Drop D tuning on a guitar refers to the practice of tuning the lowest string, typically the sixth string, down by one whole step to D instead of E.
This guitar tuning configuration is significant because it enables guitarists to achieve a heavier and darker sound, which is ideal for hard rock, metal, and alternative music genres.
Not only that, but it allows guitar players to easily play power chords & play riffs with a fuller, more aggressive tone by lowering the pitch of the low e string.
The popularity of Drop D tuning stems not only from its versatility & distinct, low-end richness, but also because it’s so easy to implement. In this article we show you how & answer any questions you might have.
How to Tune Your Guitar to Drop D
If you already have your guitar tuned to standard guitar tuning (EADGBE) then the process is relatively easy.
Step 1: Play your A string (2nd thickest) at the 5th fret & simultaneously play your low E string (open).
Step 2: Turn the tuning peg on your low E string to loosen it until it matches the pitch of your A string a the 5th fret. This might take a couple tries to fine tune the two strings.
Step 3: Once your Low E string matches the pitch of your A string at the 5th fret, tune the rest of the guitar as you normally would for E standard (guitar tuner provided below).
And That’s it! Pretty easy & effective for playing power chords at lightning speed with a single finger.
Benefits of Drop D Tuning
So why would you want to implement Drop D tuning in the first place? Here are a few of the benefits.
Extended Low Range
Drop D tuning extends the low range by decreasing the pitch of the lowest string from E to D. This enables guitarists to play deeper, heavier, and more powerful notes. It’s especially useful for heavier and darker tonalities in multiple genres like heavy metal, alternative, & rock music in general.
Easier Power Chords
Drop D tuning makes it easier to form a power chord. Power chords can be played by barring a single finger across the bottom three strings with the lowest string tuned to D. This is much more effective that using 3 individual finger to do the same under regular tuning.
Drop D tuning increases the versatility of the guitar for certain genres. It allows for new chord voicings, melodic patterns, and harmonic options that may not be as easily achievable in standard E tuning. Not to mention the enhanced speed at which you can play certain things.
Convenient For Alternate Tunings
Drop D tuning is a good place to start if you want to experiment with other tunings. It provides a solid foundation for further experimentation and enables many guitarists to quickly switch between different tunings just by making minor adjustments to other strings.
Popular In Various Genres
Drop D tuning has become popular among metal bands & other genres, including rock, punk, grunge, and alternative music. Drop D tuning has been used to write and perform many iconic riffs, songs, and albums, adding to its popularity and widespread use among guitarists.
What Are The Drawbacks of Drop D Tuning?
Despite the upsides, here’s a couple drawbacks to the tuning. Although, there really aren’t that many!
If you’re playing with other musicians or using sheet music or tabs written in E standard, transposing from Drop D can be challenging. You may need to adjust your fingerings and positions to compensate for the tuning difference, which can be cumbersome and require additional practice.
Potential Buzzing or Intonation Issues
Changing the tension & tuning of the strings can impact the guitar’s setup. In Drop D tuning, the lower tension on the sixth string may lead to buzzing or intonation issues for some, particularly if your guitar is not properly set up. Adjustments to the truss rod, string height, or intonation may be necessary to ensure optimal playability & deeper sound quality.
Reduced Chord Voicings
While Drop D tuning simplifies what it takes to play a power chord, it can limit the complexity of chord voicings compared to standard tuning. Certain chord shapes and voicings that rely on open strings or specific fingerings may no longer be feasible in Drop D. This can impact the versatility & variety of chord options available.
Switching between Drop D and standard tuning frequently may be time-consuming and disrupt the flow of your playing. It can be impractical during live performances or rapid transitions between songs & may require you to have a 2nd guitar available to switch between.
Chord Shapes in Drop D Tuning
If you like to play guitar chords, here’s a few to try out with your new tuning.
Drop D Power Chord (D5)
Place your index finger across the 5th fret of the low E string (now tuned to D), the A string, and other D string.
Strum the lowest three strings (D, A, and D).
This is a movable shape can be used to play power chords in different positions across the fretboard. Below are a couple more chords. If you need help reading chord charts, click here.
Drop D Open A (A)
Drop D Open D (D)
Drop D Open E (E)
Common Mistakes to Avoid in Drop D Tuning
Over-Tensioning The Strings
Because Drop D tuning requires loosening the tension on the sixth string, it’s critical to avoid over-tensioning when returning to standard or other tunings. Excessive tension can cause string breakage or strain on the neck of your guitar. Always tune with caution and make small changes gradually. If the string is becoming much more tense than usual, it’s probably time to loosen it up.
Lowering the pitch of the sixth string can have an effect on your guitar’s intonation. Failure to properly adjust the intonation after switching to Drop D tuning can result in out-of-tune chords or notes higher up the neck. Check and adjust the intonation on a regular basis to ensure accurate pitch across the fretboard.
Not Adjusting Technique
Drop D tuning affects the fingerings and techniques you use compared to standard tuning. A common mistake is to play as if still in standard tuning, resulting in improper finger placement or difficulty in executing certain techniques. Take the time to adapt your playing approach, chord shapes, and techniques to suit Drop D tuning.
Relying Solely On Power Chords
While Drop D tuning is well-known for its ease of use with power chords, relying solely on power chords can limit your musical expression. Avoid making the mistake of ignoring other chord voicings, melodic lines, and arpeggios that are available in Drop D tuning. To fully utilize the tuning’s potential, experiment with different chord shapes and melodic patterns.
Inconsistent String Muting
String muting techniques become even more important when using Drop D tuning. Excessive string noise and unintended notes can result from failing to properly mute unwanted strings. To maintain clean and precise playing, practice and develop effective string muting techniques.
Neglecting To Re-tune After Playing
If you alternate between standard and Drop D tuning, you must re-tune your guitar before returning to Drop D. Failure to do so may result in confusion, incorrect playing, or sounding out of tune. To ensure proper pitch, always double-check your guitar tuning again before playing in Drop D.
By avoiding these common mistakes, you can improve your Drop D tuning playing experience and make the most of this versatile and popular tuning.
Other Alternate Tunings
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the open note differences between standard tuning & Drop D?
The only difference between standard tuning and Drop D tuning is the 6th string. In standard tuning, the 6th string is tuned to E, while in Drop D tuning, it is tuned down to D. All other strings remain the same in both tunings.
What is the difference between Drop D & Drop C?
Drop D tuning involves tuning only one string (the sixth string) down to D, while Drop C tuning involves tuning all six strings down, resulting in a lower overall pitch and a heavy sound.
The difference between the open strings for these two are: D-A-D-G-B-E versus C-G-C-F-A-D
Why is Drop D tuning so popular?
Firstly, it offers guitar players an easy way to create a powerful & fuller sound with minimal finger placement, making it accessible to players of all skill levels.
It’s also easy to revert back to standard tuning & has become widely used by influential musicians who have incorporated Drop D tuning into their music. This has lead to its widespread recognition and adoption by guitarists worldwide.
Is Drop D the same as Open D?
No, Drop D and Open D tunings are not the same, although they both involve tuning the guitar to a different pitch.
Drop D tuning involves lowering the pitch of the sixth string (E) down to D, while leaving the other strings in standard tuning. This results in a lower overall tuning with a focus on the low D note, allowing for easy power chords & a heavier sound.
Open D tuning, on the other hand, involves tuning the guitar to a specific open chord. In Open D tuning, the guitar is tuned to DADF#AD. This tuning creates a D major chord when strummed open, with the strings forming the notes of the D major triad.
What is the difference between D tuning and Drop D tuning?
Basically, standard D tuning requires you to lower the pitch of all of the strings, while Drop D only requires you to lower one (when compared to E standard).
In standard D tuning, all strings are tuned down one whole step from standard E tuning. The guitar is tuned to DADGBE, with the lowest string (the sixth string) tuned to D. This results in a lower overall pitch for the entire guitar.
In Drop D tuning, however, only the sixth string is tuned down one whole step to D, while the rest of the strings remain in standard E tuning, resulting in the open strings: DADGBE. This means that the overall pitch of the guitar remains the same as E standard, except for the lower pitch on the sixth string.
Is Drop D tuning the same as half step down tuning?
No, Drop D tuning is not the same as half step down tuning.
Drop D tuning specifically refers to tuning the sixth string (the lowest string) down a whole step from E to D while leaving the other strings in standard E tuning. This creates a lower pitch on the sixth string, allowing easy power chord formation & a heavier sound.
On the other hand, half step down tuning, also known as Eb tuning or “E flat tuning”, involves tuning all six strings down by a half step. In this tuning, every string is lowered uniformly, resulting in an overall lower pitch across the entire guitar.