Learning alternate tunings can genuinely elevate the way you play guitar. Drop D guitar tuning is famous for that reason. A six-string guitar can be modified to achieve new possibilities and gain the ability to play new chords. If you have mastered your first few chords, it might be time to give Drop D a shot.
It’s also essential to consider how Drop D guitar tuning works and when to use it while learning to enhance your playing.
When to Tune Your Guitar
Check the tuning of your guitar every time you play. Even one day can be long enough to change how your guitar sounds. A myriad of factors can make your guitar go out of tune. These factors include but are not limited to:
- The quality of your strings.
- Humidity and temperature – wood and metal naturally expand and contract.
- If you travel with your guitar.
- Your posture when playing.
- How you handle the guitar.
- How often you play or how long your practice sessions are.
- Dropping your guitar.
- Using a capo.
It’s in your best interest to finely tune your guitar all the time. As a beginner, this can take a while. With experience tuning your guitar every day will become second nature. Learning to distinguish pitches and being able to tell what sounds right and wrong is a learned skill. So, keep practicing!
Here are some practical tips for successful tuning:
- Let the string finish vibrating before you adjust it again.
- Start by tuning the sixth string (this is especially applicable when tuning to Drop D).
- Make sure your guitar is intonated correctly – if you’re having trouble, a music store can usually help you with this.
- Change your strings regularly; damaged strings will not perform as well as fresh ones.
Benefits of Alternate Tunings
Alternate tunings have always been popular. Modern six-string guitars were not always commonplace, so musicians had to develop tricks that would let them play a wide range of sounds. Drop D has been crucial in the development of genres like rock and metal. You can even hear its influence in other genres.
Try next: Open D Tuning on Guitar
How Does Drop D Tuning Work?
On a conventional six-string guitar, the standard tuning is E, A, D, G, B, E.
Drop D tuning takes that lowest E note and lowers the pitch one whole step down to D. The new tuning looks like: D, A, D, G, B, E.
Drop D tuning alters the lowest note one whole step from E to D while leaving the other strings intact. This tuning means you can hit a considerably lower range of chords. Drop D will let you generate an intense sound that naturally lends itself to rock and metal music.
Step by Step Guide
1) Tune Your Guitar Normally
First of all, make sure your six-string guitar is tuned typically. At this step, you can either play by ear, use an online tuning tool or an electric guitar tuner. You want to make sure you’re starting with a perfectly tuned guitar so that the next steps will be more manageable.
Using a tuning tool or tuner is helpful because you’ll probably need it in the upcoming steps.
2) Tune the Sixth String to D
Your sixth string is the one most impacted by Drop D tuning.
Turn the knob for your sixth at the top of your guitar’s neck towards you and strum. Adjust the knob until you display D on your online tool or electronic tuner instead of E. This may take a little while the first few times you tune to Drop D. As you get more familiar with your guitar, it will become a quicker task.
3) Adjust the Other Strings
Now that your sixth string is tuned to Drop D, you need to make sure the rest of the strings are, too. Be careful to make sure you tune your fifth string to A and that the fourth string is still D. These two strings are likely to be most impacted. Then tune your three remaining strings, so they are a standard G, B, and E.
Tightening or loosening any string by a significant amount can influence how the rest of your strings sound. This change in sound is partly because of the changing tension on your guitar’s neck and body.
It’s good practice to always make sure you tune every string on your guitar instead of just one.
4) Double-Check Your Progress
This when you check each string once more to make sure your pitches are correct. Drop D tuning should create a deep, intense sound. Playing with an in-tune guitar means you can focus on the technical aspects you enjoy instead of worrying if the strings sound off.
Using A Capo
Some new guitarists may wonder if it is possible to use a capo to achieve a Drop D effect while playing. A capo is a clamp tool that works by shortening the length of your strings, thus raising the pitch. This will not work with Drop D tuning because the aim is for the lowest pitch to become even lower.
Why Tune to Drop D
Drop D tuning is necessary if you want to master metal, grunge, and rock guitar songs. It allows you to reach a lower pitch but doesn’t change your high notes.
This makes it simpler to play power chords. A power chord is a chord made of only two notes. In regular D tuning, you need to use extra fingers, but you can play to D with Drop D tuning while using a standard finger arrangement. This makes it easier to play songs that rely on a deep D sound.
Drop D is also helpful if you’re playing alongside a singer with a deep voice. You can lower a song so that it’s easier for the singer to hit the required notes without straining their voice to hit a higher E. Drop D is a common alternative tuning, but it’s possibly less common than the popular DADGAD tuning, so try that out too!
Where You Hear Drop D
Turn on any radio station, and you’ll likely hear Drop D. This tuning is exceptional for establishing a rich, intense or even somber sound. It doesn’t lend itself to pop but is super popular in rock, grunge, and metal.
Bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains have all used the tuning a lot.
In one interview with Guitar World, guitarist Kim Thayil from Soundgarden talks about how Drop D tuning in the Seattle music scene went on to have an international impact in the 90s. Drop D has had a huge reach on all kinds of music you probably already know and love.
As you get used to playing Drop D, try identifying songs you think might use it. This practice will help develop your ear for the tuning, and you will see how prevalent it is.
Keeping your guitar tuned to Drop D can be fantastic in some instances. However, it’s not a perfect alternate tuning. If you want to cover songs from a wide variety of genres, then it’s best to use standard tuning most of the time.
Famous musicians often have multiple guitars on hand for different songs. If you’re interested in songs like I Will Wait by Mumford And Sons, then C6 tuning may be something you want to try.
Drop D is a great skill to have in your toolbox as a guitarist. It can open genres and allow you to play a variety of rock songs. Once you’ve mastered standard tuning and are looking to challenge yourself, look to Drop D. If you want to be genuinely versatile as a guitarist, keep trying new alternate tunings and play on.
As the Head Editor at Music Grotto, Liam edits content produced from over 30 professional music/media journalists and contributing writers. He works closely with journalists and other staff to format and publish music content for the Music Grotto website. Liam is also the founding member of Music Grotto and is passionate in disseminating editorial content to its readers.