Music Written by MasterClass Last updated: Aug 11, 2021 • 6 min read In standard tuning for a six-string guitar, the notes progress from lowest to highest pitch, as follows:

  • 1. 6th (lowest) string — E2
  • 2. 5th string — A2
  • 3. 4th string — D3
  • 4. 3rd string — G3
  • 5. 2nd string — B3
  • 6. 1st (highest) string — E4

In other words, the lowest string is tuned to the note E in the second octave, while the highest string is tuned to the note E in the fourth octave. The lower the octave, the lower the pitch. When reading a piece of music notation, assume your guitar should tuned to this standard “EADGBE” format. Sometimes, however, your guitar must be tuned differently to play a particular piece of music. One of the most popular alternative tunings is known as drop D tuning.

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  • What Is Drop D Tuning?
  • Musical Styles That Use Drop D Tuning
  • How to Tune Your Guitar for Drop D
  • What Are The Drawbacks of Drop D Tuning?
  • Songs With Drop D Tuning
  • Drop D vs. Other Tunings: What Other Types of Tuning Are There?
  • Want to Become a Better Guitarist?
  • Tom Morello Teaches Electric Guitar

What Is Drop D Tuning?

Drop D tuning is almost identical to standard guitar tuning, with one exception: the 6th (lowest) string is tuned down a whole step, moving the note to D2 instead of E2 and resulting ing a “DADGBE” pattern. Lowering the sixth string in drop D tuning produces several effects:

  • 1.Drop D gives you access to a lower pitch. Instead of being limited to E2 as your lowest note, you can now go all the way down to D2. You can also play D#2 — the note between D2 and E2.
  • 2.Drop D doesn’t change your highest pitch. Because of the way the guitar is tuned, drop D doesn’t put any limit on the upper register of the guitar. Every note that was available in standard tuning is also available in drop D — plus you also get two extra notes, D2 and D#2.
  • 3.Drop D contributes a “heavier sound.” The loosened bottom string in drop D tuning will sound heavier, with more low-frequency rumble.
  • 4.Drop D makes it easy to play power chords. Simply strum straight across the bottom three strings in a drop D guitar, and you’ll be strumming the 3 notes of a power chord.

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Musical Styles That Use Drop D Tuning

While drop D is used occasionally by country, folk, and jazz guitar players, this style is most common in rock music, particularly within heavier subgenres.

  • 1.Grunge: Some of the most famous guitarists of Seattle’s grunge scene found many uses for drop D, including Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain and Alice In Chains’ Jerry Cantrell. Its most famous grunge practitioner was probably Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell. Cornell took advantage of the easy power chord fingering in drop D, which allowed him to simultaneously sing and play guitar over Soundgarden’s famously thorny time signatures.
  • 2.Hard Rock: If you’ve wondered how certain hard rock songs like Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls,” Rage Against The Machine’s “Killing in the Name,” and Dream Theater’s “Home” get that girth-filled bottom end… one reason is that they’re performed in drop D tuning.
  • 3.Heavy Metal: Some metal bands seem to have as many drop D songs as they do standardly tuned songs. Slipknot, Tool, Avenged Sevenfold, Trivium, Korn, and plenty of other metal bands (particularly nü metal bands) use drop D to achieve heavier riffs.

How to Tune Your Guitar for Drop D

Shifting a guitar from standard tuning to drop D is easy. After all, you only have to change the tuning of one string. There are three ways to do this:

  • 1.Use a guitar tuner. Whether you utilize a stompbox pedal, a clip-on headstock tuner, or just an app on your phone, using an electronic tuner is the most accurate way to get your guitar into drop D.
  • 2.Use the open 4th string on your guitar. In standard tuning, your guitar’s 4th string is tuned to D3. You can use this pitch to find D2. Just strike your open 4th string and let it ring while you adjust the tuning peghead on your 6th string. Try to match the pitch, but remember your 6th string should sound an octave lower than your 4th string.
  • 3.Use Eddie Van Halen’s D-Tuna device. Eddie Van Halen was so enamored with drop D tuning that he literally invented a device, called the D-Tuna, to let guitarists instantly drop their lowest string to D2 without even having to fiddle with the tuning pegs. You can buy a D-Tuna and insert it into many existing electric guitar bridges, or get a guitar that already has a D-Tuna built in.

