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DADGAD: Three-string open chords

By now you’ll have noticed that not everything you’ve made sounds good. That’s normal. Don’t let it slow you down. Just document the stuff you like.


Note on the D string

Let’s add one more string that we can use to add to our collection of possible chords using the dorian scale as a resource.


The notes for D dorian on the D string, starting on the 5th fret are:


  • Fret 5
  • Fret 7
  • Fret 9
  • Fret 10
  • Fret 12
  • Fret 14
  • Fret 15


All of the ideas from the last two posts apply.  Having three strings to deal with just makes it more complex.



  • You can make chords using only one fret on either the B (tuned to A), G, or D strings. Then you can move from string to string, playing a single fret on each string while strumming.


  • With five open strings ringing in each chord, it might get a bit monotonous. Even so, it might provide a nice effect. Figure out how you can use it to create a contrasting section in a song you’re working on.


  • Or strum only 3, 4, or 5 strings while fretting one note


  • You can anchor one finger and move the other two. Or anchor two fingers and move one.


  • You can move all three fingers together to create a progression of triads.


  • You can choose a note on the D string and one on the B string. Leave the G string open.


  • You can go from a chord where you’re fretting one note, to one where you’re fretting two notes. Follow that with a chord where you’re fretting three notes. Or go from a two-note chord to a three-note chord to a one-note chord.


The scale

And you have a three string scale.


guitar neck 

Like the 2-string scale you can make short riffs that complement the chord progressions you’re making.


You now have resources to keep you busy for a long time.

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DADGAD: Two-string open chords

Adding a second string allows you to make more interesting chords.


You know the notes in D dorian on the B string from the last post. Here they are on the G string, starting at the 4th fret:


  • Fret 4
  • Fret 5
  • Fret 7
  • Fret 9
  • Fret 10
  • Fret 12
  • Fret 14
  • Fret 16


Play around with these like you did in the last post (playing the frets in sequence, making chords, etc).

Now play from the G string to the B string. One way to do this is to play the 4th, 5th, and 7th frets on the G string in sequence. Follow this with the 5th, 7th, and 8th frets on the B string (It’s basically a two-string scale). There are a ton of ways to do this…


Two strings together

Strum all six strings while fretting notes on the G string and the B string together. There are a few basic ways to do this.


  1. Anchor a finger on one string and move a finger around on the other string. For example, place your index finger on the G string at the 4th fret. Now move between the 5th , 7th , and 8th frets with your middle finger (5th fret) and pinky (7th and 8th frets).


  1. Use the same idea, but anchor a finger on the B string and move fingers on the G string.


  1. Move two fingers together. For example, play the 7th fret on the G string and the 5th fret on the B string. Now move your fingers to the 10th fret on the G string and the 8th fret on the B string.


There are lots of combinations here. Do some exploring.



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Open chords and DADGAD


DADGAD is an alternate tuning. Alternate tunings are pretty much what they sound like: an alternate way to tune the guitar. They’re a great way to come up with new ideas when standard tuning starts to get old.


I’m going to talk about one of the most popular ones: DADGAD.


Re-tuning the guitar

Here’s how you tune the guitar for DADGAD:


  • Low E string: tune to D a whole step lower than low E; should be an octave lower than the 4th string.
  • A string: stays the same
  • D string: stays the same
  • G string: stays the same
  • B string: tune to an A a whole step lower than B; tune to the 2nd fret of the G string
  • High E string: tune to a D a whole step lower than E; tune to the 7th fret of G string


Re-tune slowly so that you don’t break strings. I’ve broken more strings tuning down than tuning up. Releasing tension can do that.


Strum all six strings. While you strum, play one of the following frets on the B string (which is now tuned to A):


  • Fret 5
  • Fret 7
  • Fret 8
  • Fret 10
  • Fret 12
  • Fret 14
  • Fret 15
  • Fret 17


These frets outline the D dorian scale.  You can play them as a sequence from fret 5 to 17. Or you can play them in any order you want.


Chords and progressions

Play each fret while strumming the other strings. Think of the result as chords by playing each one for at least four beats. This allows you to get a sense of each sound.


Once you have a sense of what each fret sounds like with the other five strings, create some progressions. Try strumming the 5th fret for a bar, followed by the 10th fret for a bar, then the 7th fret for two bars. Repeat. This should give you some ideas for your own stuff.


