Drop D tuning; Unchained Melody

Here’s a video of “Unchained Melody”, one of the prettiest tunes of my youth, and a short lesson on how it’s played in “Drop D” tuning. (This 3 minute lesson is a much-shortened version of what you’d get in a 10 minute “quick-take” lesson.)
“Drop D” tuning is a great way to begin to explore “alternate” tunings on the guitar. Standard tuning was designed to give total chromatic accessibility on the instrument. This means that, within any 5 fret area, you can reach every note of the chromatic scale. Alternate tunings often sacrifice a bit of that in order to get interesting modal sounds. In essence, the guitar can be tuned to an open chord (it would often be major, minor, or, as in the case of the popular “DADGAD” tuning, a suspended 4th tuning) so that, in the overtones and the open strings, you hear a particular underlying tonal coloration.
While “Drop D” tuning is just a slight step in that direction, it offers a rich, low D bass, which, used in combination with the other bass strings, frees up the left hand for more facility and ease. While doing this, it allows the player to retain most of the chord and scale shapes from standard tuning, making adjustments only on the low string. The video lesson pretty much speaks for itself, and I hope you enjoy the video performance as well. Here’s the performance:
And here’s the video lesson:


Posted on June 5, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Thanx for the dropped D form as I play a lot of songs in dropped D and always looking for ways to play more. This is a great tune and your version honors that

    • Bob, If you haven’t already, check out the playing of Joseph Spence, the idiosyncratic Bahaman guitarist who played exclusively in this tuning. He had some great chord movement.

  2. Dan Chambers

    Very Very Cool Rolly! I started out figuring out Peter Yarrow’s Travis Style intro to Puff the Magic Dragon from the record in my folks’ living room and I never looked back. What you’ve done is present an accessible arrangement of a beautiful tune! I am primarily a Pedal Steel guy right now but your arrangement gets me itchin’ to pull out that old D 28…………Thanks

  3. maurice Desjardins

    beautiful,arrangement Rolly I love this tune

  4. Very beautiful! Love hearing you play this.

  5. Rolly, I’ve heard (from Al Petteway, I believe) that you were a student at Kent State. i was there from 1969 through early 73. Am I correct in thinking you were there? I either case, this is a lovey arrangement of a song I first heard from the Platters, ca. 1955. Gracias.

    • Yes, Jack,
      I was at Kent from ’67 till ’71. I hung around for awhile after the killings, but my enthusiasm for college had been severely damaged. we headed out in yer classic VW bus in spring of ’71, and never looked back.kent

  6. Rolly, I just now discovered your reply to myJanuary email. This techno stuff is, well, beyond me. In any case, I was friends with Kerry Blech and others you probably know, and remember you playing at various get-togethers. Funny you should mention escape-by-microbus. In ’72, my girlfriend, dog, and I lit out from Kent in my ’64 red-and-white VW bus and settled in Cholula Mexico for six months. I left Kent for NYC in ’73, and pursued further grad studies in anthropology there. In the Sweet Sunny South since 1980, and enjoying it all. Best, Jack
    btw, I visited Kent last month and the May 4th Memorial “museum.” They’ve done a fine job – respectfully tasteful, if that word can be used to denote anything of that terrible day.

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