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Sunday Spotlight: Time for Music's Adaptive Guitar Tuning

Posted Feb 28 2010 9:56am

As music therapists, we all understand the vitality of guitar skills. I've been very fortunate to find someone who realizes the value of guitar playing for all individuals, regardless of ability. All music therapists realize this, but Wade, my friend at Time for Music, is making his knowledge public! This week, thanks to his adaptive tuning methods, I have been able to play the guitar for the first time ever!

This week, in Sunday Spotlight, Wade answers our questions about the tuning!

What is it?

Modified Tuning is a type of alternate tuning which allows the player to produce new chord configurations and slide between chords that normally would be unattainable. This specialized tuning was designed to produce a variety of basic and extended chords. It was created by music therapist Wade M. Richards, LCAT, NMT, MT-BC.

Many of the chords center around the 2nd fret and a basic I-IV-V progression can be achieved without repetition of finger placement on the board. In other words, a visual support can be added like different colored dots for a D-G-A progression without any fret and string combinations being repeated. The students can move smoothly from one colored chord to the next.

Who is it used with?

I have used this modified tuning with a variety of students including children and adults with Autism, cerebral palsy, dyslexia, mental retardation, learning disabilities, and others with physical, social, emotional, and cognitive differences.

What lead you to create this?
Opening tunings, adaptive devices, and different ways to simplify chords have limitations. The student I was assessing at the time had skills yet untapped! I wanted to create a guitar method that offered room to grow as a guitarist.

How do you decide who should use this tuning?
Through assessment of course! During this time I look for the following things
• Physical limitations: dexterity issues, size of fingers, sensory sensitivity, visual-motor issues

• Emotional state: negative past experiences, frustration level, a lack of confidence

• Cognitive differences: poor memory recall of chord shapes, big gap in chord change time due to motor planning issues, impulsivity

• Social needs: wants to jam with friends, do not want to be compared to other players they know, needs an easier way to achieve improvisatory music for self-expression

What results have you observed?

The results have been overwhelming. Students who were initially trapped into open tunings or one-fingered C and G chords are now moving around the guitar and producing quality chords and music. Students feel empowered in the fact that they are playing an instrument and playing along with other students and friends. The simplicity of the one- and two-fingered chord system has opened the door to other modes of playing- bass lines, pentatonic improvisation, modal improvisation, moveable chords, finger picking, riff and chord combinations, and more.

Have you ever transitioned a player to standard tuning?

Yes. The skills that they learn in the modified tuning and can be used to transition into standard tuning down the road when they are ready. I have a skill strand list or an outline of skills for the modified tuning. Once achieved we can move into standard tuning.

How can I learn more about it?
Contact Wade at He is currently preparing for this modified tuning to be published in book and DVD form. This will also include the choice of completing a home study and submission of video assignments to obtain CMTE credits. Be on the look out for a few video introductions to the tuning!

I can't wait to see the tuning in published form! Be on the lookout for the method in the very near future!

Thank you, Wade, for revolutionizing my guitar playing and for the ways that you will impact students' lives in the future!
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