Open D tuning gives you a very distinct sound and there are so many versatile ways in which you can use it on your guitar. Using an open D tuning, you are playing the notes D, A, D, F#, A and D. If you strum all of those notes together you will be playing a D chord.
There are a few reasons why guitarists use this tuning and in this guide we are looking at songs in open D that allow you to complete chords easily. This type of tuning is also great for fingerpicking if you like to play in this style. The sound you get from open D tuning is very vibrant and adds texture, being completely different from the standard tuning of your guitar.
Let’s take a look at some of the best songs to play in open D tuning that can you do with any sort of playing style on an electric or acoustic guitar.
Great Songs in Open D Tuning
1. The Tallest Man on Earth – The Gardener
The Gardener is a song that is all about the lengths you would go to to be perfect in the eyes of the one you loved. There is a strong upbeat throughout the entire song but the lyrics themselves are actually quite disturbing. It’s all about murder but it’s meant to be taken as a metaphor.
This track came from the album Shallow Grave which was by Kristian Matsson who is known as The Tallest Man on Earth. The music and storytelling combine perfectly to become the most played track on the album and you can easily see why it’s such a hit. It’s a perfect example of how effective a song in open D tuning can be.
2. Pearl Jam – Even Flow
Even Flow is one of the most legendary tracks for Pearl Jam who are an American rock band formed originally in Seattle during 1990. It was from their debut album, the second single to be released from the album titled Ten which hit the waves in 1992. It was a song that was also included in their 2004 greatest hits album which was titled rearviewmirror.
As well as being a song from Pearl Jam with open D tuning, the lyrics portray what it’s like to be homeless which was experienced first hand by the front man for the band, Eddie Vedder. He was the vocalist as well as the writer of this track. If you listen to the lyrics you will hear him explain that homeless people are still a part of society but often those who are ignored and forgotten by the rest of us.
3. Joni Mitchell – Big Yellow Taxi
Joni Mitchell was inspired to write Big Yellow Taxi because of all the ways she noticed we were destroying the environment which unfortunately still rings true today. The song was intended to be a protest ballad against the big corporations that don’t operate in a green way and in turn, destroy the beauty of our planet. Everyone knows the line ‘they paved paradise, and put up a parking lot’ which shows the intention of the song very clearly.
As an all-time classic from Joni Mitchell and featuring open D tuning, it featured on the 1970 album titled Ladies of the Canyon. If you watch the music video you will see how creative Mitchell truly is and it can be still be understood by young and old audiences to this day.
4. John Newton – Amazing Grace
Amazing Grace is one of the most popular hymns ever to be made. John Newton was a Christian priest and he felt this hymn related to his experiences through life. In his younger days, he was a human trafficker with the slave trade but he confessed to God that he was a changed man. The song was written describing a sermon that took place in 1773 on New Year’s Day.
John Newton created this song in open D tuning when he was 47 in the December of 1772. He wanted the song to be about his own enlightenment and how God had granted him mercy during a shipwreck he experienced in Ireland. After going through this harrowing ordeal he decided to no longer seek out slaves and decided to begin making his church instead.
5. The Rolling Stones – Street Fighting Man
Street Fighting Man is easily one of the best songs to come from the Rolling Stones. As far as open D tuning songs go, this one was meant to be in protest to the war happening in Vietnam – a topic that a lot of musicians at the time would write about. With every major chord shape, the dry tone of the song is incredibly intentional as it is played on an acoustic guitar with open D guitar tuning.
What makes this song make you feel so unsettled is the drums that are played in the offbeat. The chord shapes are quite stiff as well which gives you that real feeling of revolution. The song comes from the 1968 album titled Beggar’s Banquet and it is still, to this day, one of the most political songs to have ever been written.
6. Elmore James – Dust My Broom
All blues guitarists and blues enthusiasts will want to learn Dust My Broom by Elmore James in open D tuning. The song is brilliant and talks about how a man has been disappointed by a woman. The title of the song refers to a phrase from the 1880s which was ‘get up and dust’ – meaning to leave in a hurry.
