The Surprising Benefits Of Drop D Tuning
You’ve probably already heard of drop D tuning because there are so many famous artists that choose to play in this tuning. To get your guitar into drop D tuning all you need to do is lower the 6th string (low E string) one full tone which makes it a low D string.
Apart from the low E string, none of the other strings need to be altered which makes drop D tuning the simplest and easiest of all alternate tunings.
If you’re interested in the many surprising benefits of drop D tuning, keep reading. Because we have written this article just for you, it will show you why drop D tuning is so popular with so many bands and guitarists.
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The Benefits Of Drop D Tuning
Let’s get straight into the benefits of drop D tuning and start with the main reason it’s so popular.
It’s Easy To Tune A Guitar To Drop D Tuning
There are many guitarists who shy away from any alternate tunings because of how involved they are. Drop D tuning is so simple and easy to get into as it only involves altering the pitch of one string.
In standard guitar tuning, from bottom to top the strings run as follows;
- E (high string)
- E (low string)
In drop D tuning the same 6 strings run from bottom to top as follows;
- E (high string)
- D (low string)
The only string that has been lowered is the low E (6th) string which has now become an even lower D. This is simple to execute and usually only requires around one full turn of the tuning peg.
Tuning The Guitar To Drop D
Before you start tuning the guitar to drop D, it is important that the guitar is tuned to standard tuning correctly.
It is of vital importance that your guitar is tuned correctly to standard pitch before tuning to drop D. Especially if you are planning on tuning to drop D by ear.
To tune your guitar to drop D you could use a chromatic tuner or simply tune it by ear. Using the guitar’s 4th string or D string as a guide, all you need to do is pluck the D string and while it’s ringing, lower the low E string until the tone sounds the same (but an octave apart).
It’s always best to tune your guitar strings up to the desired pitch rather than down. This means adjust the tuning peg lower than D and tune the string back up to the D note. This will keep the string in tune longer.
It Makes It Easier For Singers With Lower Voices
If you sing in the lower registers, using drop D tuning will make it easier for your style of singing. This will save you from over reaching and damaging your vocal cords. Think of Waylon Jennings for example, drop D tuning worked perfectly for his vocal register.
Drop D Tuning Makes Playing Power Chords Easier
In all honesty, this is probably the main reason why so many artists choose drop D tuning. As any guitarist will tell you, power chords are the easiest way to play the guitar.
In Drop D tuning power chords are even easier than usual.
Power chords consist of 3 notes or tones, which are the root note, the 5th and the octave. In standard tuning, that can mean using 3 fingers depending on the chord you’re trying to play. This can take some practice to get right.
In drop D tuning power chords are so much simpler because the bottom 3 strings of the guitar (D,A,D) in the open position create a chord. The root (D) the 5th (A) and the octave (D) this creates the power chord of D.
So the 3 bottom strings of the guitar when tuned to drop D create the chord of D. Hold those same 3 strings down on the 2nd fret and you are playing the chord of E. Go up one fret and you’re playing F, 2 more frets up and it’s a G and so on.
The Rest Of The Guitar Is Unaffected
Because you only alter the pitch of the low E string, the rest of the strings on the guitar remain the same as usual. That allows you to play the upper ranges just the same as you normally would.
In Drop D tuning you don’t have to sacrifice any of the upper range notes like is often the case with many other alternate tunings.
This allows you to keep your solos exactly as they are normally played. The only difference is the low E string is now a whole note lower, the rest of the strings are unaffected and are tuned in standard tuning.
Drop D Tuning Doesn’t Cause Any Stress On The Guitar
When you tune a guitar even to standard tuning, it causes some amount of stress on the guitar’s neck, body, bridge and other parts of the guitar. There’s no need to panic because your guitar was designed to take the stress it is put under at standard pitch. The problem can come when you get into some alternative tunings.
Some alternative tunings create excess stress on the guitar which can cause damage. Drop D tuning doesn’t cause any stress to the guitar at all.
This is because the only string affected by drop D tuning is lowered, which means less tension is put on that string. All of the other strings are left at the pitch the guitar was designed for. This means there is less chance of damaging the guitar in drop D tuning than almost all of the other alternative tunings.
Drop D Tuning Makes Your Guitar Sound Heavier
Dropping the lowest string by a whole note allows you to play a heavier sound than is available in standard tuning. Plus, as you don’t have to change the tuning of any of the other strings, you don’t lose any of the upper range to achieve this lower, darker, heavier sound.
It might seem hard to believe that simply changing one note can make such a huge difference, but you have effectively lowered the bottom string on your guitar from E down to Eb (or D#) to D.
This extra whole note creates a heavier sound which is why it’s so popular with guitarists in a number of genres.
Drop D Tuning Allows Access To A Lower Pitch
The lowest note on a guitar tuned to standard tuning is E2, however by tuning to drop D, the lowest note is now 2 notes lower at D2. That gives the guitarist a whole new perspective on playing bass riffs for example.
Drop D Tuning lowers the low (6th) string from E through Eb (or D#) to D, that gives a 2 note lower register on the guitar.
Think of that Jimmy Page riff on Led Zeppelin’s “Moby Dick” ; it starts with an open 6th string but as a low D note. That riff would be impossible (in that key) without drop D tuning.
Drop D Tuning Suits Many Genres
Due to the combination of the lower pitch, ease of access to power chords, and heavier sound created by drop D tuning, many artists in multiple genres have adopted this style of tuning.
Almost all of the top heavy rock bands have recorded some songs in drop D tuning.
However, it’s not just heavy rock bands that have found drop D tuning to be useful. Drop D tuning is used in many genres including;
- Alternative Rock
- Hard Rock
- Heavy Metal
There are many heavy rock songs and a few surprising songs that use drop D tuning. Given that drop D tuning is great for heavy rock, it’s no surprise that Led Zeppelin’s “Moby Dick” is played using drop D. But what might just surprise you is that Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon” and Chris Stapleton’s “Either Way” are played using drop D tuning.
It’s Easy To Revert Back To Standard Tuning
As tuning to drop D only requires altering one string, it’s easy to revert back to standard tuning if you need to.
All you need to do is retune the 6th string up from D to E by turning the tuning peg.
Your guitar will be back to standard tuning in no time with no damage to the guitar and hardly any time taken.
Frequently Asked Questions
Drop D tuning creates a heavier sound due to the lower D on the 6th string that resonates at a lower frequency. Power chords are easy to play in drop D tuning. The bottom 3 strings in the open position create a D power chord. This can be moved up the fretboard to create the power chords of E (2nd fret), F (3rd fret), G (5th fret) and so on.
Drop D sounds so different because the lowest string has changed from an E2 to a D2 which is a whole tone lower. This allows the guitarist to access a D note a whole octave lower than the D note available in standard tuning.
The most popular drop tuning is drop D tuning because it is the easiest to access and gives the guitar a much heavier sound. All that is needed to create drop D tuning is to lower the 6th (low E) string a whole step and tune it from E2 to D2.