Are you looking to jumpstart your creative juices? You might want to try playing around in a different tuning, such as open D.
This particular tuning has been hailed as one of the most pleasant sounding tunings in music. It’s also fertile with unique sounds that can be made with simple fingerings.
Here are some excellent songs to learn to get you familiar with the open D tuning.
“Big Yellow Taxi” by Joni Mitchell
Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi is perhaps one of the most popular songs that exists in open D. Her unique acoustic playing and memorable lyrics have made this song into an iconic classic.
There are only a few chords to worry about here and the fingerings are easy to grip. Be sure to bust this out when you want to rail against capitalistic growth and environmental harm.
“Late July” by Shakey Graves
It can’t hurt to have a fairly recent and well-known release in your repertoire to play at any time. Late July is another very popular song in open D that many people choose to learn.
If you aren’t a competent fingerpicker, you’re probably going to have some difficulty learning this track. The entire song, aside from one chordal area, is hinged on a complex fingerpicking pattern.
Learn this song and you’ll definitely beef up your fingerpicking chops while familiarizing yourself with open D. You can’t beat that!
“Helplessness Blues” by Fleet Foxes
Fleet Foxes is an indie folk group that really blew up into the mainstream about 15 years ago. Their songs had a soft touch complemented with vocal harmonies that audiences simply could not get enough of.
The track, Helplessness Blues, comes from the band’s 2011 album of the same title. It’s a perfect track for a beginner as well as someone who is an aspiring singer-songwriter.
Much of the song is based around the strumming of simple chords. Be sure to get the pulse down correctly so the song sounds similar to the recording.
“The Thrash Particle” by Modern Baseball
Modern Baseball is a popular group that falls between the genres of emo and indie-rock, mixed with some pop-punk. If you’re a fan of this group, you’ll be happy to know that The Thrash Particle is in open D.
This is a very easy song that guitarists of all skill levels can learn. The chords used in the song are essentially basic power chords between 2 strings, with fingers on the same fret.
Be sure to listen to the recording to get the strumming accurate to how it is actually played. After that, you have an excellent platform to sing the song’s lyrics, which is perfect for any performance.
“Shelter From The Storm” by Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan is undoubtedly one of those songwriters that every songwriter aspires to be. There aren’t many musicians who have revolutionized things quite the way Bob did throughout his career.
What’s interesting is that Bob managed to continually evolve with the times. Despite his changing sound, he always found a way to remain relevant.
Dylan’s 70’s album Blood On The Tracks is a landmark in the sprawling catalog of albums available today. The song, Shelter From The Storm, was a smash hit that gave a nod to Dylan’s earlier writing styles.
This is a very easy song to play, consisting of only 3 chords. You’ll need a capo on the 2nd fret to match the recording.
“Motion Sickness” by Phoebe Bridgers
As far as modern mainstream artists are concerned, Phoebe Bridgers has been on a path to stardom. Her debut album absolutely took music fans by storm, catapulting her into success and fame.
The song Motion Sickness is an excellent track from this album and happens to be in open D tuning. Be sure to learn this as it was nominated as one of the best songs of 2018.
“Statesboro Blues” by Allman Brothers Band
The Allman Brothers Band was instrumental in making the southern rock sound a household favorite. This group found the winning formula for blending rock with roots elements, all the while staying true to themselves.
Statesboro Blues is a true classic by this band and is one of the group’s most identifiable songs. It’s also a track that is chock full of excellent leads played by Duane Allman.
If you’ve wanted to learn slide guitar, Statesboro Blues is a song you need to learn. Just be sure to put a capo on the 2nd fret to match the recorded pitches of the song.
“Pretty Mary K” by Elliott Smith
During the time of his life, Elliott Smith was able to experience only a small amount of success. It wasn’t until after his death that his music began to gain a massive, widespread audience.
When it comes down to it, Elliott Smith is one of the greatest songwriters of the 90s and 2000s. He had brutally honest lyrics matched with well-crafted musicality, culminating in a potent package.
Any songwriter should take the time to discover Elliott’s music. A great place to start is with the song Pretty Mary K, which is a fairly easy open D song.
“The Gardener” by The Tallest Man On Earth
Are you into modern folk music? You’ll definitely want to check out The Tallest Man On Earth.