What Are The Drawbacks of Drop D Tuning?

There are many compelling features of drop D: the extra notes made available, the heavy sound, the ease of playing power chords. So what’s not to like? It turns out there are a few factors that keep guitarists from using drop D at all times.

  • 1.Drop D makes several chords more difficult to play. Drop D is perfect for power chords, which aligns well with hard rock and heavy metal. But power chords only have two notes: the root, and the fifth. This means drop D is not well suited to players who need denser harmony. In particular, jazz players—who rely on chords with four, five, or six distinctive tones—may be more hindered than helped by drop D.
  • 2.Drop D makes some scales less intuitive. While you don’t “lose” any available notes by dropping your 6th string to D, it does make a lot of scales a bit less intuitive. The standard guitar is mostly tuned in 4ths: each string sounds a 4th higher than the one below it. When you detune your bottom string to D, you create a distance of a 5th between your 6th string and your 5th string on your fretboard, which can throw off some of your scale patterns.
  • 3.A heavier sound isn’t always best. While drop D is great for achieving a low end rumble, that’s not always what a song calls for. A lot of guitarists prefer a brighter, more treble-focused sound. For instance, Brian May of Queen used drop D on one song, “Fat Bottomed Girls.” Otherwise, he opted for standard tuning, which better fit his signature tone.

Songs With Drop D Tuning

Rock history is packed with well-known songs employing drop D tuning. Most are played on electric guitars, but some are played on acoustic guitar as well. Here are some of the best songs featuring drop D, with selections spanning every decade since the 1960s:

  • 1. Alice in Chains, “Sludge Factory”
  • 2. Arctic Monkeys, “Don’t Sit Down Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair”
  • 3. The Beatles, “Dear Prudence”
  • 4. Bruce Dickinson, “Abduction”
  • 5. Helmet, “Unsung”
  • 6. Led Zeppelin, “Moby Dick”
  • 7. Nirvana, “Heart Shaped Box”
  • 8. Rage Against the Machine, “Killing in the Name”
  • 9. Slipknot, “Vermilion Part 2”
  • 10. Soundgarden, “Black Hole Sun”

Drop D vs. Other Tunings: What Other Types of Tuning Are There?

If drop D tuning excites you, don’t stop there. The world of guitar is filled with alternate tunings worth exploring, including:

  • 1. Drop C (similar to drop D, but dropping the 6th string down to C instead)
  • 2. Celtic tuning (DADGAD)
  • 3. Eb tuning (lowering all strings by a half-step for an overall heavier sound)
  • 4. Open G tuning (DGDGBD)
  • 5. Open D tuning (DADF#AD)

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Power Chords

Power Chord
To get into drop D tuning, you’re only going to have to do one thing: lower the tuning peg of your sixth string by one tone. If you’re using a tuning device, then you’ll need to make sure it knows you’re tuning to a D, and then all you’ll need to do is loosen the string until you reach the sound it’s asking you to hit. If you’re using another instrument to tune to, make sure you remember to play a D, rather than the expected E. Finally, if tuning by ear, you’d have to deviate from the standard ‘fifth fret’ approach, and use the seventh fret of the sixth string to hear the sound of the A on string five. In this important guide, we’ll teach you everything there is to know about the drop D tuning system, and how to achieve it.


F Chord in Drop D

What Is A Tuning?

This has a world of benefits. Firstly, it becomes a lot easier to form your chord shape to start with, as it requires just one finger. Secondly, it’s easier to slide your finger up and down the neck than it is to slide an entire power chord shape. Finally, it makes fast playing a treat. If you’re looking to rock your way through a fast, thick riff, the ability to effectively hammer on a sequence of chords with immense speed is very helpful. One thing that can’t be forgotten when talking about drop D tuning is its importance to the metal genre. This is mostly because that is where you’ll find it most frequently. Bands like Slipknot and Meshuggah really bring out this grumbling, low, power-chord heavy sound in their music, so it can be used to create a similar sound to them, if that’s what you’re into. If you’re trying to learn what drop D is and how to implement it into your guitar playing, then look no further. Drop D tuning is made up of the notes: D, A, D, G, B, E. The only way this differs from standard tuning is that the sixth string is one step lowered, taking it to a D. The outcome is a very different sound when playing all of the open strings at the same time, as well as an ability to play lower notes than a standard tuning would allow. drop d tuning

