Alternate Tunings

The Magic Of Open D Minor Tuning (DADFAD)

The Magic of Open D Minor Tuning

While you may not hear Open D minor tuning (DADFAD) mentioned as often as major open tunings such as Open D and Open G, this beautiful, haunting tuning, characterized by its rich, minor tonality is one of the more accessible alternate tunings for guitarists, making it a great starting point for those who wish to venture outside of standard tuning for the first time.

In the following article, you will learn:

  • How to tune your guitar to Open Dm and navigate the fretboard
  • Super easy chord shapes you can play right away
  • The natural minor, minor pentatonic, and harmonic minor scales in Open Dm
  • How to use a capo in Open Dm
  • How to approach writing music in Open Dm
  • A brief history and list of inspiring songs that utilize this beautiful tuning.

Once you’ve read this article and put some of the examples into practice you will be up and running in Open Dm in no time.

Sound good? Stay tuned.

You can download the cheat sheet that accompanies this article by clicking here. No email required.

Tuning Your Guitar To Open D Minor

Much like Open D, Open Dm is a low-tension tuning. This means the strings that need to be altered from standard tuning (6th, 3rd, 2nd, and 1st) are tuned down a whole step, reducing the tension of these strings.

how to tune to open d minor 1

Follow the steps below to tune your guitar to Open Dm:

  • Tune the 6th (low E) string down a whole step to D.
  • Leave the 5th string (A) and fourth string (D) unchanged.
  • Lower the 3rd string (G) down a whole step to F.
  • Lower the second string (B) down a whole step to A.
  • Lower your first string (high E) a whole step down to D.
StringStandard TuningOpen D Minor Tuning
Familiar with Drop D tuning? If so you will notice the 4th, 5th, and 6th strings are exactly the same making it easy to play power chords by barring the top three strings. 

Familiar with DADGAD and/or Open D tuning? If so the strings are identical, except the 3rd string which is tuned to F. In DADGAD the 3rd string is tuned to G, in Open D the 3rd string is tuned to F#.

Navigating the Fretboard

Once tuned, you might notice you now have three D strings, (1st, 4th, and 6th) meaning once you learn the notes on one of these you will also know the notes on the other 2. There are also two A strings (5th and 2nd). The benefit of this will become more apparent as we go along.

Below is the layout of the fretboard in Open Dm.

Open D Minor Fretboard

The benefits Of Playing in Open D Minor Tuning

Now that we’re tuned to Open D minor, strum all 6 open strings. What you are hearing is a D minor chord, but not your typical open Dm chord in standard tuning, which usually is played on just the 4 highest strings. In Open Dm we can incorporate all 6 strings, including the 5th and 6th strings, resulting in a much richer, fuller sound.

While learning any new tuning does have a bit of a learning curve associated with it, due to the different chord shapes and scale patterns (if coming from standard tuning) open D minor offers many additional benefits. Below are just a few:

  • Low String Tension: You might notice the warmth and percussive feel of the strings. Lower tension strings are generally more comfortable to play. This can reduce finger fatigue and make complex chord shapes and difficult runs more manageable.
  • Enhanced Resonance: Open tunings in general, result in a more resonant and fuller sound, which can be particularly useful, especially for solo acoustic performances.
  • Facilitates Slide Guitar and Fingerstyle: This tuning is well-suited for slide guitar and intricate fingerstyle playing, offering a distinct tonal quality. While some consider it better suited to fingerstyle than slide guitar, as barring all 6 strings results in a minor chord, which isn’t typical for slide guitar, in my opinion, slide guitar sounds even more haunting and ethereal in minor keys, check this example out.
  • Creative Inspiration: The unique sound and feel of Open Dm can inspire new ideas and approaches to songwriting and riff creation (more on this shortly).
  • Simple Chord Shapes: While major chords in major open tunings are simple to play by barring all 6 strings, in open Dm barring all 6 strings results in a minor chord. However, unlike playing minor chords in Open D, it’s much easier to form Major chords in Open Dm by simply adding the pinky to the 3rd string 1 fret past your barre (more on this shortly).

