Drop D tuning was one of the first alternate tunings I was exposed to. A lot of guitar players, including myself, are intimidated by alternate tunings.
Fortunately, I like to think of drop D as a great introduction to alternate tunings. Whether you’ve never heard of drop D tuning or you just need to know how to get to it, I am here to help you learn the drop D alternate tuning.
In this lesson, I’m going to show you 3 different ways to tune your guitar to drop D tuning.
- Tuning your guitar to itself
- Using a D chord to tune your low E to drop D
- Using harmonics to tune to a drop D
Each of these methods of tuning is highly effective. Depending on your level of experience and how your guitar responds to harmonics, be sure to try each one of these tuning methods.
If any part of this lesson seems too complicated or you want more explanation, I want you to check this website out…I’ll talk about it later, but feel free to bookmark this link now and revisit it after the lesson — I promise I’ll give you an explanation!
Drop D Tuning Basics
In drop D tuning, the lowest string – the sixth – is tuned down a full step, from the standard tuning E to the alternative tuning of D. Instead of the standard tuning of EADGBE, drop D tuning reads DADGBE. So by changing the note of one string, you can get a completely different, alternative tuning. This type of tuning is great for lower, heavier songs, and also for playing power chords.
Before I go any further on this lesson, I want to clear the air on something…
It’s not difficult to return to standard tuning after being in drop D tuning.
One of the biggest complaints guitarists make about experimenting in alternate tunings is how hard it is to return to standard tuning.
The beauty of drop D tuning is that you only change one string. Compared to some other alternate tunings like open G or open C, drop D is an easy alternate tuning to return from.
Also, did you notice that for drop D tuning you only change one string?
Drop D tuning looks something like this: D A D G B E.
The only string you change is the low E string — which changes to a low D.
How to Get to Drop D Tuning
Now that I’ve clarified what drop D tuning is and why it’s not difficult to get back to standard tuning, I’m going to show you how to get into drop D tuning.
Use Your Other Strings
One of the easiest ways to get into drop D tuning is to use your open D string. Just to be clear, this method only works if you know that your other strings are in tune. If you need a refresher on how to tune your guitar, check out my guide here.
To tune to drop D tuning, start by playing your open D string as the reference. From there, you want to lower the pitch of your low E string (the thickest one) by turning the tuning machine for the low E string. Make sure that the pitch is dropping.
You’ll know you’re close to being in drop D tuning when your lowest string sounds similar to your open D string. It will be an octave lower in pitch, but it’s essentially the same wavelength as your open D string.
If it sounds dissonant, wobbly, or not quite right, try going lower or higher in pitch until you find the low D pitch.
Another important note!
- DO NOT crank your tuning machines too quickly! This will damage the string and you may have a harder time finding the right pitch.
It shouldn’t take too many turns on your tuning peg to get into this tuning. For most steel-string guitars, it only takes about one full turn of the tuning peg.
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Using a D Chord to Get to Drop D Tuning
For drop D tuning, I recommend using this method to really dial in your low D string.
To use a D chord to tune your low E string to a low D, start by playing a D chord. Typically for the D chord, you use only the D, G, B, and E strings (if you need a refresher, click here!). In this instance, I want you to play all six strings.
It might sound a little muddy, but playing all six strings will ensure that your guitar is entirely in tune — especially your low D string. You want all six strings to ring out harmoniously, so don’t be afraid to fine-tune that low D string.
Harmonics are Your Friends
The last method of getting to drop D tuning involves using harmonics.
“Woah, Tony…I have no idea what a harmonic is!”
That’s okay! Harmonics are not to be feared! Harmonics are your friends.
A harmonic is like a higher version of a note played on the fretboard. You don’t need to fret a note to play a harmonic. Instead, place your finger directly on top of the 12th fret of the D string.
Don’t apply any pressure, just let your finger gently touch the string right above the fret. Then, pluck the string.
Once you have the harmonic on the 12th fret of the D string, you can use that harmonic to check your low D string or tune your E string down to a low D. If you aren’t in tune, you might notice a “wobble” or dissonance between the harmonic and your lowest string. Continue to adjust the tuning peg until that wobble goes away.
Playing in Drop D Tuning
After you tune your guitar to drop D tuning, take some time to explore the newfound range of your guitar.
Some chords will have to change, while others can stay the same. Any chord that uses the top strings (A, C, Bm, etc.) will not need to be altered. Additionally, you can now play a full-bodied D chord using ALL of your strings!
Meanwhile, chords like E minor need to be adjusted. Because your low E string is tuned a whole step down (2 frets), you need to compensate for that. As a result, a revised E minor chord uses 3 fingers to play the chord as shown below.
Taking your Playing to the Next Level
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Thanks Tony. I learned the drop D tunning. You’re God sent. Keep up the good work. I like how make things so simple to understand.
Thanks for the quick intro to drop D tuning!So much easier than I thought!
Hello, buddy I have been watching a lot of your videos and u r very talented… I hope this ain’t a stupid question would you have any idea what tuning method Vince Gill uses when playing lead guitar? Any help would b greatly appreciated.. Thank u buddy