  • Foo Fighters- Everlong. Finally, Foo Fighters aren’t exactly known for their manic heaviness (though they aren’t strangers to it either), so their use of drop D isn’t overly common. ‘Everlong’, however, is another example of the tuning system being used simply to make things easier. The chords used throughout are fun to play, and allow you to stretch your fingers into a variety of complex positions, all the while leading back to that open, droning low D.

Drop D is arguably the most commonly used alternate guitar tuning. This is probably for a multitude of reasons. Firstly, it isn’t actually very different to standard tuning (in fact, all but one string is tuned exactly the same). Secondly, it is very easy to achieve, and finally, it makes playing certain things much easier.

  • DADGAD (Celtic) Tuning. This tuning isn’t a million miles away from drop D, but has a few distinct changes that mean it is mostly associated to Celtic music, rather than metal. To achieve DADGAD tuning, you’ll take your sixth string down by two semitones (as is standard in drop D) but then bring both string 1 and 2 down by the same amount. That way, your open chord is a Dsus4, which means you’re centred on D, but with no specific major/minor affiliation.

The standard tuning for a guitar is E-A-D-G-B-E. This means your lowest string (string 6) will be playing an E, while the one above that will be sounding the A which is directly above that E, and so on. Most players will use a guitar tuner to make sure each string is perfectly playing the desired note, but tuning by ear is possible too. This requires you to find your low E. This is doable if you have perfect pitch, but typically you’d need to hear an E first, or be happy to possibly tune slightly away from the exact correct pitches. Then you can use the fifth fret of each string that follows to tune the next string up: the 5th fret of the sixth string will sound the ‘A’ needed to tune the fifth string, for example. The only exception to this rule is on the 3rd string, where you’ll need to play fret four to get the sound of the second string. Options include: Omitting the sixth string. This is an easy way to avoid having to stretch, but can leave your chords feeling a little empty, especially if you’re specifically in need of that lower bottom note. You could also switch to extended power chords while using drop D. This would mean using the three finger power chord shape, but adding flavour (like sevenths or major thirds) by bringing other fingers into play. This will mean you’d have to learn a few new shapes, though. Finally, if not playing live, you have the option to record your chordal guitar part in a standardly tuned guitar, and then add your drop D melodies/notes over the top of that. Drop D is an important alternative tuning and arguably the most well-used aside from standard tuning. It will instantly give your playing a more ‘metal’ sound, but has so many more applications beyond that. It introduces you to a lower register, a totally different way of playing chords and a variety of similar tunings that all have different specifics.

  • Rage Against The Machine- Killing In The Name. This is one of the definitive drop D tracks. The explosion into that heavy, dragging riff is perfectly accentuated by the presence of the low D. RATM know exactly how to use octaves to their advantage, and they’re out in full force throughout this whole track. This is one of the easiest tracks to show the power and impact of drop D.

One thing to look out for when you change to a new tuning, however, is the new chord shapes you’re going to have to learn. Obviously, many of the simple chords you got the hang of when you were just starting out in the world of guitar involved that low E string. An automatic response when playing guitar is to operate in and around E keys, simply because that is where your lowest string takes you. Now that you’re using drop D, your lowest string is a D, and therefore, you can play in D major and D minor with much more ease. Contents

  • 1 First Things First
    • 1.1 What Is A Tuning?
    • 1.2 What Is Drop D?
  • 2 How To Tune To Drop D
  • 3 How To Use Drop D
    • 3.1 Low Notes
    • 3.2 Power Chords
    • 3.3 The Key Of D
    • 3.4 New Chord Shapes
    • 3.5 Metal
  • 4 Examples Of Drop D In Use
  • 5 Similar Tuning Systems
  • 6 Conclusion