Using a Capo

Playing in the key of D minor when in Open D minor tuning is standard practice because it maximizes the tuning’s inherent tonal qualities, and takes advantage of the open D strings. But, you can play in other minor keys while still taking advantage of the layout of the strings by using a capo.

This allows you to easily change the key of the guitar while maintaining the characteristic chord shapes and intervals of the tuning as each fret on the guitar represents a half-step change in pitch.

The table below allows you to quickly reference which key you’ll be in when you place a capo on a specific fret. Each step up with the capo raises the tuning by a half-step. But, keep in mind that as you move the capo up the neck, while the pitch of the guitar increases, the available fretboard area decreases.

Capo PositionNew KeyNew Tuning Notes
0 (No Capo)DmD-A-D-F-A-D
12Dm (1 octave higher)D-A-D-F-A-D
Keep in mind, using a capo changes the string tension slightly, which can affect playing feel and intonation. You should also be aware of how the capo placement affects the guitar’s overall range – the higher the capo, the less of the lower register available.

Learning simple Chord Shapes

Before we learn some of the basic chord shapes in this tuning, it’s best to learn the natural minor scale on the D strings (6th, 3rd, and 1st) and familiarise yourself with the intervals between, as these notes will form the root of many of the chords we’re about to learn.

D natural minor scale on 3 strings in Open Dminor tuning

As mentioned, in the majority of cases in Dm tuning you will be playing in the key of D minor, meaning the chords within the key are:


So, in the next section, we’ll learn these chord shapes.

The D minor Chord

As we’ve already touched on, the open strings already form a D minor chord, providing a natural minor base (see example 1 below).

However, it’s good practice to learn a few different voicings for the Dm chord as this will allow you to add depth to your playing by exploiting different tonal qualities. For example, the 3rd Dm chord chart below includes 4 minor 3rds (F) giving the chord a different tonality while still being a Dm chord.

D Minor Chord - Open Dm Tuning
D Minor Chord - Alternate Voicing - Open Dm Tuning
D Minor Chord - Alternate Voicing 2 - Open Dm Tuning

Minor Chords

For the remaining minor chords in the key of Dm, you can use moveable chord shapes based on the root note (as discussed in the preceding section).

For instance, to play an E minor chord, find the E note on the 6th string (which would be at the 2nd fret) and either barre all strings at this fret or use a familiar minor chord shape that fits the tuning.

Below are iv, and v chords (all minor) in the key of Dm.

G Minor Chord - Open Dm Tuning
A Minor Chord - Open Dm Tuning

Major Chords

This is where Open Dm has a distinct advantage over Open D. To play any major chord in this tuning, simply play the minor chord and then place your middle finger on the 3rd string one fret higher.

F Major Chord - Open Dm Tuning
B Flat Major Chord - Open D Minor Tuning
C Major Chord - Open Dm Tuning

All Chords In The Key Of Dm In Open Dm Tuning

Below are the 7 chords in the key of Dm in Open Dm tuning, shown in TAB. The ii° chord is a diminished E chord. Due to the dissonant nature of diminished chords, they are played less than other chords but can be useful depending on the context. You can learn more about diminished chords by clicking here.

Open Dm Triads - Open Dm Tuning

7th Chords In Open D minor

Once you’ve mastered the simple triad shapes in the example above, try your hand at these 7th chord shapes below. One particularly useful shape is the minor 7th chord.

To play this simply play a minor chard (barring all frets) and then add the pinky 3 frets higher on the 2nd string (see the Gmin7 chord below) alternatively you can also play the additional note on the 5th string 3 frets higher for bassier sound, as both strings are tuned to A.

Open D Minor 7th Chords - Open D Minor Tuning

Seventh chords can be used to substitute for triads to add more complexity and color to a chord progression. When substituting, you typically replace a major or minor triad with its corresponding major or minor seventh chord. This adds a layer of richness and depth, as the seventh note creates additional harmonic interest and a slightly different emotional effect compared to the triad.

Scales In Open D Minor

When first learning scales in this tuning, I’d recommend starting with the D natural minor scale, D minor pentatonic scale, and D harmonic minor scale.

