Zen Drone



Author, educator, and NYC busker Philip Toshio Sudo (1958-2002) included this two-tone drone in his famous 1997 book Zen Guitar, intended as a gateway to spontaneous improvisation for beginners. I applaud his participative philosophy, and the general freedom of the tuning…but you gotta be careful not to ruin the calm by snapping the raised 3str.


I guess patience is probably the key – although Sudo’s work also teems with energy and electrified curiosity. He calls you to find your own paths to katsu: ‘the roar of a person who knows what it means to be alive‘ – via a personalised search for “the sound of the divine spark within us all. Like the cry of a child or the howl of a wolf, it transcends language and culture”.


Sudo later became known for applying Zen principles to his experience of terminal cancer. In his words, “my main creative focus during this process has been on making music…I’ve been bringing my laptop computer with me to chemo, and recording musical compositions while the chemo’s being administered…”.

Pattern: 7>5>7>0>5
Harmony: D5 | 1-5-1-5-5-1




Many besides Sudo – e.g. Save It For Later (Dave Wakeling), Hope (Alex Lifeson), Let the Records Play (Stone Gossard) – and Joni Mitchell’s dulcimer-like layout on Carey. You can lower it all to sidestep 3str tension issues: Ben Howard often goes a tone down (C-G-C-G-G-C), e.g. The Wolves (cp.3), and Old Pine (cp.5), as does Jamie Woon on Robots. Plenty besides…


  • Save It For Later – Dave Wakeling (2011):


6str 5str 4str 3str 2str 1str
Note D A D A A D
Alteration -2 0 0 +2 -2 -2
Tension (%) -21 0 0 +26 -21 -21
Freq. (Hz) 73 110 147 220 220 294
Pattern (>) 7 5 7 0 5
Semitones 0 7 12 19 19 24
Intervals 1 5 1 5 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 & info to delve further in…

  • Philip Toshio Sudo: his famous Zen Guitar book – also check out this enlightening interview with Dr. Patrick Miller (“I haven’t read any books related to cancer specifically, other than the wonderful volume of poetry Fuck You, Cancer by Rick Fields, who wrote from an Eastern philosophy perspective…”)
  • More DADAAD explorations: see Peter Hack’s pristine tab of Joni Mitchell’s Carey on her official website (“the same tuning used by Dave Wakeling…the story, related by Pete Townshend, goes that neither he nor David Gilmour could figure out when they were attempting to learn the song off the recording…this resulted in them calling up Wakeling…”).


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rāga: ‘that which colours the mind’

George Howlett is a London-based musician, writer, and teacher. I play guitar, tabla, and santoor, loosely focusing on jazz, rhythm, and other global improvised traditions. Above all I seek to enthuse fellow sonic searchers, interconnecting fresh vibrations with the human voices, cultures, and passions behind them. Site above, follow below, & hit me up for…


—guitar & global music—

Dedicated to Nigel Tufnel – a true tuning connoisseur

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