At BeginnerGuitarHQ, we’re constantly trying to figure out ways to teach our readers how to play guitar at the next level. Whether it’s through your guitar tone and timbre, your dexterity or the notes you have access too. Drop D is a common tuning system that many players will be familiar with, and it gives you a lot of flexibility in your playing. After you’ve tuned to standard tuning, you’ll be able to play most songs. After that, you’ll be able to look at the limitless options for alternate guitar tunings. The first and most obvious way to apply the drop D tuning to your playing is to reach lower notes with it. The only open D note you had available previously was the open fourth string, which also happened to be the lowest D a guitar can naturally play. If you think about it, it isn’t a very low note at all, so if you’re looking to add some bassiness to your sound, then you need to go lower. With drop D, you have two semitones to play with. Hitting that big open string can create an aggressive, thick sound, but don’t forget you now have access to an extra D#/Eb as well. This means that you don’t have to limit yourself to those annoying Eb chords that are halfway up the neck, you can now play low if you need to. G Major The simple way to look at it, is that you’ll just have to move up by two frets if you’re playing a note on the sixth string, but that’s easier said than done. Imagine you’re playing a G major chord, and you’re asked to take that third finger up to the fifth fret? It just wouldn’t work. As such, you’ll have to find ways around this.

The Key Of D

Drop D is a simple tuning, but it can completely change the way you approach guitar playing. There are many ways that drop D can be used.

  • Open D Tuning. Open D tuning is another that allows you to fall back towards a natural D tonal centre, only this time, you’re very much pushed towards a major key. This is because the open tuning of open D is nothing less than a full D major chord: D, A, D, F#, A, D. While mostly made up of As and Ds, the presence of the F# on string three creates a major chord when played open. Technically, you could flatten the F# and create your own customised version of open D tuning, which is instead centred on the minor version of the chord.

    First Things First

    One of the easiest ways to check if your drop D tuning is going to sound right, is to play the fourth string D and see if it clashes with your open sixth string or not. If it sounds smooth, then you’re playing two D octaves. If they aren’t, then you might need to edit the tuning of one of those strings.

    What Is Drop D?

    Examples Of Drop D In Use

  • Led Zeppelin- Moby Dick. This Led Zeppelin track shows how drop D tuning isn’t reserved for those playing with aggression and heaviness, but can also be an asset to playing the blues with ease. Technically, the band could have written this riff in E and played it a little higher, but there are certain intervals within the main riff that are simply made far easier when that low D is present.
  • Similar Tuning Systems

    A more specific advantage of drop D comes from the natural tuning it places your guitar in. In standard tuning, each note of an open guitar strum fits into E minor. Now, each note fits into D major. Technically, it already did, but now this is strengthened by the D at the bottom. The first thing to know about Drop D tuning before we get into specifics, is what a tuning system actually is. In short, it’s the note that each of your guitar strings plays if played open (AKA, without pressing down on a fret).

    How To Use Drop D

    Drop D brings a whole new world of simplicity to the power chord. Not only do you now have access to two previously inaccessible power chords, but you can play them all with just one finger. To play the F power chord we mentioned above, just hold your second finger over the 3rd fret of string six, five and four.

