Drop D Tuning: The Ultimate Guide
Updated: Jul 4
Drop D Tuning: The Ultimate Guide
Drop D Tuning for Beginners
So you've finally learned to tune your guitar to standard tuning (E A D G B e) only to discover songs that use drop tunings. Drop D? Drop B? Drop whaaaa?🤯What's all this drop nonsense? In this article, we're going to answer that very question. The absolute best tip I can give before we start is to make sure your guitar is 100% in tune.
OK? Let's dive in! 💦
Photo Credit: Mark Brooks (brooksstudios.co.uk)
What is Drop Tuning?
Drop tuning your guitar simply means to lower the pitch of one or more of the strings on your guitar. The word to remember here is lower; that is why we call it drop tuning. Let's start by focussing on the reason we're here; Drop D tuning.
And Drop D Tuning?
The concept is fairly straightforward ⏩ You simply tune the low E string of your guitar down in pitch so that it is one octave below the normal D string. You can double check the pitch by fretting the 12th fret of your lowest string (which is now a D remember!) and matching it with the normal D string. So now your guitar is tuned to the following notes: D A D G B e - instead of E A D G B e.
Another approach is to use a guitar tuner and that will tell you what note your string is tuned to however, if you're a beginner and you're using an app you may have to pay for the features that allow you to do additional tunings. Best bet, if you haven't already got one, buy a physical tuner from you local guitar store. I recommend the ones that clip-on to your headstock (a Snark clip-on tuner for example is fairly cheap).
For an extra bit of help, here's a video lasting only 2 minutes that demonstrates how to achieve Drop D:
It also makes a standard D chord sound much deeper and beefier right?
Whenever musicians refer to Drop D tuning, they will simply say 'Drop D'. For example, if you were in a rehearsal room with your band, you might have a conversation like this:
Guitarist "Oi, mate, this song I wrote is in Drop D"
Bassist "Drop D? What's that?"
Guitarist "Basically, tune your low E string down to a D, mate, let me show you..."
-- Bassist tunes down and plays a random heavy riff that sounds like Slipknot"... --
Bassist "WOAH! Mate, this riff sounds BEEFY! Just like Slipknot!"
Guitarists "I know mate! I learned it in my guitar lessons! Right... we better get some practice done..."
And yes... bass players can also tune to Drop D.
Easy Power Chords! ✅
One of the coolest things about drop D tuning is that you can now do power chords with only one finger across the lowest 3 strings! That's right, it makes playing some songs on the guitar quite a bit easier, especially if you're moving around the fretboard a lot, all while adding some more depth to the sound. The Middle by Jimmy Eat World does this very well, watch the finger movement in the close-up tutorial below and you will see what I mean:
Did you see how it only required a single finger to produce a nice, big, rocky sound? If you're a total beginner and struggle using your pinky as shown in the video, your can just move your index finger up and down. I had a lot of fun playing this way when I was younger and well... it never really got old, I still love it!
Why Do Some Bands Play in Drop D?
Probably two reasons; one is because it makes certain things easier to play (especially handy if you're jumping around the stage!) and two because they want to experiment and get away from the norm. Drop D tuning has been done a lot by bands like Muse (pictured below), Rage Against the Machine, Jimmy Eat World, Alter Bridge and many, many (many!) others. After playing for a while in standard tuning, you might well want to experiment with different sounds and Drop D tuning is the perfect place to start.
Photo Credit: Hans Peter Van Velthoven
Five Examples of Songs That Use Drop D Tuning!
Muse: New Born
Foo Fighters: Everlong
Rage Against the Machine - Killing in the Name Of
Papa Roach - Between Angels & Insects
Marilyn Manson - Beautiful People
If you're feeling up to it, give one of these a bash!
Can Drop D Tuning Hurt My Guitar Neck? Or My Strings?
Nope. You're making the tinniest of adjustments to the tension that your instrument and strings won't even notice. In fact, some guitars have a special knob where you can automatically jump straight to Drop D if needed.
Wait! There's More... Drop C Tuning and Drop B Tuning?
To achieve Drop C or Drop B tuning you simply adjust the low E as you did before except now it has to be tuned even lower than D going all the way down to C, B or even A! Don't be surprised if your strings are very loose when doing this, that's totally normal because the strings themselves were made to be at a certain tension and now that they've been loosened, that tension is much less (for these kinds of tunings, slightly thicker strings will often be used to prevent that looseness).
Drop tunings are used extensively in heavy metal bands. In fact they'll sometimes tune all of the stings down. If you've ever wondered how they get that really deep, heavy guitar sound, that's how. Anyway, if you would like to mess around with this idea you could try the following examples:
For Drop C Tuning, make sure your lowest string is one octave below the THIRD fret of the A string.
For Drop B Tuning, make sure your lowest string is one octave below the SECOND fret of the A string.
For Drop A Tuning, make sure your lowest string is one octave below the OPEN A string (listen to Citizen Erased by Muse to hear how this sounds in action - I also like to call this 'low string hanging off the neck' tuning😅).
Other Types of Tuning (Also Known as Alternate Tunings)
Because you can tune any string to any pitch, there are almost endless tuning possibilities for the guitar. As far as one's in relatively common usage, there's double drop D (tuning both E strings down to a D as heard in 'Song for George' by Eric Johnson) - various open tunings (where you tune your strings to an open chord) such as open C, open D and open E (this allowed you to play difficult chords with only one finger!) and modified standard tunings like C standard or D standard (exactly the same tuning intervals but every string is lower).
I think it's fair to say that most alternate tunings are lower than standard tuning but I've certainly seen some songs with strings tuned higher; the clean part of the intro to 'Hide' by Creed comes to mind which is tuned to F Bb F Bb D F.
Drop D tuning is a great way to experiment, to sound a bit different, to make playing certain riffs and songs easier and most importantly, to have some fun and get creative! Get that guitar in Drop D, crank up the distortion and rock! 🤘
Still want to learn more about Drop D tuning? Book in a FREE trial guitar lesson and I'll show you what else you can do.
About The Author
Aaron Carrington is the owner of Carrington Guitar Academy in Bath, UK. Since graduating from The Institute of Contemporary Music Performance in London Aaron has played in high profile locations such as Buckingham Palace, The Savoy and The London Eye.
He’s been a regular part of the UK wedding and corporate gig scene and has travelled internationally to the Middle East to play in top quality residency bands 6 nights per week. The finesse gained from this level of playing experience is passed on to his guitar students.
Now permanently in Bath, Aaron strives to deliver the highest standards of guitar teaching at Carrington Guitar Academy by offering a personalized lesson plan tailored to each student’s goals. You may also catch Aaron busking regularly on the streets of Bath. If you're interested in guitar lessons get in touch to book a FREE trial lesson!