"Drop-D" is a simple alternative way to tune your guitar, tuning just one string different from the usual EADGBE tuning. With Drop-D, the sixth string (usually the low E) is tuned one whole tone down to D. Drop-D has been a popular tuning in modern rock and metal for decades because it provides a deeper, darker sound, and because it's easier to play "power chords" in this tuning (although the tuning has always been used in blues, country, and traditional music).
Method 1 of 3: Voting with a tuner
Step 1. Start from the usual EADGBE mood
It's easiest to start from the familiar EADGBE tuning, whether you're using a tuner or not. That's because there's only one note difference between the two tunings - if you change this note you can start playing. In this article we assume that you are familiar with the notes in normal tuning, but just to be sure we give you the notes that the strings should be tuned to (reference notes for these notes can easily be found at online voting programs):
Sixth (thickest) string: E
fifth string: a
Fourth string: d
Third string: G
Second string: B
First (thinnest) string: E (two octaves higher than the E of the sixth string)
Step 2. Tune the sixth string to a reference tone D
Then use your tuner to play a D. If you don't have anything else to hand, you can use the D of the fourth string as a reference tone - but if you do, remember that the sixth string must be an octave lower than the reference tone. Some tuners can be adjusted to sound the D in the correct octave (the technical term for this D is "D3").
If your tuner can't be adjusted to play D3, you may want to find a tuner online to hear the correct D
Step 3. Tune the remaining strings as usual
The only note that is different in Dop-D tuning is the sixth string, so your guitar should be in tune by now. But it's good practice to re-tune the remaining strings to make sure they're in tune with your new bass note - even a small inaccuracy can make for ugly-sounding chords.
Keep in mind that you now need to use the seventh fret (not the fifth fret) to tune the fifth string, because the sixth string is now tuned to D instead of E. The other strings can be tuned as usual
Step 4. Play it
Congratulations! Your guitar is now tuned in Drop-D and you are ready to play. To be clear, your guitar strings should now be tuned as follows:
- Sixth (thickest) string: d
- fifth string: a
- Fourth string: d
- Third string: G
- Second string: B
- First (thinnest) string: E
Method 2 of 3: Voting without a tuner
Step 1. Start with the usual EADGBE tuning
If you don't have a tuner or reference tones at your disposal, you can still tune your guitar in Drop-D, but your guitar should already be properly tuned in the usual tuning. That is why we will now start again with the usual mood.
Step 2. Compare the seventh fret of the sixth string to the open fifth string
Now you are going to lower the pitch of the sixth string (at the moment the string is tuned to E). As you do that, play the seventh fret of this string at the same time as the open fifth string. If your guitar was already in tune, the sixth string is tuned to D when the seventh fret exactly matches the open fifth string (that's A).
Step 3. Tune the open fourth string as an alternative
You can also tune the sixth string to match the tone of the fourth string (which is tuned to D). But then you have to keep in mind that the tone of the sixth string must be an octave lower than the tone of the fourth string. Some guitarists find it more difficult to compare these two notes and prefer to use the fifth string (A) to tune the sixth string to D.
You don't have to use just one of the two methods - you can also use both the fourth and fifth strings to tune the sixth string to D
Method 3 of 3: Exploring Drop-D
Step 1. Add the low D note to your playing
Now that the sixth string is tuned to D, the range of your guitar has expanded. You have two new notes at your disposal: low D, played by playing the sixth string in open position, and Eb, played on the first fret of the sixth string. Being able to play these two new low notes now opens up all kinds of exciting new possibilities for your playing.
- The most obvious application is playing chords and scales that start with a low D or Eb. This is especially useful for songs that use these chords a lot.
- Another less obvious advantage is that you can now play new bass notes when "fingerpicking" (a common technique in folk music). That gives you the ability to use these new low notes as bass tones, pedal tones, and so on. It is even possible to use the low D as a drone note.
Step 2. Get familiar with power chords in Drop-D
One of the biggest advantages of the Drop-D tuning is that it is very easy to play power chords on the thickest strings. Since the sixth string is a whole tone lower than in normal tuning, a power chord can now be played in the same fret at the three lowest strings. That means you can now play power chords with just one finger instead of three. To play a power chord in Drop-D, simply place your finger over the D, A, and D strings, as you would normally make a barre chord.
It's worth noting that the Drop-D tuning also makes it much easier to quickly switch between power chords. This is often used in hard rock and metal - some songs are very difficult or even impossible to play in a different tuning than Drop-D
Step 3. Learn to play songs using Drop-D
The best way to get used to Drop-D is to start using it in songs! Below is a small selection of songs that use Drop-D - some songs are easy, some are difficult, but all songs have guitar tabs online to help you master the songs.
- "Dear Prudence" by The Beatles
- "Everlong" by The Foo Fighters
- Led Zeppelin's "Moby Dick"
- "Never Going Back Again" by Fleetwood Mac
- Soundgarden's "Blackhole Sun"
- When tuning a guitar string, always tune a little lower than the desired note first; then turn the tuning knob up until you reach the correct note. By putting tension on the strings in this way, you prevent the string from detuning quickly.
- Your fourth and sixth strings have the same pitch in Drop-D, but with one octave difference.
- If you have a distortion, fuzz, or overdrive pedal (or good ears): play the sixth and fifth strings together. While the two strings are sounding, turn the sixth string tuning knob down. You will now hear a rapid vibration in the sound (caused by the phase difference in the overtones) as the sixth string moves from E toward D. If you lower the pitch slowly, you will hear the vibration slow down. The vibration stops when you reach D on the sixth string.
- This tuning should not be confused with normal D tuning, because in that tuning all the strings of the guitar are tuned down one whole note, making the tuning as follows: DGCFAD.
- Some people see using Drop-D as cheating, or the easy way out. Don't let that fool you. Some songs can really only be played in Drop-D tuning.