    Low Notes

    New Chord Shapes

    Drop D Drop D Tuning

  • Drop C Tuning. Drop C tuning is very similar to drop D in a variety of ways. The main difference, as you might expect, is that it’s built around C instead. However, rather than ‘dropping’ that low sixth string all the way down to a C and keeping the rest of the guitar in standard tuning, the typical way to tune to drop C is to take the low string down by four semitones, and the rest of the strings down by two. That way, you’re basically playing in a lower version of drop D. This facilitates the playing of even heavier music, and you can keep going basically until your strings drop off. There are bands that are known to go all the way down to drop A, which means your entire guitar is at least a full fourth lower than usual.In many situations, it is the ease of access to power chords that make guitarists use drop D tuning in the first place. The typical approach to playing a power chord is to the find the first note on your lower string, then add the two strings above that, but both two frets higher. So, if you wanted to play an F power chord in standard tuning, you’d hold the first fret of the sixth string, then add the third frets of the fourth and fifth strings, while muting the remaining high notes.A G chord in drop DIf you own an electric guitar, you will surely admit how hard it is to tune it finely, even if you have a tuner or an amp. However, what if you do not have a tuner available or your tuner runs out of order? This may bring you to hot waters. If you’ve ever been in such a condition, you might have asked how to tune an electric guitar without a tuner? The best way to Tune an Electric Guitar Without Tuner is by listening to harmonics, pitch pipe, use of a piano, fluorescent Lights, and tuning fork. Detailed tricks are discussed in the article. So, if you want to tune your electric guitar without using a tuner, follow this article religiously. Contents
    • 1 5 Useful Ways to Tune an Electric Guitar Without Tuner
      • 1.1 1- Tune an Electric Guitar by Listening to Harmonics
      • 1.2 2- Pitch Pipe Help to Tune an Electric Guitar
      • 1.3 3- Use A Piano to Tune My Electric Guitar
      • 1.4 4- Electronic Hum from Fluorescent Lights Can Help To Tune Electric Guitar
      • 1.5 5- A-Tuning Fork Can be the Best Alternative to Tune Your Guitar
    • 2 How Can You Keep Your Guitar Tuned for a Longer Time?
    • 3 Conclusion
    • 4 Frequently Asked Questions
      • 4.1 Can you tune an electric guitar without it plugged in?
      • 4.2 How do you tune a guitar manually?
      • 4.3 Is it possible to tune the guitar by ear?
      • 4.4 Can you use a clip-on tuner for an electric guitar?

    There are a lot of ways to tune a guitar if you have no tuner at hand. But, what methods are useful and easy to go is still a question. So, to provide you with easy yet amazing methods of tuning an electric guitar, we have listed below fine of the most common and effective means to tune an electric guitar.

    1- Tune an Electric Guitar by Listening to Harmonics

    In music, a harmonic is a sound wave with a frequency that is an integer multiple of a fundamental music tone. Sounds difficult? Let’s keep it simple. On an electric guitar, when you touch any string without pressing it on the fretboard, the sound it creates is called harmonics. But, how will harmonics help you to tune an electric guitar without a tuner? The harmonics tuning is basically known as fifth and seventh fret tuning. For instance, you are starting with the sixth or E-low string. You need to play the string on the fifth fret and then synchronize it with the sound of the fifth or A string on the fret seventh. Tune your guitar until and unless the sound of the sixth string on the fifth fret and the sound of the fifth string on the seventh fret synchronizes. The same pattern will go with other strings except for the G and B strings because both of these strings are two tones apart and not two and halftones. And, if you know, the tone difference between two frets is two and halftones. So, you cannot tune the G and B strings with the help of harmonics. For this, you can either use your expertise once you are done tuning the other four strings, or you can follow other methods, which will be enlisted below.

    2- Pitch Pipe Help to Tune an Electric Guitar

    If you are a true music student, you know how important it is to understand and learn about the pitch. It’s one of the most common yet hard things to understand. And, people who know nothing about pitch will surely fail to tune their electric guitar. But, if you have some basic knowledge about pitch and harmonics, we suggest you get a pitch pipe for tuning your electric guitar. It is one of the finest things that you can use to tune your guitar. For this, you need a guitar, pitch pipe, and a sound understanding of the pitch. It will be better if you turn on your amp’s distortion and effects off, so you can listen to the tune and pitch finely. But, if you have no amp available, you can tune it normally too. For this, first, you need to select the string you want to tune. After it, blow air into the pipe of that particular string on your pitch pipe and then synchronize the sound coming out of the pipe and your guitar’s string. This will help you tune your electric guitar within minutes. Hence, if you do not trust a tuner or have no tuner at all, a pitch pipe (like this) can heartily help you tune your electric guitar.

    3- Use A Piano to Tune My Electric Guitar

    Indeed you can use a piano to tune your electric guitar. People usually do not know, but certain piano tabs synchronize with the harmonics and pitch of a guitar. So, you need to find the right key for the right string, and for this, we will help you out. First, you need to locate the middle C key. It is right beneath the two black keys in the middle of your piano. Now, go up two steps, and you will find your first guitar string- the E-high string. Next, you need to go one-half step below from the middle C, and you will find the perfect sound for your second or the B string. After it, go two notes below, and you will land on your third string of the guitar, which is the G string. Once you are done with it, go down four steps from the G key on your piano, and you will easily find the fourth or the D string sound of your guitar. Now, go down four steps from the D key on your piano, and this will help you land on the A string of your guitar. Lastly, you will have to go down four steps, and you will find the perfect sound for your E-low or your sixth string. This is how you can tune an electric guitar without using a tuner. You only need to learn the basic operation of a piano, and you will be able to finely tune your electric guitar even though you have no tuner available.