The original title was done by Robert Johnson in 1936 and was called I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom. It is now considered to be a blues standard of this music genre and many musicians have gone on to cover it. Make sure to pay attention to the rhythmical riff which is truly the epitome of what makes a blues song great.
7. Bon Iver – Re: Stacks
This is easily one of the most beautiful songs Bon Iver, who are Grammy award winners, has ever released. It comes from the 2007 album titled From Emma, Forever Ago. The album was first thought up by Justin Vernon who decided to isolate himself in a log cabin due to disbandment, a bad breakup and illness. From the cabin in Wisconsin during the winter of 2006, this solitary person created something incredibly special.
Re: Stacks is the last song on the album and is in open D tuning. It brings about the conclusion of the story that the album takes the listener through. Thanks to the warmth of the tuning and the strumming pattern, Vernon pairs his falsetto voice to allow you to really feel how much raw pain he was going through.
8. Boys Like Girls – Thunder
Another one of our open D tuning songs is this track from Boys Like Girls which has a more pop-punk feel than almost all the songs tracks we’ve featured on our list so far. Thunder is all about the nostalgia that you get from having a summer romance. It was the first song ever written by the band and was featured on their debut album, all about a childhood sweetheart the lead vocalist had during one of his summers.
Thunder is one of three songs that featured on the Billboard Top 200, the other two being Hero/heroine and The Great Escape. The song that is on the album does feature open D tuning but you can feel it to its full effect using the D major chord and various other barre chords in the acoustic version.
9. Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
Open D tuning and the D major chord, along with a lot of other chord shapes from the D major scale, are essential for guitarists to learn if you want to master many different styles of music. You will need to learn a plethora of major chords with some minor chord variations thrown in if you want to play all of the tracks we’re featuring on this list.
You can see what a juxtaposition open D tuning songs have from one another with Helplessness Blues. This is completely different to the D tuning tracks we have mentioned so far. Instead of using metaphors the lyrics to this song cut straight to the point, celebrating everyone’s uniqueness and individualism. It takes you on a great emotional journey which makes it so powerful for the listener.
10. Mumford & Sons – The Cave
The Cave is the third song that was featured on the album titled Sigh No More. The song has a very quiet introduction using the open D tuning of the guitar which then escalates into barre chords and melodies using bare chords on the piano, banjo and violin.
Many listeners have seen the likeness of the lyrics to the Allegory of the Cave by Plato which is all about our view on reality. The lyrics of the track feel like the artist is trying to convince someone to step out of the cave to see the real world around them. This is very similar to the prisoners who are trapped in the cave in Plato’s work and how they find the truth waiting for them outside.
11. Bear’s Den – Agape
Agape is a song that uses open D tuning and it comes from the folk-rock genre of music. It’s a beautiful song but it’s very lonely and was included on the Live in Amsterdam album by Bear’s Den. In 2016 it was nominated as Song of the Year at the UK Americana Music Awards.
The guitar part of the song is the melody which is clean and calm to play. You can back this up with the sad lyrics which talk about the fear of losing somebody. It’s about agape love which is unconditional and not wanting to have the thought of ever being separated from the person you love.
12. Beck – Loser
A surprise hit that came of out 1994 was Loser which was written and performed by the band Beck who are great American singer-songwriters. Upon its release the track hit number 15 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the April of 1994.
It’s a true 90s anthem full of nonsensical thoughts and crazy lyrics talking about monkeys, pigeons and loads of other random elements. We think this is probably what sparked so much popularity for the song. The lyrics resemble freestyle poetry and the music video is still considered to be a milestone in the indie rock world.
13. Mumford & Sons – Fare Thee Well (Dink’s Song)
Fare Thee Well is an American folk song all about a woman who was abandoned by her man right when she needed him the most. Many popular folk-rock musicians have gone on to cover this song and make their own versions of it. Some of the more notable renditions of the track have been performed by Dave Van Ronk, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Gloria Lynne.
One of the most popular versions of this song was performed by Oscar Isaac and Marcus Mumford. It would go on to be used as the soundtrack for a Coen Brothers’ film title Inside Llewyn Davis. The American folklore style of the song works in perfect harmony with the open D tuning of the guitar.
14. Mac DeMarco – Dreamin
Open D tuning is the right mix of minor and major chords that go well with cleaner and quieter songs. This applies to this track from Mac Demarco – a Canadian singer-songwriter. He is also a music producer and is best known for his slacker rock and blue wave style of music. He coined the term ‘jizz jazz’ for the music he writes.
Dreamin’ is only a short song and was featured on the second album from this artist called 2. The song is beautiful in its simplicity and talks about the ideal girl that only lives in the singers dreams.
15. King Krule – Out Getting Ribs
Jean-Michael Basquiat took his inspiration from a piece of art to come up with the title for Out Getting Ribs. The art in question is just a piece of paper and a pencil with those words written on it. The song itself has a dark feel to it in terms of lyrics, talking about a man who is angry at life and has no faith.
The man in question is lost in his life and doesn’t know what to do with himself since he fell in love. You can hear in the town of his voice that he was in a lot of pain but wanted to keep this away from the girl. There’s so much emotion in this open D tuning track that really helps to give it the right special feeling.
16. Shakey Graves – Late July
We would highly recommend that you watch the video for this track because it’s truly impressive watching the artist playing three instruments all at the same time. The timing of the bass drum beat is brilliant and blends very well with the guitar. It’s a song that showcases how talented of a folk singer Shakey Graves is.
It’s actually quite a dark song in open D about a girl that he murdered because she stole some of his m money. He actually married the girl after earning her trust, then going on to murder his wife. He attempted to escape from the crime he had committed by got caught and was sent o the electric chair. It’s a great song for storytelling.
17. Lucy Rose – Shiver
Acoustic guitar players will definitely want to try this one out because the strumming pattern is gorgeous. the song is all about a love/hate relationship that the singer had which ended a long time ago. She is hoping to feel that shiver again that she once had, even though the relationship has long since been over.
Shiver was a song from Lucy Rose that went on to be the opening track for the anime series called Mushishi which was released in 2014. The lyrics are inspired by regret and nostalgia as she can’t let go of those shivering memories and continues to cling to the past. It’s a song that perfectly embodies how bittersweet the experience of love can be.
We hope you like the 17 songs in open D tuning that we have given you in our list. There are so many more great tracks that use open D tuning but we’ve listed the most popular ones that musicians most want to learn. Remeber before you attempt to play major chords and minor chord patterns from this tuning that you take a good look at the D major scale. This will help you play a good amount of the songs we have mentioned above. Happy playing!
What is open D tuning good for?
Many people who want to play slide guitar will find that open D tuning is good for it. The tuning can also be used for regular guitar playing and it produces a full and vibrant sound, particularly on the acoustic guitar. It is an ideal tuning for fingerstyle playing, which you can practice with our easy Elvis songs on guitar.
How do you play a song in open D?
To play songs in open D tuning you will have to tune your guitar to this key. To tune your guitar in this way, lower your first high E string down a full step to a D note. The second string, the B, will go down to A, the third string, your G, goes down a half step to F#. The last string which is your low E goes down a full step to D. This will give your strings open D tuning.
What is the best open tuning?
There are a lot of different alternate tunings for your guitar but dropped D is the one that can be easily achieved. All you need to do to achieve this tuning is tune your low E string down a whole step to D.
What tuning does Joni Mitchell use?
Joni Mitchell is a well-known jazz player who very rarely uses standard tuning. She uses a lot of different tunings that come in at wild intervals to achieve her complex jazz sound.