The D natural minor scale, with its full range of minor tonality, is ideal for crafting music with a melancholic or introspective mood. The D minor pentatonic scale, known for its simplicity and fewer notes, lends itself well to bluesy or rock-oriented styles. While, the D harmonic minor scale, characterized by its raised seventh note, introduces a unique flavor, evoking classical or Middle Eastern vibes. The tab for each is below.

D Natural Minor

The D natural minor scale provides the foundation for improvisation and enhances the ability to create music that resonates with the tuning’s characteristic melancholy tonality. Try going through the tab below, both ascending and descending.

D Natural Minor Scale - Open D Minor Tuning

D Minor Pentatonic

The D minor pentatonic scale in Open D Minor offers a simplified yet expressive framework for improvisation. This scale, with its fewer notes, is easier to learn and highly versatile.

D Minor Pentatonic Scale - Open D Minor Tuning

D Harmonic Minor

The D harmonic minor scale adds a unique and exotic flavor to the music, differentiating it from the more traditional sounds of the natural minor and pentatonic scales.

D Harmonic Minor Scale - Open D Minor Tuning

Inspiration: A Brief History Of Open D Minor Tuning

The history of Open D Minor tuning in guitar music is somewhat multifaceted, resonating particularly within genres that favor emotive and expressive soundscapes.

Known for its deep and melancholic character, it likely has its roots in traditional and folk music, where its resonant qualities were well-suited for storytelling and emotional expression.

While Open D Minor may not be as widely recognized in mainstream music as some other tunings, its impact is undeniable in the realm of fingerstyle guitar and acoustic genres. Below is a short list of some great songs in Open Dm and links to the respective tabs.

Song TitleArtistGenre
I Gave You AllMumford & SonsFolk/Indie
Thistle And WeedsMumford & SonsFolk/Indie
Devil Got My WomanSkip JamesBlues
Hard Time Killing Floor BluesSkip JamesBlues
Day After DayJoni MitchellFolk

Writing music in Open D Minor tuning involves a blend of exploration, understanding the tuning’s unique properties, and creativity. Here are some steps to get started:

  1. Explore Basic Chords and Shapes: Learn some of the simple chord shapes we’ve discussed above that work well in Open D Minor tuning. Unlike standard tuning, many chords in Open D Minor can be played using fewer finger positions. Experiment with moving these shapes up and down the fretboard to discover new chords and sounds.
  2. Understand Scale Patterns: Practice scale patterns, particularly the D minor scale, D minor pentatonic, and D harmonic minor scales, as these will fit naturally in this tuning. Familiarity with these scales will aid in creating melodies and understanding which notes will harmonically align over your chord progressions.
  3. Experiment with Fingerpicking and Strumming Patterns: The unique nature of Open D Minor tuning lends itself well to both fingerstyle playing and strumming. As you explore, consider utilizing the top D strings as drones, which can add a rich, resonant quality to your music. Experimenting with various fingerpicking and strumming patterns will help you discover how they accentuate the distinctive qualities of this tuning, enhancing the depth and texture of your sound.
  4. Record and Reflect: Record your playing sessions. Listening back can provide new insights and ideas. It also helps to keep track of progress and any interesting musical ideas you might want to develop further.
  5. Learn from Existing Songs: Listen to and learn songs that are already written in Open D Minor tuning. This will give you a sense of how other artists utilize the tuning and can inspire your own writing.

Remember, Open D Minor offers a new sonic landscape, so embracing experimentation and letting your ears guide you are key to writing music in this tuning.

Final Thoughts

I hope you find the information above inspires you to give this magical open tuning a try. Its rich, minor tonality and symmetrical string layout make it an accessible and inspiring alternate tuning, particularly suited for those just beginning to venture beyond standard tuning.

From understanding the basics of tuning your guitar to navigating the fretboard, mastering simple chord shapes, and scales, and incorporating a capo, Open Dm tuning opens up a world of creative possibilities.

You can download the cheat sheet that accompanies this article by clicking here. No email required.

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