Drop D guitar tuning is a popular alternate tuning that lends a lower, heavier sound to your playing. Widely used in rock, metal, and punk music, this technique can elevate your guitar skills. This article delves into everything you need to know about tuning your guitar to Drop D.
What is Drop D tuning?
The Drop D tuning method is an alternate tuning technique that closely resembles Standard tuning. The only distinction between the two lies in the tuning of the lowest string. In Drop D, the E string (usually the lowest string) is tuned down one whole step to D.
Drop D looks like this: D-A-D-G-B-E.
By altering the note of a single string, you can achieve a unique, alternative sound.
Steps to Tune Your Guitar to Drop D
Since Drop D is closely related to Standard tuning, begin by tuning your guitar using the Standard method.
Tune the strings from lowest to highest as follows: low E-A-D-G-B-high E.
The frequencies of each string should be:
- The 6th string (low E string) = 82.4 Hz
- The 5th string (A string) = 110 Hz
- The 4th string (D string) = 146.8 Hz
- The 3rd string (G string) = 196 Hz
- The 2nd string (B string) = 246.9 Hz
- The 1st string (high E string) = 329.6 Hz
After your guitar is tuned with the Standard method, you can proceed with Drop D tuning.
You can use three ways to tune your guitar to Drop D.
Different methods to tune a guitar to Drop D
You can achieve the perfect Drop D guitar tuning using an electronic tuner, by ear, or with harmonics. Each method ensures that your guitar is accurately tuned to Drop D, allowing you to explore new sounds and playing styles.
Tuning Your Guitar to Drop D Using an Electronic Tuner
An electronic tuner offers a simple and precise way to tune your guitar. Just power up the tuner and follow the display as you adjust the strings.
Here’s how to achieve Drop D tuning:
- With the low E string tuned to standard pitch, fret it at the 12th fret and play the note. The tuner should display the same note.
- Lower the pitch of the low E string using the tuning peg until the tuner shows the note D. This gives you the desired Drop D tuning.
- Compare the tuning of the low D string by playing it and the open D string. Make adjustments as necessary.
- Tune the remaining strings as usual, relying on the tuner to confirm they are at the correct pitch.
- Play some chords or a song in Drop D tuning to ensure all the strings are accurately tuned.
Tuning Your Guitar to Drop D by Ear
Even without a tuner, you can achieve Drop D guitar tuning by ear. Follow these simple steps:
- Compare the sound of the open low E string (6th string) to that of the D string (4th string) played at the 2nd fret.
- Listen carefully and adjust the tuning peg until the two sounds match. Note that the low E will be an octave lower than the D string.
- The rest of the strings should remain in Standard tuning.
Tuning Your Guitar to Drop D Using Harmonics
When you lightly touch the string at a certain point along its length or pluck it, you can hear a bell-like sound. This is because the string vibrates, producing a series of overtones called harmonics.
You can use harmonics to tune your guitar to Drop D.
Let’s see how:
- Start by tuning the low E string to D, as previously explained.
- Once the low E string is tuned to D, lightly touch the 12th fret of the D string to produce a harmonic.
- Play the open D string and compare the two notes. Adjust the tuning peg of the D string until it matches the 12th-fret harmonic.
- Next, lightly touch the 12th fret of the A string and play the open D string. Ensure these two notes match.
- Finally, touch the 12th fret of the low D string (previously the low E string) and play the open A string. These two notes should also match.
No matter what method you prefer, always double-check all the strings to be sure that your tuning is correct.
Reasons to Use the Drop D Guitar Tuning Method
The Drop D tuning method offers numerous benefits that contribute to its popularity among guitarists:
Drop D is a save-tuning method
Some tuning techniques can cause unintended side effects on your guitar over time. However, Drop D is completely safe, as only one string experiences a decrease in tension.
Creates easier power chords
Drop D tuning makes it easier to play power chords. To play a power chord, simply bar your index finger across the three lowest strings.
Produces a lower and heavier sound
Tuning the low E string down to D results in a fuller and heavier sound, ideal for genres like rock and metal that aim to create tension and energy. This is why Drop D is primarily used for electric guitars.
Read more on how to tune your electric guitar here.
Creating new chord shapes
Drop D enables the creation of new chord shapes and fingerings that are unattainable in standard tuning. This allows for greater creative freedom when playing and composing songs.
Drop D has a versatility
The Drop D guitar tuning technique can be utilized across various musical genres, including rock, metal, folk, and acoustic music. Its adaptability makes it a valuable tool for guitarists looking to expand their playing styles.
Drawbacks of Drop D Guitar Tuning
While Drop D tuning offers many advantages, it also has some weaknesses worth considering:
Complicates certain chords
Drop D tuning may simplify some chords and facilitate power chord playing, but it can also create challenges and necessitate different fingerings for other chords, particularly if you’re accustomed to playing in Standard tuning.
Drop D tuning can render some scales less intuitive, as the intervals between the strings differ from those in Standard tuning, which can impact the patterns of scales and arpeggios.
Makes some scales less intuitive
Drop D tuning can make some scales less intuitive. This is because the intervals between the strings are different in Drop D tuning, which can affect the patterns of scales and arpeggios.
Increases string tension
Lowering the low E string to D can add extra tension to the strings, making them more prone to breaking or going out of tune quickly.
What music genres used Drop D?
Drop D tuning is a versatile technique employed across various music genres. It is most commonly found in:
Drop D tuning is a staple of heavy metal music. Many iconic metal bands use it, including Metallica, Black Sabbath, Pantera, and Tool.
Hard rock bands like AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, and Rage Against the Machine also favor Drop D tuning.
Alternative rock bands, including Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Pearl Jam, use Drop D tuning to create a heavier, more powerful sound.
Bands in the post-hardcore and emo genres, such as My Chemical Romance, Bring Me the Horizon, and A Day to Remember, often employ Drop D tuning.
Some folk rock artists, such as Neil Young and Mumford & Sons, use Drop D tuning to create a more percussive and driving sound.
Songs that you can play in Drop D
Finally, we have some great suggestions for songs you can play on Drop D:
- Nirvana – “Heart Shaped Box”
- Alice in Chains – “Sludge Factory”
- Led Zeppelin – “Moby Dick”
- Rage Against the Machine – “Killing in the Name”
- Slipknot – “Vermilion Part 2”
- Soundgarden – “Black Hole Sun”
- The Beatles – “Dear Prudence”
Drop D is an easy alternate tuning method that allows you to investigate your playing style and create awesome music full of energy and power. With a little practice, tuning your guitar to Drop D will become second nature, and you’ll be able to do it quickly and accurately.
What other types of alternate tunings are there?
Other commonly used alternative tunings similar to Drop D are: