Tao Of Tunings

Alternate Tunings for Guitar, by Mark Shark

Learning The Tunings

The book begins with standard tuning and then moves through a number of useful tunings, illustrating the most useful and common modes in each tuning.

(I have omitted the Locrian mode from all tunings that contain an open fifth as this interval is not present in this mode. Tunings that contain a sharp-four or flat-five are better suited to this particular tonality.)

After standard tuning I provide maps for G, E, and C tunings in their major, minor, and suspended forms. These three tunings are cousins since they share string voicings and groupings-they simply shift string groupings
and bass note placement.

I’ll also talk about D-A-D-G-A-D, a suspended tuning with a very open sound that is useful and familiar (the bottom four strings are the same as dropped D).

Omitting the third and fourth intervals from a tuning is another way to acquire more drone notes. D-A-D-D-A-D and G-G-D-G-G-D (two root/fifth tunings) are wonderful for slide and provide great droning possibilities. And I’ve included certain specialty tunings for unusual tonalities, such as sharp-four tunings that open up the Lydian, Lydian flat-seven, and Locrian tonalities. E minor 11 tuning is included because it is a personal favorite of mine and David Crosby.

C Wahine tuning (C-G-D-G-B-D) is a beautiful tuning that evokes a distinctively Hawaiian flavor.

When I play in any of these tunings I think in terms of root-to-root numeric values, rather than specific note names.

I prefer to use numeric values within the major scale (root, second, third, fourth, etc.) rather than specific letter names of notes. This way I keep in mind the tonality scalewise without having to be conscious of specific sharp, flat, and letter-name identifications.

This helps me organize the various tunings.

All tunings have their advantages and disadvantages. Find out what a tuning lends itself to. If it doesn’t do what you want it to in a simple way, there may be another tuning that does.

To be sure, there’s a lot to learn, and I’m gonna help you learn it, understand it, and, God willing, play it.

Standard and Alternate Tuning Shapes

The guitar is a fluid landscape in which shapes shift like waves up and down the fretboard.

Intervals rise, peak, and descend, ever changing, yet are fixed by theoretical gravitational forces. As you alter tunings, the shapes are altered and the intervals change in new yet utterly harmonious ways.

Examine the intervals of major and minor thirds as they rise up and down the neck in standard tuning in the key of E on the G and B strings.

Standard Tuning Thirds in E Major (E-F#-G#-A-B-C#-D#-E)

Standard Tuning Thirds in E Major (E-F#-G#-A-B-C#-D#-E)

If you raise the G string to G# (as in open E tuning, E-B-E-GI-B-E) all the shapes change, but in a logical way.

Since the G string has been raised one fret in pitch you compensate by lowering the fingering on the G string one fret in pitch.

Thirds in E Major (E-F#-G#-A-B-C#-D#-E)

E Tuning: Thirds in E Major (E-F#-G#-A-B-C#-D#-E)