Alternate Tunings

So a co-worker of mine, Ryan, has been taking guitar lessons from another co-worker of mine, Tom (http://rotaryclub.bandcamp.com/). Ryan swung by my desk one day and said something like “Hey man, what’s the deal with alternate tunings? Why do guitarists do that?”. My initial response was well you get deeper sounds and you can play chords which would otherwise be hard to form in the usual guitar E-A-D-G-B-E formation (strings low to high). Also alternate tunings make slide playing easier. Conceptually though I had to parse through what it means to change the tuning of ones guitar. Some favorite players of mine play in many various alternate tunings, John Fahey, Nick Drake, and Joni Mitchell. John Fahey’s choice of alternate tuning I can grasp easily since he was usually a solo performer performing instrumental tunes and other tunings add variety. It may test an audiences patience asking them to wait while moving from tuning to tuning but alternate tunings do offer very varied sounds. This is a link to his many various tunings:
http://johnfahey.com/TuningsPage.htm
And here’s, ‘On the Sunnyside of The Ocean’, in DGDGBD which is an open G chord:

Here’s Joni Mitchell playing ‘Just Like This Train’ in an open C, CGDFCE

I’m also including this version of ‘California’ with Joni on dulcimer because it’s amazing!

Here’s Nick Drake’s ‘Cello Song’ in (I think) DADGDF# (capo on 1st fret)

Bands use alternate tunings too! Keith Richards (Rolling Stones) uses open G quite a bit and apparently without a low e-string! Stephen Malkmus (Pavement) employs many various tunings. I use a couple on some of my songs. So, in short, I encourage all budding guitarists to de-tune and re-tune your guitars, it opens up sonic possibilities and chord voicings you might not have otherwise encountered!!

I’ll be on the cable access show Deprogramming Hour tonight at 12:30AM MNN4 or mnn.org after Boy Altar, tune in (get it?)!!
Have great listens this weekend and I’ll be more prompt with next weeks post! -p

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