe a good idea too, but do spend a minute or so just playing that D-note and listening to it.  Trust me, it’ll pay off.

Now, we’re only going to change three strings.  First I’d like you to take your lowest-sounding string (which is an E-note) and tune it down a whole tone so it sounds like it’s the same note as your middle D-string only a whole octave lower.

(A brief explanation that might be helpful.  If you sing a doh, re, mi scale from bottom to top, an octave is the distance between the doh on the bottom and the doh on the top.  Same note, different octaves.  Good to know, too, that a ‘tone’ is also a measure of musical distance–if you play a note on your guitar and then play another one exactly two frets higher, the distance between those notes is called a tone.  If you want to get fancy you could also remember that half of that, a movement of one fret, is a semi-tone.  But stress not.  The octave is the important bit to remember just now.)

So get your bass string (that’d be the lowest-sounding one) reading a D-note on your tuner, and also notice when it’s sounding like it’s in tune with your middle D-string.  Got that?

Now we’re going to do the same thing with your highest sounding string.  Your going to tune it down a tone (again, that’s 2 frets-worth of downage) to a D-note.  Get it close then check it with your tuner.  And once again notice when it’s sounding in tune with your middle string.  That comparing bit is really important.

The last string I tune is my second-highest-sounding string.  That’s currently your B-string.  I’m going to ask you to do the same ‘move it down a tone’ trick as the other two.  Only this time after you check it with your tuner I’d like you to notice that it’s the same note as your second-lowest-sounding string only an octave higher.  That’s your A.  Check how your two A-strings sound with one another.

And you’re done.  At this point I usually play our one-finger D-chord to make sure it’s all good.

Just before we finish I’d like you to notice two things.  In each case you moved your string down the same amount–a full tone.  And in each case there was another open string to compare with the newly tuned one. That last thought is kind of special because once you get the hang of comparing two notes with the same name but in different octaves you’ll be able to get to dadgad fairly easily.

That’s probably enough for now.  If you think it would be helpful for me to walk you through getting from dadgad back to standard tuning let me know.  You mostly just reverse the instructions, but there are a couple of things I can show you to make it easier.  In the meantime I hope this helps.

DADGAD chords–G major

G major

I can’t believe I haven’t shown you this before now, play the D-major (home plus one), then this G, sounds really pretty, then take it up two more frets for an A-major version of the same thing, you can’t really use this as a stand-alone G-chord, but when you’re playing in D and you’re looking for a G-chord, this is a good choice, I often use my third finger instead of second on the D-string, dunno why, but there it is

Putting It Together

You and I have been going over a few notions that come up when we’re playing around in F.  Maybe today’s a good day to start putting some of those thoughts together.

fretfRemember when we were first thinking about moving a song into a different range, higher or lower (what they call ‘transposing‘)?  Towards the end of that session I pointed out that you could already figure out the important chords in any key.  To do that you first make a scale starting on that note, then determine the 1st, 4th and 5th notes of that scale.  (If you’re trying to play in the key of G, for example, you’d start with the G-note.  Then the first five notes of that scale would be G, A, B, C and D.  The 1st note is a G, the 4th is C and the 5th note is D.  Easy, eh?)  And finally, you build a chord on each of those three notes.  (So in the key of G the most important chords will be a G-chord, a C-chord and a D-chord.)

So then I suggested you might want to spend a bit of time getting to know your way around the key of F.  We started with the F-chord, added the B-flat chord (building a chord on the 4th note of an F-scale), then we put the C-chord into the mix (that’d be the 5th).  Along the way I also asked you to get used to the idea of sometimes only playing three strings for these chords rather than all six strings.

fretg3Now here’s where it starts to get really cool.  Take that pattern you just played in F and move each one of those three chords up two frets closer to the soundhole of your guitar.  So your new first chord is now on the 5th fret.  The next chord is the same shape as the B-flat but now your index finger is on the 3rd fret instead of the 1st.  And the last chord is the same shape and two frets up from the previous chord, so your index finger is on the 5th fret.  Notice how it’s the all exactly same as in F except everything is two frets higher (making the three higher chords a G-chord, a C-chord and a D-chord).  Now try the same thing only start two more frets higher.  It still works, doesn’t it?  Okay, take a second to remind yourself how it goes when you start things on an F-chord.  Now instead of moving everything up and starting two frets higher try it with just one fret difference instead of two.  Still works.

