I play the hurdy-gurdy, and a guitarist friend has joined me over the past months to play acoustic music together. My instrument is in the key of C, and we transpose whatever we want to learn into C (major, natural minor, harmonic minor, mixolydian) so the song resolves nicely onto the drone note.

This has led to some difficulty because the guitarist is unable to quickly set his fingers into position for some of the chords we would need. In particular, the major chords B♭, E♭, and A♭; the diminished triads B♮ and D♮; and the minor chord C♮ are causing problems in the standard tuning. Most of what we play hasn't called for seventh chords, so I don't know how difficult those are.

Is there an alternate tuning that would enable him to more easily play the chords used in these keys? Since the drones restrict us to a particular set of keys, it wouldn't be much of an inconvenience if it made other keys more difficult; you're allowed to optimise specifically for the C family.

  • Have you considered having your guitarist use a capo? Apr 3, 2017 at 18:37
  • Sure- is there a fret where it would be helpful? Equivalently, I could tune the hurdy-gurdy to a different pitch to achieve the same effect of moving everything by a certain number of semitones. The idea in the question is that we might find a tuning that is optimal for one family of keys, while the standard tuning is a compromise that works okay for a lot of families- just shifting the base pitch around with a capo doesn't change that.
    – Aoeuid
    Apr 3, 2017 at 18:44
  • Perhaps I'm not understanding your problem. In a given piece, surely there is a finite number of chords? Adjust the capo between pieces, then. For each piece write out the chords, and find a transposition upwards that gives all (or at least most) chords in that song a non-awkward fingering, and set the capo accordingly. Apr 3, 2017 at 19:03
  • 1
    Alternately, tune the whole guitar down a tone (although you'll get a slack string-tension sound) and have the guitarist play everything as if D is the root. The usual D major chords are all non-awkward (D, Em, G, A, Bm), same for minor (except the G minor for harmonic minor will be a little awkward), and the specific chords you name: B♭->C, easy, E♭->F easyish, A♭->B♭, a little awkward (it's on your list), B dim becomes C# dim, which is close to A major 7, it's doable, and D dim becomes E dim, well, you can't win them all, but it's no worse than D dim. Apr 3, 2017 at 19:12
  • No, I think you have it right: "find a transposition upwards that gives all (or at least most) chords in that song a non-awkward fingering" is about what I'm asking. Except I reckoned the additional flexibility you gain by retuning the strings independently of one another might be necessary.
    – Aoeuid
    Apr 3, 2017 at 19:13

1 Answer 1


Capo III (or a combination of up-tuning and less capo):

  • Cmaj/min => A fingering
  • Fmaj/min => D fingering
  • Gmaj/min => E fingering
  • Bflat => G fingering
  • Eflat => C fingering
  • Aflat => F fingering

Another option would be one of the open C tunings or maybe CGCFGC (DADGAD down a whole step) but that would require him/her to learn new chord shapes and fingering patterns.

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