After playing guitar for more than a decade, I found myself in a creative slump. And then I found altered tunings. I know, I know, a lot of people say they are a "creative dead end" unless you're playing slide guitar, but I beg to differ. Soundgarden guitarist Kim Thayil put it best in his interview with Guitar World earlier this year when he said, "we liked the fact that what we were playing [in alternate tunings] didn't sound like what our friends and peers were playing." (1/2/2013). That being said, my new found aversion to standard EADGBe tuning came about when I realized that, 1.) I had done all I could do in standard (not meaning to say I'm a guitar virtuoso -- actually far from it -- but that I was playing the same old chords and scales I had for the last ten years), and 2.) that a lot of my favorite songs actually turned out to be written in tunings other than standard.
My favorite album growing up (and still on my top five today) was Lemon Parade by Tonic. And even then, some years before picking up an instrument of any kind, I knew that some of those songs had a sound to them that wasn't like the other slew of alt rock and heavy metal I was listening to. Turns out, it was Dadd9 (DADF#Ae) tuning I was hearing.
Without rambling too much about my musical preferences and pulling apart every cool song out there, I'd like to present an introduction to tunings "beyond standard." The other relevant thing about learning these alternate tunings was the lack of information out there. A quick internet search for chords and scales in standard tuning will give you more information then you'd ever need, but that isn't true for other tunings, especially the more obscure ones. So this also forced me to learn chord theory, and subsequently, music theory, just to come up with reliable chords. I'd like to impart as much of that wisdom as I can here, and hopefully not provide too much misinformation.
So without further ado, here is a short list of some of my favorite tunings and some examples of songs written in them.
Name Tuning Examples
Open D D A D F# A D Nothing as it Seems by Pearl Jam
London by 3rd Eye Blind
The Cave by Mumford and Sons
Almost anything from Bob Dylan's
Blood on the Tracks album
Open A E A E A C# E Seven Nation Army by The White
As Flat as the Earth by Chris
Dadd9 D A D F# A E Casual Affair, Soldier's Daughter,
Mr. Golden Deal, all by Tonic
Dm D A D F A D Little Hands by Duncan Sheik
Open F F C F A C F Seasons by Chris Cornell
Obviously not a comprehensive list of tunings, but a few I've been favoring lately. You can probably extrapolate some of my favorite bands from there too. Hopefully before too long I'll be able to put up a list of tunings along with the theory behind them and the relations to each other, since that was what helps me learn. I'm also working on transcribing some fairly accurate tabs of some of the above songs and more, so check back soon!
Until then, long days and pleasant nights!