Open D Minor Tuning on Guitar
Learn how to tune your guitar to open D minor and start playing your favorite songs in open Dm tuning. Check out the lesson on open D minor tuning to grow your skills.
By Ben Nemeroff
For beginner guitarists, standard EADGBE guitar tuning stands as the foundation for many of the chords and scales you learn when you’re first starting out. However, as you progress in your guitar studies, experimenting with different tunings can help you unlock an entirely new world of sounds and give you easier ways to play chords, riffs, and encourage more creativity.
While open D tuning is one of the most popular of all tunings, its close cousin open D minor tuning only changes one note in this alternate tuning -- but offers a distinctively sad and wistful tone compared to the bright, peppy sound of open D tuning.
In this lesson, we’ll show you how to tune your guitar open D minor, explain the difference between open D tuning and open D minor tuning, and show you several songs that use this alternate tuning.
What is Open D Minor Tuning on a Guitar?
Unofficially dubbed “the saddest tuning of all,” open D minor tuning is one of the easiest tunings to learn and also one of the most expressive. It allows you to play a D minor chord when you strum all six of your guitar strings in the open position. Open D minor tuning alters the pitch of four of your six strings, only dropping them down just a few steps to create a rich, resonant, open D minor chord.
How Does Open D Minor Tuning Differ from Open D Tuning?
Open D minor tuning differs from open D tuning by just one note. Open D minor tuning changes the pitch of your guitar strings (starting with your low E string) to D-A-D-F-A-D, while open D tuning alters your strings to D-A-D-F#-A-D. By simply changing just one note in this alternate tuning, you’re able to play either an open D minor chord (D-A-D-F-A-D) or an open D chord (D-A-D-F#-A-D). This is where these two similar-yet-different alternate tunings get their names.
Learning to play in open D minor tuning is a great reminder of how changing just one half-step in a song, scale, or chord can transform the mood of a piece of music. Keeping these ideas in mind can help you liven up your playing -- and even songwriting.
Lesson: How to Tune a Guitar to Open D Minor
Open D minor tuning can be heard in a multitude of songs spanning a variety of genres. From blues to folk to classic rock, the moody feel of open D minor tuning creates a sense of sadness, remembrance, or profound grief. Learning open D minor tuning can help make it easier to play certain chords and lend more depth and tone to your playing. Let’s learn how to tune your guitar to open D minor.
Standard tuning for guitar, uses all six strings, from lowest to highest:
• E (lowest string)
• E (highest string)
Open D minor tuning changes the pitch of your low E, G, B, and high E strings to form a D minor chord when played in the open position. The D minor chord is made up of the root note D, F as the major third, and A as the perfect fifth. In open D minor tuning, your strings would be tuned as follows:
• D (lowest string)
• D (highest string)
Now that you’re familiar with the differences between standard tuning and open D minor tuning, here’s how you’ll tune your guitar to open D minor:
• Start by tuning your low E string down one whole step to D
• Leave your A and D strings as-is.
• Next, tune your G string down one full step to F
• Then, tune your B string down one whole step to A
• Lastly, tune your high E string down one whole step to D
• Keep plucking the strings until you hear the correct notes.
Pro tip: You can use the Fender Online guitar tuner to help you tune your guitar to the correct note. Use either the Electric Guitar Online Guitar Tuner or the Acoustic Guitar Online Tuner. Or download the app for your phone. Both the web and app versions give you the ability to adjust your settings and tune specifically to open A and other alternate tunings.
Why Learn Open D Minor Tuning?
There are many reasons why you’d want to learn to play in alternate tunings like open D minor. One of the main reasons is to make it easier to play open chords using all six strings. Open D minor tuning tunes your guitar in such a way that you can play a D minor chord across all six strings without using any fingers. Without having to worry about your fingers butting up against strings and muting notes, this creates a deeper, more resonant sustain when your chord rings out.
If you’re playing in arpeggio -- breaking those chords down into single notes -- you also won’t need to use fingers. An arpeggio open d minor tuning really hammers home the atmospheric quality of this tuning and makes it ideal for songs where heightened emotions figure prominently.
Additionally, learning to play in alternate tunings can help you to raise or lower the tone of your instrument to better match a singer’s vocal range. If you’re accompanying a vocalist -- or singing and playing yourself, open d minor tuning may provide a more complementary mix between chords and voice.
Songs That Use Open D Minor Tuning
Open D minor tuning can be heard across a variety of genres, including the blues, folk, and some classic rock tunes you may recognize. Here are a few of those songs that can be found in their respective genres. When you hear (or play) them, you’ll be able to listen for the way open D minor tuning creates a more somber or subdued atmosphere, as well as how it can add an element of danger.
Open D Minor Tuning in Blues
As a genre, the blues celebrates all aspects of life, including those rooted in struggle and emotional pain. With that in mind, it’s no surprise that many blues artists looked to open D minor tuning to create some of their most memorable masterpieces.
For instance, guitarist Skip James made heavy use of open D minor tuning to create a darker and heavier sound to his brand of Delta blues. Renowned for his fingerpicking skills, Skip James recorded “Devil Got My Woman” in 1931. Played in open D minor tuning, the song set the bar for blues masters to come, including the legendary Robert Johnson. Other notable songs where Skip James used open D minor tuning to great effect are “Illinois Blues” and “Cherry Ball Blues.”
Open D Minor Tuning in Folk Music
Folk innovator Joni Mitchell frequently experimented with a variety of open tunings. From open G tuning on “Little Green” to open D minor to several songs, Joni Mitchell was not afraid to tinker with tunings, using them to create memorable folk masterpieces. Listen for open D minor on her wistful “Day After Day,” her 1968 ballad “Pirate of Penance,” and “Rainy Night House.”
Open A Tuning in Classic Rock
Chameleons of sound, The Eagles were hard to pin to any one genre. Their 1973 song, “Bitter Creek” is a prime example of that fact, weaving together elements of blues, folk, country, and rock. The band uses open D minor tuning on this song that ruminates on outlaw life -- specifically with historical figure, George “Bitter Creek” Newcomb, a member of the infamous Dalton gang -- at its core.
For a sweeter, more sentimental -- yet no less gritty -- take on open D minor tuning, Dire Straits’ “Tunnel of Love” uses this alternate tuning to spin a tale about love found and lost at a carnival. The eight-minute opus kicks off with a Hammond organ (a sample from the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical Carousel) before guitarist Mark Knopfler ignites the song with heavy riffs and arpeggios in open D minor tuning. On “Tunnel of Love,” Knopfler uses a similar fingerstyle technique as he did on the group’s breakout hit, “Sultans of Swing.”
Check Out Fender Play Guitar Lessons
While standard tuning is the gold standard for many guitarists, learning to play with alternate tunings like open D minor can help you to become a better guitarist, to train your ear, and branch out in your playing and songwriting. To learn more songs, skills, techniques, and tunings, sign up for a free trial of Fender Play and unlock thousands of lessons designed to help you level up as a musician.