Tunes in Open D

Of course no tutorial would be worth a darn if it didn't give you some music to try. So here's a couple of tunes that I feel are not too difficult, but are at least fun to play. Since Open D was predominantly used to play the blues, it seems only fitting that the first one be a blues tune. The second tune could also be categorized as a blues tune, but its really more appropriately categorized as "American Primitive" since it's an arrangement of a piece I originally heard on a John Fahey recording

In The Evening When The Sun Goes Down

This tune is said to be one of the most beautiful and haunting of all the blues-love songs. It has been sung by many, including Brownie McGhee and Big Bill Broonzey. I originally learned it from "The Blues Bag" by Happy Traum. But that was arranged for standard tuning in the key of E. Here it has been re-arranged to be played in Open D. First print out the TAB so you can see what's being played, then listen to how I play it to hear how it's suppose to sound (slow and is a blues-love song after all).

In The Evening (Mp3)
Played by Paul Kucharski

Playing Notes

The first thing you'll notice is the number of hammers, pull-offs, bends, and slides. It just wouldn't be the blues without all of those. The assumption in this tutorial is that you are familiar with all these techniques. If not, check out some of the basic instruction sites on my Guitar Links page (there's good stuff already out there on this).

The main thing to note is to use your thumb to play the base notes when playing the IV and V chords at the 5th and 7th frets respectively.

This tune is a I-IV-V, 13 bar blues progression in the key of D except that the last measure switches to 3/4 time to speed the turn-around. The chord progression is as follows:

Chord Number I IV I V7 IV7 I
Chord Name D G D A7 G7 D
Number of Measures 4 2 2 1 1 3


Sunflower River Blues

I first heard this tune when it was recorded by John Fahey on a 1967 Takoma Records release of "Death Chants, Breakdowns, & Military Waltzs". He later recorded it again on a 1974 Takoma Records album with Peter Lang and Leo Kottke (and there may be other releases I'm not aware of). Neither of these were exactly the same.

I came up with my own version of this tune around that time in Open D which was heavily influenced by of both of these. When this tune was finally published in a music book by "Guitar Player Books" in 1978, I came to find out he played this tune in Open C. So now here is yet another version in Open D.

The major themes of this song repeat throughout, but rather than try to minimize the length of the TAB with complicated repeats and jumps, I just laid it out flat with the themes being duplicated with all the slight variations. As a result, it extends over 9 pages. But I felt it would be simpler to follow this way.

Sunflower River Blues (Mp3)
Played by Paul Kucharski

Playing Notes

The reason I selected this tune to feature here is because 1) It's a great piece of music, and 2) It's relatively easy to master because it doesn't have a lot of complex left hand gymnastics. The melody runs under a consistent Travis Style alternating bass throughout the piece. The only real challenge is in one particular theme that requires you to execute a bass slide from the 2nd to the 4th fret while picking up a note underneath the slide. With a little practice, this should come quickly.

I hope you enjoy playing this tune as much as I have over the years. If you have any questions about either of these tunes, feel free to drop me an e-mail.

Other Tunes in Open D

If you're looking for more music to play in Open D, two of my original compositions presented on the Original Composition's Page are also played in Open D; "Runabout" and "Joey". Runabout is the more challenging of the two. The TAB is provided there along with the Standard Notation if you prefer that.

Suggested Listening

If you're looking for a good example of playing in Open D, the music that absolutely blows me away is the work of Mike Dowling.  Either of the CDs "Swamp Dog Blues" or "Bottomlands" have great examples of arrangements slide playing in Open D.  Tunes like "Swamp Dog Blues", "See See Rider" and "Jan's Song" are really good examples.

Swamp Dog Blues

See See Rider