Alternate Tunings

Man tuning bass guitar on stage

On guitar, just like all other instruments, there’s a standard tuning that everyone knows: EADGBE. However, just like all other instruments, there are other tuning options. Some common examples include E flat standard (all strings dropped a half step), drop D (low E string dropped a whole step), and chord tunings such as DADGAD (D power chord with a fourth). Some people seem to think that alternate tunings are “cheating” or something, but they’re just another tool to gain more versatility from your instrument. I’ll go over some common uses for these alternate tunings and why you might want to try them out.

Alternate tunings can be a great way to create unique music that you would otherwise probably never think of. Even something as simple as dropping by a half step can change the tone of a guitar which tends to inspire different ideas. If this still sounds like “cheating”, keep in mind that music isn’t a sport. You can break every “rule” you want (because there are no constant rules in music) and it doesn’t matter because it’s still music. As for the argument that alternate tunings are somehow easier to play in than standard, it’s certainly not true in general. While you can set up tunings that make it easy to strum open chords, for the most part, alternate tunings are harder because they force you to play in different ways and think about your playing differently (and they’re probably more prevalent than you might think).

One genre where alternate tunings are common is metal. In metal, guitars are often either dropped universally (eg: E flat standard) or have the lowest string tuned to a fifth below the next lowest instead of a fourth to make playing power chords easier (eg: drop D). In both cases, the guitar’s range ends up lower, thereby (according to some people) making it sound heavier. Blues is another common genre to find drop tuning in, although usually only E flat standard. Chord tunings, on the other hand are most commonly (at least from my experience) found in experimental or progressive music genres. One band that commonly uses chord tunings is Covet (more specifically their guitarist Yvette Young). This is (among many other things) a part of their unique sound and melodic structures.

In short, alternate tunings are a great thing for anyone to experiment with if you are feeling stuck creatively or just want to try something new. The next time you feel the urge to play but can’t think of anything new, try changing the tuning you’re in and see if you can get any new sounds that you had never thought of before. You’ll probably discover new riffs you would never have expected.

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