    4- Electronic Hum from Fluorescent Lights Can Help To Tune Electric Guitar

    If you are left with no options to tune your electric guitar, an electronic hum from fluorescent light can help you tune it. We know that it sounds weird, but you will be amazed to know that the humming sound from fluorescent light sounds similar to a Flat B on an electric guitar. However, for this, you will need an expert-level understanding of your guitar chords, pitch, and harmonics. Without knowing these things, no hum from electronic light will help you tune your guitar. So, if you have the right knowledge, you can tune the guitar with a simple electronic light hum. You need to play a Flat B, then try and synchronize the sound of the guitar from that electronic light hum. Though it will not be heartily accurate, at least it will allow you to tune your electric guitar to some extent. So, if you are left with no options, then this may be the ultimate solution that will enable you to tune an electric guitar without a tuner.

    5- A-Tuning Fork Can be the Best Alternative to Tune Your Guitar

    A tuning fork is one of the most helpful yet less talked about guitar instruments that you can use to tune an electric guitar. It is a metallic two-mouthed bar that helps you get the exact note of your strings. What you need to do is get a tuning fork for any of your guitar strings. Preferably, you should either get an E-low, A, or D. Now, once you have the tuning fork available at hand, what you need to do is hit it on a semi-hard surface and then place the bottom of the fork on the guitar, and it will give the exact sound of that particular string. However, if you are an expert, you can bring the fork close to your ear after hitting it, and it will help to tune the guitar too. As your guitar has six different strings, there are six different tuning forks available in the market for each string. But buying six different forks will be insane. So, you only need to get a fork for any string and then tune other strings with the help of that tuned string. For this, the above-mentioned methods will help too.

    How Can You Keep Your Guitar Tuned for a Longer Time?

    Tuning your guitar without a tuner is a hard nut to crack, and if the issue is persistent with you, then it will be better if you learn to keep your guitar tuned for a longer duration. It will help you save time, energy, and effort. So, if you want to keep your electric guitar tuned for a longer duration, then the first thing to do is to replace your strings if they are old. Most of the guitarists keep on using the old strings, and this leads them to tune their guitars every time they pick them up. So, if you want to keep your guitar tuned for a longer period, do not forget to change your strings when they are old. Second, if you want to keep your guitar tuned for a longer period, then you need to stretch your strings whenever you replace them. For stretching, you can either pull them gently before replacing them or play them slowly after replacing them. It will allow you to keep your electric guitar tuned for a longer period. Video Credit:Tomas Michaud


    Tuning an electric guitar without a tuner is not child’s play. However, if you want to know how to tune an electric guitar without a tuner, this article has everything you need. Above, we have listed five of the most useful ways to tune an electric guitar without a tuner. Along with it, we have also provided the readers with two useful ways to keep an electric guitar tuned for a longer duration. However, if you still have questions left, do let us know.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    Can you tune an electric guitar without it plugged in?

    It is not impossible to tune an electric guitar because its volume reduces drastically, but it is indeed Difficult to Tune it in without plugging in. For best results, choose a quiet environment so you can hear the output.

    How do you tune a guitar manually?

    For tuning the guitar manually, fret the lowest string, i.e. E string, up to the fifth fret. Once the E string is tuned, apply the same procedure to the other Strings, A, D, and G, respectively.

    Is it possible to tune the guitar by ear?

    Yes, it is possible to tune the guitar by ear. It is the oldest and most common method to tune the guitar. But to tune the guitar by ear, you have to be a good listener because you tune according to the feedback you receive by listening.

    Can you use a clip-on tuner for an electric guitar?

    Yes, you can use a clip-on tuner for an electric guitar. The simple way to do it is by attaching the clip of the tuner to the headstock of your guitar. Make sure it is firm. Now pluck the string you want to tune.

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