Orkney Tuning

January 22, 2007

DADGAD players find Orkney tuning very familiar: the intervals between strings are identical, simply shifted one string toward the treble. Chord shapes and scale fingerings are largely transferable. Neither tuning explicitly states the 3 of obvious keys—no F# (key of D) in DADGAD, and no E (key of C) in Orkney—an advantage for Celtic music.

Skilled players like Steve Baughman, Chris Proctor, Martin Simpson and Tony McManus use the tuning. Baughman says he coined the term “Orkney” (islands north of Scotland) because CGDGCD is impossible to pronounce!

Getting in Tune

To produce CGDGCD tuning from standard tuning:

Tune the first string down a whole step to D;

Tune the second string up one half-step to C;

Tune the fifth string down one whole-step to G;

Tune the sixth string down two whole-steps to C.

Ex. 1 demonstrates how to produce Orkney tuning using unisons.

Getting Started

Ex. 2 diagrams chords in and around the key of C, many adding colorful notes to the basic triad. The 3 in each chord diagram is marked with a box. Experiment by moving the 3 up or down a fret or two. You may find some interesting sounds.

Ex. 3 diagrams chords in the key of G. The keys of C and G overlap substantially, so you may use most of the Ex. 2 chords in G. Again, the 3 of each chord is marked for experimentation.

Exs. 4 and 5 diagram two scales in the key of C and G, respectively. The first is the common end-of-the neck variety. The second places consecutive notes on different strings, allowing notes to sustain harp-like into subsequent notes.

A Tune to Play

I composed a fingerstyle piece called “The Minch” specifically for this article. True to the nature of the tuning, the tonality is ambiguous. It is ostensibly in the key of F, but I never play an F chord in the piece.

Play this at a good tempo, fairly percussively. The “X’s” denote a picking-hand percussive sound, created by landing on the strings you are about to pluck and bouncing the bass strings off the fret wires. Have fun!

More Information

Sources of related tunings information include The Orkney Companion by Topher Gayle (www.tophergayle.com/music/orkneybook/), and The Complete Book of Alternate Tunings by yours truly (www.accentonmusic.com).

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