• Road tuning •



Nick Drake’s beautifully concise tuning for Road (from 1972’s Pink Moon) – itself a beautifully concise track – is a glorious way to spark up fresh inspiration. Plus, it’s only a single twist away from Standard


The ‘suspended‘ open chord is fairly easy to settle into, as the ‘new’ 3str note is just another E (use it as an open-tone drone…). This gives a handy ‘triple-E‘ (6-3-1str), as well as a narrow ‘major 2nd in the middle’ – an odd combination which allows for mood-ambiguous patterns.


(n.b. The original may have been down a tone as D-G-C-D-A-D, capo’d at 4fr rather of 2 – we’ll likely never know. He also uses the same configuration on Voice from the Mountain: cp.1 or 3 depending on transposition.)

Pattern: 5>5>2>7>5
Harmony: E7sus4 | 1-4-b7-1-5-1


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Some describe Road as ‘uncharacteristically upbeat’ (e.g. Songfacts: “a rare upbeat track from the legendary troubadour of haunting despair”). I’m not quite sure this is fair, for two reasons. Firstly, we tend to oversimplify our creative icons into their ‘tagline personalities’ – while Drake definitely suffered from crushing periods of depression, he wasn’t always downcast. He penned plenty of other tracks that can easily be felt as uplifting or optimistic (e.g. Hazey Jane II, Introduction, Bryter Layter, Fly).


In the opinion of Cally Calloman, an archivist of Drake’s musical estate, “Nick was incapable of writing and recording while he was suffering from periods of depression. He wasn’t depressed during the…recording of Pink Moon, and was immensely proud of the album”. Let’s not ignore the broader human experiences of complex creative figures


Secondly, I’m not sure I’d describe the song as ‘upbeat’ anyway. While the guitar part has a certain bounce (rolling along at ~150 bpm), the lyrics bring an altogether different flavour. After all, the narrator conveys little of fact other than their preference to avoid paths that will ‘take them to the stars’ – which doesn’t sound so uplifting to me…although it’s not ‘downcast’ either – maybe ‘introverted’? I first learnt the song as a teenager, and perform it live, over a decade later…and I’m still not sure.


  • Road – Nick Drake (1972):

“You can say the sun is shining,

If you really want to,

I can see the moon,

And it seems so clear…”


Critic Anthony DeCurtis sees similar ambiguity in the track, and the whole of the Pink Moon album: “It’s difficult to say what the songs are ‘about’. His lyrics are so compressed as to be kind of folkloric haikus, almost childishly simple in their structure, and elemental in their imagery. His voice conveys, in its moans and breathy whispers, an alluring sensuality – but he sings as if he were viewing his life from a great, unbridgeable distance. That element of detachment is chilling.


n.b. Road also appears on the soundtrack for Bandslam, a 2009 “musical romantic comedy drama film” featuring Vanessa Hudgens and, in a brief cameo, David Bowie – in what would prove to be his final film appearance (“the story revolves around Will and Charlotte, who form an unlikely bond through their shared love of music. Assembling a like-minded crew of misfits, the friends form a rock group…”).


  • Road: Requiem for Pink Moon (An Elizabethan Tribute to Nick Drake) – live at Munich’s Herz-Jesu Church (2004):

Road: shapes (cp.4)

• A: 0-5-2-0-0-0 | 5-0-2-0-0-0

• B: 2-0-0-0-0-0 | 0-2-0-0-0-0

• C: 5-2-0-0-0-0 | 5-0-2-0-0-0

Structure: A-B-A | B-A-C | A-B-A

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6str 5str 4str 3str 2str 1str
Note E A D E B E
Alteration 0 0 0 -3 0 0
Tension (%) 0 0 0 -29 0 0
Freq. (Hz) 82 110 147 165 247 330
Pattern (>) 5 5 2 7 5
Semitones 0 5 10 12 19 24
Intervals 1 4 b7 1 5 1
  • See my Tunings Megatable for further such nerdery: more numbers, intervallic relations, comparative methods, etc. And to any genuine vibratory scientists reading: please critique my DIY analysis!


—Associated tunings: proximities of shape, concept, context, etc…


—Further learnings: sources, readings, lessons, other onward links…

  • Nick Drake’s tunings: see the entries for him linked above and in my Altered-Tuned Artists listing – and for more in-depth playing tips, check out Chris Healey’s tab/tuning pages, and Josh Turner’s superb stylistic demo video
  • Gabrielle Drake: listen to an eloquent, heart-wrenching letter to Nick, written and read aloud by his sister Gabrielle three decades on from his death in 1974 (herself an acclaimed stage and screen actress, appearing in everything from TV dramas to cult arthouse thrillers, and even Coronation Street…and their mother Molly was a talented singer too)

Header image: static side of Drake’s ‘running man‘ photo

George Howlett is a London-based musician, writer, and teacher (guitars, sitar, tabla, & santoor). Above all I seek to enthuse fellow sonic searchers, interconnecting fresh vibrations with the voices, cultures, and passions behind them. See Home & Writings, and hit me up for Online Lessons!

“An intrepid guitar researcher…”

(Guitar World interview)

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