Lately I have been spending some of my practice time exploring the CFCGCD tuning. Steve Baughman uses it for a few tunes on his Celtic Guitar DVD, and John Doyle talks about it some in a recent issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.
I am amazed at how quickly some folks can pick up tunings and seem to map out the fingerboard in minutes. At the Swannanoa Gathering Guitar Week last summer I was lucky to take a few classes from John Doyle, one of which was Vocal Accompaniment.. We looked at different ways to play behind songs, and John switched around from Drop D, DADGAD, and CFCGCD tunings demonstrating different approaches and tonalities. He seemed to very quickly map out the tuning and be able to utilize its unique sound in the context of the song. I guess that is why he is one of the best.
At the moment I am interested in CFCGCD more for flatpicking and rhythmic backup. I have been putting a capo at the second fret, which brings the tuning to DGDADE. That gives us three open D strings, which is good for celtic music, since D is such a common tonality. If you look at the fifth, fourth, third, and first strings you have the notes GDAE, which is the same as the mandolin. This allows a few different keys to lay logically in first position. The second string can cause some tricky string crossing with the picking hand, but its nothing that can’t be overcome with a bit of practice.
I have not figured out many chords in this tuning yet, just a few movable shapes that allow one to play modal chords. When backing up celtic tunes i tend to avoid chords with lots of thirds, preferring roots, fifths, and octaves.
My flatpicking is still a work in progress but here is a tune I have been enjoying lately, John Henry’s Favorite. It is a nice simple reel in D which I first heard from the flute player John Creaven. Check out the yotube video below, and you can download the TAB if you want to learn to play the tune.
I hope you enjoy it, and in the future I will post some more tunes in this fun new tuning. As always, feel free to get in touch with questions.