By the way, I haven’t tried that particular pattern. I like to write patterns away from the guitar then try them out later. This means that habits that I have when the guitar is in my hands don’t control what I do. New stuff happens more regularly.


For those of you wondering about shapes that produce conventional chords with DADGAD, here you go. It’s good to know these if you want to go from a more conventional sound to an invented chord.


dadgad chords



Too much drone?

The drone of the five unfretted strings might be too much for you after a while. Experiment with eliminating strings. Try strumming the first three strings. Or the first two. Or whatever. Find variety.


Using notes on other strings is good for adding variety, as well. I’ll talk about this in the next post.


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Mixing scales

Here are some examples of how to mix minor pentatonic and dorian.


Endless 8th notes

I’ve used eighth notes to make the difference between minor pentatonic and dorian easier to see.


min pent to dor


Rhythmic variation

Use the same lick and vary it rhythmically.


min pent to dor 2 

 Long notes

Long notes are always effective. They act as milestones for listeners simply because they last longer than the notes around them. Notice that I removed a note from the original. It wasn’t working with the rhythm I was using.

min pent to dor 3 



Repeated notes are also very effective.

min pent to dor 4 


Next post: open chords and alternate tuning.

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A bunch of notes for the blues 2

Here’s the A dorian mode. Use it on the blues in A.


A dorian mode

Here’s the backing track from the last post again.



Play the A dorian scale against it. Once again, get comfortable with the scale, and write down stuff you like as you play it.


Notice that all of the notes of the A minor pentatonic scale are in the A dorian mode. Knowing that, you can easily move between the different moods represented by each of these scales.


Blues scale

Here’s the blues scale in A.

blues scale in A

Play it against the backing track.


Moving between worlds

Each of the four scales I’ve been talking about in the last two posts offers a completely different melodic world. Play the backing track and play each scale, one after the other. As you move from one scale to the other, notice how the mood changes. Does this offer any ideas for composition or song-writing? Are you able to sing along with any of the things you play?


If you can sing along with them, do they inspire any lyrics?


Once you’re comfortable with each of the scales, practice going fluidly between them. For instance, play 4 or 5 notes of minor pentatonic, then 4 or 5 notes of major pentatonic. Then go to dorian and then the blues scale. Try writing a solo that uses all four scales.

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A bunch of notes for the blues 1

There are four different scales you can use to solo on the blues.


  • Minor pentatonic
  • Major pentatonic
  • Dorian
  • Blues scale


A major pentatonic

You know the A minor pentatonic. Here’s the A major pentatonic scale.


a major pent


Remember: take the key of the song and use that as the starting note on the sixth string. Here’s a blues in A…


blues in a

…and here’s a backing track.



Notice how the bottom staff of the video progression is different than the progression above it. Both are commonly used.


Get comfortable with the A major pentatonic scale by playing it with the progression. Like you did with the A minor pentatonic scale, write down stuff you like.


 Roman numerals

You’re probably wondering about the symbols above some of the chords in the blues progression – I7, IV7, V7.


Here’s the deal with that.


Each chord in a key is assigned a roman numeral. There are different ways of doing this. For the blues, every chord gets an upper case roman numeral (i.e. I), not a lower case roman numeral (i.e. i)


(I’ve addressed roman numerals that deal with major and minor chords here.



The first chord gets a I; the second chord gets a II, etc.



A            B           C#           D           E            F#            G#
I            II            III            IV            V            VI            VII


7th chords

If the chords are 7th chords, we put a 7 after each roman numeral.



A7            B7           C#7          D7            E7            F#7            G#7
I7            II7            III7            IV7            V7            VI7            VII7



In a conventional 12-bar blues like the one we’re talking about here, only the I7, IV7, and V7 are used. That’s how you get A7, D7, and E7 for a blues in A.


This helps if you want to use the I, IV, and V chords in another key. The key of C, for instance.



C7            D7            E7              F7             G7             A7             B7
I7            II7            III7            IV7            V7            VI7            VII7



So the chords for a blues in C would be C7, F7, and G7. And the scales you could use would be C minor pentatonic or C major pentatonic.


To be perfectly clear, use C7 instead of A7 in the progression above. Then use F7 instead of D7. And use G7 instead of E7.


We’ll look at the dorian mode and the blues scale in the next post.



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