If you’ve ventured into dropped-D tuning on guitar, a great next step into the world of alternate tunings is double dropped D, where you not only lower your sixth string from E to D (as in dropped D) but do the same with your first string. Those two dropped strings open up enticing new possibilities on both the low and high ends of the guitar, while also leaving the four middle strings alone, so that much of what you know on the fingerboard in standard tuning still works.
For evidence of the potential of double dropped D—also called D modal by the best-known employer of this tuning, Neil Young—look no further than songs by Led Zeppelin, the Doobie Brothers, Fleetwood Mac, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Elliott Smith, Michael Hedges, and of course Mr. Young himself. (See “Double-Dropped-D Song Sampler” below) As these artists demonstrate, the tuning lends itself to both fingerstyle and flatpick playing.
In this workout we’ll get oriented in double dropped D by looking at common chord shapes, and then we’ll check out examples inspired by classic songs.
Week One: Get a Handle on the Chord Shapes
First, tune those first and sixth strings down a whole step, so your open string pitches are D A D G B D. In double dropped D you are close to some other common tunings. If you lower the fifth string a whole step, you’ll have open G (D G D G B D); drop the second string a step and you’re in DADGAD.
In double dropped D, you’ve got a few key assets on your open strings. You have D strings in three octaves, unlocking some serious drone potential. You also have a no-fretting D power chord (D–A–D) on the bottom three strings, which means you can also play one-finger power chords on those same strings anywhere on the neck. And you’ve got a G major chord on the top four open strings.
First, check out the array of D shapes in Example 1. Not surprisingly given all the D notes in the tuning, lots of strong D voicings are available. The two-finger D5 is a core shape in double dropped D—it’s all roots (D) and fifths (A), with no third, so the chord is neither major nor minor.
Fret the first string as you would in a standard tuning D and you get Dsus2—another chord lacking a third. Moving along the row of chord grids, check out the Dm and D7. Then head up the neck for D major and minor voicings at the sixth/seventh frets and at the tenth/11th. Because of the tuning, you can leave the low strings and the high string open for a lush blend of fretted and open strings.
Now play through some other chords in Example 2. G major requires very little fretting. To get a low root, just include the sixth string, fifth fret. As shown, you can hold down both low strings at the fifth fret or just fret the sixth string and mute the fifth string by leaning your fretting finger against it. On the top end, you can leave the first string open or fret the G note at the fifth fret.
Bm is a nice, easy shape with no barre. With the C, if you hold the usual shape but include the open first string, you get a sweet-sounding Cadd9. You can also find Cadd9 at the ninth fret; this is a useful shape you can move around the neck to play F6 and Bb, as shown, as well as other chords.
In Example 3 you’ll find a selection of A chords. The first-string D note is the fourth of an A chord, so you can easily play sparkly cluster voicings that add the fourth to A, A7, Am, and Am7. In an E chord, the first-string D is the flatted seventh, so including the open first string gives you the E7 and Em7 shapes shown (some of these shapes also have a flatted seventh on the open fourth string). The final chord shape, Gm7, is the barre version of the second Em7—a movable shape that’s handy to know.
Beginners’ Tip #1
On the A major chord shapes, notice the cluster harmony on the second and first strings, which ring a half step apart.
That’s the end of week one. The complete lesson features four weeks of workouts (plus a bonus exercise.) There are two ways to access the full video and musical examples: Join our community at Patreon.com/acousticguitarplus OR Buy the September/October 2023 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.
Double-Dropped-D Song Sampler
For inspiration, check out these fine examples of double-dropped-D guitar—used to accompany vocals and for a few instrumentals (Nick Drake, Andrew York, Eric Johnson). [Ed. note: Neil Young and Janis Joplin’s recordings were not available on Spotify at press time, hence their absence in the playlist below.]
This article originally appeared in the September/October 2023 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.
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