If you’ve been using an open root string such as the 6th string as a point
of reference to map out a tuning, it may not necessarily be the tonic. In
this lesson we’ll examine a new tuning and look at part of a piece that
demonstrates this concept. The tuning is:
D A D G# A E
1 5 1 #4 5 9
By dANNy HEINEs
Shifting the Tonic: Advanced Concepts for the Acoustic Fingerstyle Guitarist
The open strings of this tuning form the chord Dsus2#11, which can
function only as a IV chord, due to the presence of the #11. Therefore, Lydian is the only mode that will work in this tuning when using
the open D string as the tonic.
In the main chord progression, the vi chord, located at the 4th fret, is
actually the tonic. Although it still makes sense to use the open sixth
string and Lydian mode fretboard map as a point of reference, understand that in this case it’s only a fingering reference. The tonic chord
actually dictates the mode in which we hear the progression, although
the fretboard map stays the same. The main progression is vi–I–IV–V,
which clearly resolves to the vi chord. This puts us in Aeolian or natural
minor. When analyzed from the Aeolian perspective, the progression is
i–%III–%VI–%VII in the minor key.
In using this tuning to illustrate the concept of the tonic being a note
other than an open root string, I want to make it clear that you can do this
in any tuning. There’s nothing about this tuning that makes it better suited
than any other to shift the tonic. I just chose this one because the piece
we’ll be drawing from is in this tuning.
This tuning works great for playing in D Lydian, but like any tuning,
you could establish the tonic around any number of the other chords
in the same key. Such is the case in my piece, “Faster Than Alone,”
from Vanishing Borders.
Note that “Faster Than Alone” makes occasional use of the raised 7th
and also includes a bridge section (not shown here) that goes through
a number of key changes before coming back to this key. What follows
is the main A section chord vamp. There are two versions here. The
first is the chord progression with simple fingerpicking, so you can
quickly learn it to hear the chordal movement and tonic. The second
version is the actual strum/picking pattern I use in playing the piece.
I’ve included this for those who might want to learn the groove. The
important thing, however, is to fingerpick through the chord progression to get a sense of the chord movement and tonic.