[Lessons]
[Audio]
[Bands]
[Biography]
[CD]
[Contact]
[Gear]
[Gigs]
[Lessons]
[Links]
[Listening]
[Music]
[Photos]
[Projects]
[Quotes]
[Reading]
[Studio]
[Sheet Music]
[Shop]
[Thanks]
[Tips]
[Writings]

Lesson 123: Zen Guitar

What is Zen Guitar?

Zen Guitar is a concept/ philosophy invented by Philip Toshio Sudo. Philip Toshio Sudo was a Japanese/ American who has performed a lot as a street musician in New York. You may want to check out:

  • the official Zen Guitar website
  • the book Zen Guitar by Philip Toshio Sudo
  • the book The Book of Six Strings: The Six-Fold Path of Zen Guitar by Philip Toshio Sudo & Tobias Hurwitz

The Zen Guitar Tuning

The idea is to use an alternate ( alternative) tuning. The Zen Guitar tuning is DADAAD, low to high. This is a D power chord, which is neither major nor minor.

The nice thing about using a new tuning is that you have to start all over, from the beginning. You can't rely on standard chord or scale fingerings, but you have to find new ways to play in this tuning.

This means that everyone is a beginner. It is very easy to make music on the guitar in the Zen Guitar tuning. Even a person who has never touched a guitar before can just start jamming and making music right away. You can just strum all the open strings and it is a nice D5, a D power chord.

Some Chord Fingerings in the Zen Guitar Tuning

The next step is to find other chords by putting some fingers down on the fretboard.

A very easy and logical way to play in the Zen Guitar tuning is to use an easy fingering and move it up and down along the fretboard. One thing that sounds very good and works well is to let some open strings ring and let them be part of several chords. This is called using a drone - there will be more on this later in this lesson.

Let's take a look at a couple of particularly nice chord forms. In the Zen Guitar tuning, the first one below is a Dadd9 chord ( DDAEAD, low to high) and the second one is a Gadd9 chord ( GDGAAD, low to high).

By moving these fingerings up and down the fretboard/ neck, you will get a lot of interesting chords/ sounds. Just experiment, play around and when you find something nice, you can figure out what it is.

A personal favorite of mine is the third one above, which turns out to be a Bbmaj9 chord ( BbFCAD, low to high). It sounds very nice when arpeggiated. I use this chord in my song Sensei & Unsui:

Let's look at some more chord forms. In the Zen Guitar tuning, the first one below is a Bb major chord ( BbFD, low to high) and the second one is a D minor chord ( DAF, low to high). The third one is an F power chord ( FCF, low to high) and the fourth one is a D power chord ( DAD, low to high)

Some Scale Fingerings in the Zen Guitar Tuning

Playing scales can be a bit tricky in the Zen Guitar tuning. The first fingering below is a D major scale, the second one is a D Dorian minor scale and the third one is a D minor pentatonic scale.

In the Zen Guitar tuning, the scale below is a D Major scale. The tones on the 2nd/ A string are a b c# d e f# g a and the tones on the 1st/ D string are d e f# g a b c# d.

Playing in the Zen Guitar Tuning

The Zen Guitar tuning makes it easy to:

  • play more up and down the fretboard/ neck than in position
  • use a drone - either a low D or include the high open strings in every chord
  • play music that is heavily based on a key center
  • improvise, to just play around in D, without having to know a lot of chord or scale fingerings
Some things that may be hard to do in the Zen Guitar tuning:
  • playing simple major and minor triadic chords
  • playing more complicated chords, such as seventh chords
  • playing scales in more than one octave
  • improvising/ playing solos on the high strings - since the 2nd and 3rd strings are tuned to A, you have to stay on the 1st and 2nd strings and that is going to be difficult
  • sight-reading
Some tips - try:
  • both arpeggiating and strumming the chords - you will get interesting results
  • playing Indian raga and/ or African folk music, which are often based on a drone or a key center
  • the Zen Guitar tuning on both acoustic and electric guitar - I personally think that it sounds best on acoustic steel-string, but that's a matter of taste
  • playing in other keys than D ( major or minor) - try for example:
    • Bb, where the high open strings D and A work as the third and the seventh
    • B minor, where the high open strings D and A work as the third and the seventh
    • F, where the high open strings D and A work as the sixth and the third
    • A ( major or minor), where you can use the high second ( and third) open string A
    • F# minor, where you can use the high second ( and third) open string A
  • playing melodies in unison on the 2nd and 3rd string for a nice live slightly out of tune "chorus" effect
  • using a capo, which enables you to play in other keys than D- related ones

Drones in the Zen Guitar Tuning

A drone can be:

  • a bass tone
  • a pedal tone
  • a repeated pattern
Below you can see a couple of nice example drones in the Zen Guitar Tuning. In the first one, the low notes d and f can be left sounding throughout.

A Nice Little Melody

The melody below is writtten by Philip Toshio Sudo. You can hear him playing it at the end of his song Raise the Spirit, which can be found here.

Some Sound Files:

Some Sheet Music:


    

2011-2016 Tomas Karlsson. All rights reserved.