I often notice when I'm playing finger-style, picking chords, that the bass of D and D minor feel underwhelming in comparison to surrounding chords (e.g. Am Dm Em). There's no deeper D on the fret board. Is there any other solution for changing that feel of the bassline getting "shallow" during D chords?

I realise drop-D tuning solves this problem, but I'd like to play in standard tuning since I'm pretty new to guitar (3 months).


One option I haven't seen suggested here is to move the chord up the neck a bit instead of playing it with the open D. When playing any note, you are typically going to get a thicker sound if you play it on a thicker string. You can test this out by playing the open D string (just that note, for testing), then play the D on the 5th fret of the A string, then the 10th fret of the E string. You should notice that the tone gets thicker/warmer/more round. So if you were to play the D chord on the 5th fret, using the A barre chord shape, then you should find that your D sounds a bit fatter, potentially measuring up to the other lower root notes. The downside of this approach is that you will be changing up the voicing of the chord a little, where you will have a high A on top of the chord instead of the F# of the open voicing (or F if it's a minor chord). This would usually make the chord sound a little brighter, as the top note is a higher pitch, so it might not be appropriate for your sound. However, you could also just not play that high A and you would have the same notes as the open voicing.

Another option is to change up where you are plucking the string. When you pluck different parts of a string, you get a different tone. When you pluck near the bridge, you get a very thin sound, and when you pluck near or on top of the fretboard, you get a warmer/thicker sound. This is a little more difficult for beginners, since you have to pay more attention to your picking hand than you otherwise would, but it's good practice.

More generally speaking, it's good to consider the context. If you are going to be playing with a bass player, they will most likely be playing a nice fat root note under your chords, so the thickness of the root note on your instrument shouldn't matter too much when played in that context. It's also valuable to note that some frequencies carry better than others, so if you're playing this on an acoustic guitar, you're going to hear the frequencies a bit different than someone who is further away, so it could be good to set up a recording device across the room to hear it from the audience perspective and see if this is actually noticeable from there. You should also consider how important this really is. You may be paying a lot more attention to this tone issue than an actual listener would. So you might want to record yourself playing, then listen back and see if it really stands out while listening to the actual playing.

| improve this answer | |
  • Thanks a lot for all this advice! I've almost only been playing alone, sometimes with a friend on a piano or another guitar. – Anna Jan 30 '18 at 14:41
  • 1
    "When playing any note, you are typically going to get a thicker sound if you play it on a thicker string. You can test this out by playing the open D string (just that note, for testing), then play the D on the 5th fret of the A string, then the 10th fret of the E string. You should notice that the tone gets thicker/warmer/more round." I think "thicker" might be in the ear of the beholder. I don't really agree with this idea. Maybe we have different ideas of what it means to sound "thicker" also. – Todd Wilcox Jan 30 '18 at 15:21
  • @ToddWilcox - I'm pretty sure that if you analyzed the sound spectrum of the same pitch played on different strings that you would see more low frequencies/higher amplitude of lower frequencies when the note is played on a thicker string. Perhaps describing the tone as "thicker" isn't the best adjective for this but it seemed apt. – Basstickler Jan 30 '18 at 15:34
  • 'Thicker'= richer, more body, rounder, more mellow? – Tim Jan 31 '18 at 16:46
  • @Tim - That's my general though on it. I'd definitely like to hear alternate views though. – Basstickler Feb 2 '18 at 14:42

Play the open A string and the open D string. If they are in tune, they can create an auditory illusion of having the low D note below them in the ears of the listeners.

| improve this answer | |
  • Thank you! Trying it now and I like the sound! Do you have any advice on playing it fingerstyle with a p-ima grip? Plucking A with the thumb and D with the index finger simultaneously? – Anna Jan 30 '18 at 13:23
  • @Anna Can't you just pluck them both with your thumb at the same time? – Todd Wilcox Jan 30 '18 at 14:17
  • Like a little mini strum? Sorry, the only technique I've used fingerstyle is plucking one string per finger by "pushing" the finger toward the string and then letting the string slip off. – Anna Jan 30 '18 at 14:27
  • 1
    @Anna It would be a useful technique to learn. A lot of delta blues guitarists did that on every song, especially Robert Johnson. – Todd Wilcox Jan 30 '18 at 14:30

Play it barre, from the 5th string 5th fret, or 6th string 10th fret. You will have to learn barre chords sooner or later, and if you care that much about your sound, and don't want to drop tune, I'd suggest doing it sooner. Below are how the two most common are played. Also consider other voicings (shapes).


Edit: Whoops, didn't notice Basstickler's answer.

| improve this answer | |
  • Thanks! In fact I tried both D with a C-shape barre (23245x) and to just add that fret to D (x3205x) which I could barely reach. Then I realised that A-string fret 5 is the same pitch as the open D! and posted this question – Anna Jan 30 '18 at 23:15
  • No worries, your tab adds something I didn't include as well. – Basstickler Jan 31 '18 at 16:42

It's always been a problem using open strings as the 'bass part'. E and A sound good, but D is quite high, so sounds weak. And it's made worse with only three other strings for the chord.

Two other options: play an open A string - not too bad, and better when the chords either side are not A, or finger an F# on the bottom string. Again, not perfect, as it makes a first inversion chord, which sometimes sound weak itself.

Another option, apart from the obvious downtune to D with the bottom string, which then means an E chord needs an E bass, by fretting on the second fret, is to use a slingshot which is a special machine head which, with a little flick, can be set up to drop the bottom string to that elusive D. Not a cheap option, though...

Todd's idea is good, and the two strings could be plucked simultaneously with thumb and index.

| improve this answer | |

There are string sets with 4 rather than 3 metal-wound strings. It's obviously a tradeoff but might be worth checking out. Assuming nylon strings: you don't mention just what guitar we are talking about here.

| improve this answer | |
  • 3
    How will that help an already wound D string problem? – Tim Jan 30 '18 at 14:10

I like to use a drop D capo on the second fret or use a regular capo and put it on from the bottom and leave the 6 string open. But that will have you in the key of E playing D chord shapes. I also tune my guitar to D standard which will let you play in D with a capo on the second fret.

| improve this answer | |
  • Thanks. Never heard of a drop d capo, that's clever! Still I'd prefer staying in standard tuning. Maybe I could just transpose to some key without D, just like I used to do with F :) – Anna Jan 31 '18 at 10:11
  • I mean It's technically still standard tuning. All the frets are still the same notes. – Timinycricket Jan 31 '18 at 19:49
  • Maybe I didn't catch what you meant. It seems with a capo covering only five strings, you'd essentially be playing in drop-D with capo on first? And all chord shapes including the sixth string would be different? – Anna Jan 31 '18 at 20:02
  • No the capo would go on the 2nd fret and all fingering would be the same if you play relative to the capo. Playing the 3rd fret on the 6 string is still a G note. In drop D a G would be on the 5th fret. – Timinycricket Jan 31 '18 at 20:07
  • Here is a video I found sort of demonstrating what I am talking about. youtu.be/_ERJ-hWIxdg – Timinycricket Jan 31 '18 at 20:13

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.