This isn’t necessarily a musical group, but rather, is a single person by the name of Kristian Matsson. He has a very distinct voice that sits more in the higher registers of a tonal range.
The Gardener is an excellent song that comes from the debut album of The Tallest Man On Earth. Be sure to give the entire album a listen as it’s rich with lyrical imagery you won’t forget.
“She Talks To Angels” by The Black Crowes
The Black Crowes are no strangers to using open tunings. In fact, the band seems to utilize alternate tunings more than standard tunings.
She Talks To Angels is one of the group’s biggest hits and it happens to be in open D tuning. If you perform live for audiences, this is a song that is commonly requested.
Be sure to learn this crowd-pleaser so you can surprise your audience when it is requested. Nothing would make them happier, and they’re sure to remember you for it.
“Bartender” by Dave Matthews Band
Have you ever wondered which modern groups have the largest following of fans? Dave Matthews Band would have to rank high on that list.
This is a group that has managed to stay relevant for decades. It’s been said that people from all walks of life can appreciate the music of Dave Matthews Band.
If you’re looking for a DMB song to add to your repertoire, give Bartender a try. It’s the last track on the 2002 album, Busted Stuff.
“Into The Mystic” by Van Morrison
Van Morrison is one of the most celebrated songwriters of the 1970s. Have you ever wondered why that is?
Give the album Moondance a spin and check out the song Into The Mystic. You’ll quickly see why Van Morrison is so highly regarded.
To play this song, you’ll need a capo on the 1st fret. Simple chords mixed with open chord-based melodic motifs are par for the course here.
“Lump Sum” by Bon Iver
The year 2008 saw Bon Iver acclaim massive critical success with the album, For Emma, Forever Ago. This is an album that was recorded in a cabin in the woods with meager means.
In some ways, this haunting album paved the way for many indie-folk groups to rise to the spotlight. Few were able to make a more potent record than what this would turn out to be.
The song, Lump Sum, comes from this album and makes for a great song to play in open D. It’s fairly simple, allowing you to focus on the delivery of the vocals.
“Love The One You’re With” by Stephen Stills
Stephen Stills proved his worth as a songwriter when he released Love The One You’re With. This song has an anthemic element that has captured the ears of generations of listeners.
In some ways, this is the epitome of the post-hippie era 70s rock sound. It does have its fair share of chords, but many of these can be played using 1 finger.
“Buckets Of Rain” by Bob Dylan
Remember how we mentioned that Bob Dylan’s album, Blood On The Tracks, was full of smash hits? The song, Buckets Of Rain, is a prime example of this.
This track has some melodic fingerstyle in open D that will keep you busy for some time. Be patient when learning this, especially if you hope to sing the lyrics while playing the guitar.
“Turning The Century” by Dr. Dog
If you aren’t familiar with Dr. Dog, it’s likely because you haven’t been keeping up with modern music releases. It’d be hard to miss this band, otherwise.
Dr. Dog has a unique style of rock that really has a classic sound rooted in late 60s psychedelia. Many of their songs have a loose feel with some catchy melodic motifs.
A great Dr. Dog song to learn is Turning The Century, which can be played easily in open D. It utilizes a very simple fingerpicking pattern throughout along with a fun melody here and there.
“Sometimes” by My Bloody Valentine
Toward the late 1980s, music began to get a little bit more experimental again. This time around, experimental music would incorporate elements of noise into the mix.
One of the most successful bands in this regard is My Bloody Valentine, who helped create the shoegaze genre. What, exactly, is shoegaze?
This term refers to the fact that these guitarists would utilize many pedals during performances. Rather than looking at the crowd, they’d be looking at the pedals on the floor.
Sometimes comes from My Bloody Valentine’s classic album, Loveless. Give this one a go if you need a song drenched in guitar effects.
“The Rockaways” by Conor Oberst
In the early 2000s, it was hard to escape the reach of Conor Oberst and his efforts in Bright Eyes. That project would release some of the most definitive albums of that entire decade.
Eventually, Oberst would embark on a solo career using his own name. Although maybe not as successful as Bright Eyes, Oberst has been producing quality music.
The Rockaways is a fairly recent track, released in 2018. It utilizes a mixture of textural fingerpicking patterns and simple chords.