What you’ve been doing, of course, is playing the three important chords (sometimes called the ‘first’, the ‘fourth’ and the ‘fifth’, you can figure out why) starting in a bunch of different places.  And as long as you only use the right three strings of the guitar and use exactly the same fingering pattern it will always work out.

fretcSo now you’ve got a couple of useful things going on.  Because you know that no matter where you start this chord pattern it will always work out (as long as it’s on these same three strings) you can make things higher or lower quite easily (say to accomodate someone’s voice, so the chords for the song don’t make things too high for their voice, or too low).  And you don’t particularly need to know what key it’s in to make it work, just follow the pattern.

And here’s another thing–the lowest-sounding note of each of these chords is the name of the chord.  So if you can begin to remember what the letter names are of the lowest-sounding string in each chord you’ll find that you are now able to play a whole bunch of chords on demand.  For instance, if you can remember that the 4th note on the bass string is an F-sharp, then when someone asks you to play an F-sharp chord (believe me, it happens), you just play that F-chord except on the 4th fret instead of the 3rd.  And out comes the requested chord.

fretd3And that will come in very handy.

So take a few minutes to think about all that.  Then maybe we’ll have a quick look at what some of those notes are.  Feel free to get ahead of me, of course.  The beautiful thing is that once you get it figured out you’ll be able to play any basic chord, without having to retune, reach for a capo, or apologize for the limitations of the tuning.  Opens up a lot of possibilities.

Have fun.

DADGAD chords–C

fretcThere are several ways to make a C-chord in this tuning, this is the one I’d like to concentrate on for a bit.  Identical fingering to the B-flat you’ve been working with, but this is two frets higher.  Notice it too only uses three strings.  And with the F-chord you’ve now got the main three chords to use if you want to play something that starts in F.  Take a couple of days and get the three chords sorted out in your mind, how they work together.  Once that makes a bit of sense I’ll show you a couple of things that become available.  I think you’ll find them useful.

The Strings You Choose

While you’re getting that B-flat lined up with the F-chord I’d like to get you thinking something about how you actually play those chords.

DAs we’ve been exploring this tuning we’ve found that some chords sound particularly fine when you play all six strings, like that home D-chord we started with.  We’ve also found that some chords sound interesting but acceptable when you play all six strings, like this G-chord which has an open A-string in it if you play all six strings.  (And A isn’t in a standard G-chord which would be made up of the notes G, B and D.  A high A-note would be the ninth note in a G-scale if you count these things, so technically all six strings in that G-chord make it a G with a 9th added, but you don’t need to know that to enjoy the sound of it.)  We’ve also found some chords that sound just plain wrong when you play all six strings, like this A-chord in fifths, that just isn’t right if you play the bass D-string.

GAs we keep working in this tuning there’s obviously going to be some use to playing some strings and not others.  Your choice might depend on what notes are available to you–if I don’t have a note that’s a part of that chord easily available on that string I don’t play that string.  Or which notes you play might have more to do with your taste and how you want things to sound–playing more strings sounds fuller, fewer strings sounds maybe more intimate, so I vary it depending on how I want that phrase or that song to sound.

So while you’re wandering through the F-chord and the B-flat maybe spend a bit of time noticing that you’re only actually playing three strings.  Compare how playing three strings for a while feels different from playing six strings for a while.  For instance you don’t have to cover as much ground with the right hand so the moves are a little tighter.  After a bit of doing you should be able to know what it feels like to play only three strings for a while, and be able to reproduce that approach and that feeling whenever you want to.

A (fifths)So wander around the guitar with that thought in mind.  It will be useful in some of the musical ideas we’ll come to as we continue to explore this tuning.