Adrianne Lenker – “Alternate Tunings”

In this quick tutorial, Adrianne Lenker from Big Thief shares with us some of her favorite alternate tunings and how they have sided her songwriting.


Subject: Students will learn what alternate tunings and open tunings are and how they can be used to write songs.

Age/Skill-Level Recommendation: Intended for beginner to advanced level students, ages 13 and up. Experience playing a guitar, an ability to tune a guitar, and a basic understanding of musical terminology is recommended.

Topics Discussed: Alternate tunings, songwriting, open tunings, guitar.

Definitions: Throughout the video, Adrianne refers to “alternate” and “open” tunings. We recommend letting your students know the difference between these two phrases: Alternate tunings are any tunings on a guitar that differ from the standard EADGBE tuning; and Open tunings are tunings on a guitar that when strummed create a chord.

Recommended Use: We recommend this video be used to teach intermediate to advanced level guitar students about alternate tunings and songwriting.

Tunings discussed in this video:
Standard tuning: E A D G B E
High E to D: E A D G B D
Open D: D A D F# A D
Open D with B String to G: D A D F# G D
D G D F# G G
C# G# C# F# A# C#


  • Try out each of Adrianne’s tunings. Which one do you enjoy most?
  • Create a tuning that Adrianne does not mention. Write out the notes and
    describe what you like about it.
  • List a few reasons why Adrianne likes alternate tunings?

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Suggested Sessions

"Travis Picking"
"Instruments and Music From Around the World"
“The Songwriter’s Process”


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