“Highway 51 Blues” by Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan’s early career is filled with songs that carry on in the old folk music tradition. Highway 51 Blues is one that manages to combine musical elements of the blues to great effect.
This is a pretty easy song to learn and will get you learning some blues vocabulary in open D. You’ll need a capo on the 2nd fret to match the recording.
“Jive Talkin’” by Bee Gees
For a song inspired by the clattering of a car, Jive Talkin’ was a smash hit for the Bee Gees. The song would top the charts worldwide, furthering the success of this iconic disco group.
If you’re a beginner, you’re going to love learning this song. All of the chords utilize simple fingerings that bar across the entire fretboard.
“Even Flow” by Pearl Jam
Pearl Jam is one of the bands most commonly associated with the Seattle sound of the 1990s. No matter where you were at the time, you couldn’t escape the smoky growl of Eddie Vedder.
One of the group's most popular tracks is Even Flow, which is still played regularly on radio stations today. This song is a little bit more involved with regard to the guitar, so do be patient when learning.
“Dreamin’” by Mac DeMarco
Mac DeMarco is one of the most important musicians of modern times. Nearly every single one of his releases has received massive critical acclaim.
An excellent open D song to add to your repertoire is Dreamin’, which has tasteful melodies in the chord progression. This track is sure to get you using all 4 fingers of your fretting hand, so make sure your pinky is warmed up!
“All My Friends” by Broken Social Scene
Broken Social Scene is one of the greatest indie-rock groups to come from the early 2000s. The band was more akin to a collective, featuring prominent Canadian musicians, including Feist.
They are most noted for their albums, You Forgot It In People, and their self-titled follow-up. However, the song, All My Friends, is a classic Broken Social Scene not on either of these albums.
Instead, the only way you could hear the song was if you bought the self-titled CD. This came with a bonus disc of a few different songs, with this being the standout track.
All My Friends is an easy strummer in open D that even beginners can find to be fairly straightforward. Learn this song and begin to familiarize yourself with this band’s awesome catalog of music.
“Loser” by Beck
As far as 90s musicians go, Beck has one of the highest reputations in the music industry. Sure, many of his songs and albums have all received critical success.
What many people fail to realize is that Beck is also a highly accomplished music producer, too. Many artists have employed him to great effect, including Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus.
Beck was really propelled into the mainstream with his hit song Loser. It blended folk with a hip-hop aesthetic, creating a truly unique song.
Be sure to add this easy open D song to your repertoire. It is one of those songs that is certainly classified as a crowd-pleaser.
“4 + 20” by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young
CSNY’s Deja Vu album remains one of the greatest albums of all time. Every single song off of this album is a timeless classic, many of which are on the radio.
The most obvious factor in this album’s success is the group’s pristine vocal harmonies. Another aspect is the musical diversity, ranging from warm folk songs to full-on rockers.
Stephen Stills’s 4+20 is a favorite from this album and has a very simplistic composition. It does have a fairly complex fingerpicking pattern so take your time when learning this track.
“How Can You Mend A Broken Heart” by Bee Gees
The Bee Gees are undoubtedly one of the most famous disco groups to come from the 1970s. Many of their hit songs have transcended the genre, cementing themselves in popular culture.
How Can You Mend A Broken Heart is a classic, heartfelt Bee Gees song that anyone can appreciate. It has beautiful lyrics combined with powerful musicality, making this a powerful song that remains relatable even today.
“Girl In The Forest” by Calexico
With a name like Calexico, you’d probably expect the band to have a style blending between California and Mexico. In many cases, this sort of assumption wouldn’t be wrong to make.
Calexico has a fairly diverse catalog centering around an alt-country sound with a Western twist. The band has received critical acclaim multiple times, especially for their collaborations with Iron And Wine.
Girl In The Forest is a song that will utilize a fairly simple fingerpicking pattern in open D. Compositionally, the song is pretty easy and has a few riffs to break things up a bit.
Best Open D Tuning Songs, Final Thoughts
When you have a decent grasp on these songs, try and transcribe some songs into the open D tuning. You’ll often find that songs will take on a completely different sound, which can unlock creative doors.
Take your time learning these songs and you’ll quickly master how this tuning can be used to great effect. In a matter of time, you’ll be crafting your own unique songs with this fun tuning.
Last Updated on July 29, 2022.
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