Adventures in Cross-Note

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Sometimes referred to as Open D minor or Open E minor tuning, Cross-Note is most famously associated with Skip James, who played some of his best-known material in this tuning. Skip referred to the tuning as cross-note, with the rather cryptic explanation being that, in the tuning, "the major crosses the minor". If you tune to Open D minor, the strings are pitched DADFAD. For open E minor, EBEGBE. The intervals of the open strings are the same as an E minor chord in standard tuning in which you fret the fifth and fourth strings at the second fret, I-V-I-flatIII-V-I.

6th string=Root
5th string=5th
4th string=Root
3rd string=Flat 3rd
2nd string=5th
1st string=Root

The tuning is most often used to play in the key of the sixth string: D if you are in open D minor, or E if you are in open E minor. Because the top three strings are the same intervals that they are in standard tuning, you can play any of the phrases you play in E standard on the top 3 strings using the very same fingering. An advantage of cross-note over standard tuning is that in cross-note you have an octave alternating bass of open strings between the sixth and fourth strings; in E standard you have to fret the fourth string at the second fret to get the octave alternating bass.

The sound of E standard vs. cross-note tuning can be a very subtle distinction - they are quite similar sounding. One difference is that in E standard you most often have the IV chord (A) with a low root in the bass (the open fifth string). In cross-note, you almost never hear the IV chord with a low root in the bass, because it is inconveniently located at the fifth fret of the sixth string, where it is not very handy.

One other thing about open D minor vs. open E minor: You get to open D minor by loosening strings, whereas with open E minor you have to raise the fifth and fourth strings, both or which are fairly heavy wound strings, a whole step. As a result you are more likely to break strings going to open E minor than open D minor.

Arthur Crudup
That's All Right, Mama
Mean Old Frisco
If I Get Lucky
Coal Black Mare

Booker White
Aberdeen Mississippi Blues
Bukka's Jitterbug Swing
Parchman Farm Blues
Sic 'Em Dogs
Special Streamline

Cornelius Bright
Devil Got My Woman
My Baby's Gone

Fred McDowell
Jim Steam Killed Lula

Funny Papa Smith
Whiskeyhead Blues

Hayes McMullan

Henry Townsend
Doctor, oh Doctor
Henry's Worry Blues
Jack of Diamonds/Georgia Rub
Mistreated Blues
Poor Man Blues
She's Got A Mean Disposition

Jack Owens
Can't See, Baby
Cherry Ball
Good Morning, Little Schoolgirl
It Must have Been the Devil
Nothin' But Notes
Hard Times

Robert Wilkins
Nashville Stonewall Blues

Skip James
4 O'Clock Blues
Broke and Hungry Blues
Cherry Ball Blues
Cypress Grove
Devil Got My Woman
Good Road Camp Blues
Hard Luck Child
Hard Time Killin' Floor Blues
Illinois Blues
Jesus Is a Mighty Good Leader
Sickbed Blues
Washington D.C. Hospital Center Blues
Yola My Blues Away

Teddy Darby
Lawdy Lawdy Worried Blues

From The George Mitchell Collection, Volumes 1 - 45

3-03 Bud White White HorsesCross-note Eflat+ 1969, 02/02 Richland GA
5-27 Rosa Lee Hill Count the Days I'm Gone Cross-noteBflat+1967, 08/23Como MS
5-28 Rosa Lee HillRoll & TumbleCross-noteC#+1967, 08/23Como MS
5-29 Rosa Lee HillBullying WellCross-noteE1967, 08/23Como MS
7-15 Eddie HodgeBlood Red RiverCross-noteEflat-(unknown)(unknown)

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