Drop D Tuning With Capo Trick Explained

Drop D Tuning With Capo Trick Explained

If you would like to play in drop D tuning, or get a similar sound to the interval that drop D tuning allows. But you don’t want to change the tuning of your guitar from standard tuning, keep reading. Because in this article we’ll explain exactly how to achieve that same interval without having to detune any strings from standard tuning.

Not sure what a capo is? Find out all you need to know about capos by following this link to our what is a capo article.

Getting Drop D-Like Tuning Using A Partial Capo

The idea is a simple but effective way to achieve a drop D-like tuning on your guitar without detuning any strings at all. All you need to do is apply the capo to your guitar at the 2nd fret but only to the 5 top strings. Leave the low E (6th) string open – without the capo covering that string.

This will mean turning the capo upside down to the usual way of applying it to your guitar. This allows you to raise the pitch of the top 5 strings by 2 half steps whilst leaving the bottom string at standard pitch.

What you now have is a guitar which is 2 frets higher than standard tuning but with the exact same interval as you would have if you’d dropped the low E (6th) string to an even lower D string by tuning it down 2 frets.

The effect is similar to drop D tuning but brighter because all of the strings are tuned 2 frets higher than they would be in drop D tuning. With the added bonus that to return the guitar to standard tuning, all you need to do is remove the capo completely from the fretboard of the guitar.

What Is Drop D Tuning

To get the guitar into drop D tuning all you need to do is lower the low E (6th) string from E2 down to D2. This is achieved by lowering that 6th string down by 2 half steps (or frets). That low E (6th) string is the only string that’s altered, the other 5 strings remain tuned in standard tuning.

In standard guitar tuning the strings run from 1st to 6th like this;

  1. E
  2. B
  3. G
  4. D
  5. A
  6. E

Whereas in drop D tuning those same 6 strings run as follows;

  1. E
  2. B
  3. G
  4. D
  5. A
  6. D

As you can see the only string that changes tuning is the 6th or thickest string, which changes from an E2 to a D2. The bottom 3 strings of the guitar (D,A,D) are the root, 5th and octave of the chord of D. This gives you the power chord D5 when playing those 3 strings in the open position.

Place one finger across those bottom 3 strings on the 2nd fret, and you have E,B,E which are the root, 5th and octave of the chord of E or E5 and so on.

Drop D-Like Tuning Using A Capo

To achieve the same effect as drop D tuning without lowering the 6th string you’ll need to raise the rest of the strings by 2 frets. This could involve altering the tuning of each individual string or, applying a capo to every string apart from the 6th string. 

This will give you the following notes when playing open strings;

  1. F#
  2. C#
  3. A
  4. E
  5. B
  6. E

As you can see, this means your guitar is now tuned 2 frets higher than standard tuning on all strings except the 6th string. The 6th string is left at standard pitch (E2) which is the same interval as drop D tuning but 2 half steps higher.

As you can see the bottom 3 strings are now tuned to E,B,E or E5 and by placing your finger across those lower 3 strings up one fret would give F5 and so on.

Plus, just like when playing the chord of D in drop D tuning you can play all 6 strings to achieve a richer, fuller sound, you can now play that D shape and because you are 2 frets up the fretboard, that D becomes an E chord and as the 6th string is still tuned to an E note, you can still play all 6 strings to achieve a rich, full E chord.

All of the other chords are played the same as usual, and sound great.

drop d tuning with capo

Are There Any Disadvantages To Using This Method?

Using the upside down capo over the top 5 strings is a great and easy way to experiment with alternate tunings without having to retune your guitar. This can really expand your playing and musical understanding, but you might also experience some difficulties.

For example, you will find using this type of tuning will make playing certain scales more difficult. Standard guitar tuning is made up of 4ths where each string is exactly 4 notes higher than the one before. Using this pseudo drop D tuning increases the separation to 5 notes on that low bass string. Which can take some time to get used to. 

Depending on the style of music you usually play, you might find it harder to play certain songs. However, don’t let that put you off, if you have a capo that can be turned upside down and used in the way we described above, give it a go.

You could learn a whole new range of tunes and give your guitar a whole new voice.

Will You Need To Change Strings?

Some of the more extreme alternate tunings need thicker strings to help prevent fret buzz. But as you keep your guitar in standard tuning and only change the pitch by using a capo, there is no need to change the strings.

What Are The Advantages Of Using An Upside Down Capo?

There are several advantages to using a capo upside down in this way to achieve a similar sound to drop D tuning which are;

  • All of the strings remain in standard tuning
    As you are applying a capo to the top 5 strings and leaving the bottom (6th) string in standard tuning, you don’t alter the actual tuning of any of the strings.
  • Easy to change to drop D-like tuning
    By simply placing the capo over the top 5 strings of the guitar on the 2nd fret, and leaving the bottom string open, you have changed the guitar into a drop D-like tuning. It takes less than a minute to achieve this great rich, full sound.
  • Easy to return to standard tuning
    By simply removing the capo, your guitar is back in standard tuning. This allows you to perform one or more songs in a drop D-like tuning before reverting back to standard tuning in less than a minute.
  • No need to change the string gauge
    As we said before, as all of the strings remain in standard tuning, there is no need to change the string gauge. Fret buzz will be no more of a problem than it normally is whenever you play your guitar. Unlike some of the extreme drop tunings where thicker or heavier gauge strings are needed to accommodate for the looseness of the strings.
  • No extra pressure on the guitar
    With some alternate tunings the neck, bridge or other parts of the guitar are put under extra pressure as a result of changing the pitch of the strings. Although manually tuning to drop D doesn’t cause this issue, this drop D using the capo trick doesn’t either.

Can Any Capo Be Used?

To achieve this pseudo drop D tuning, it’s important to use the correct type of capo. Obviously because you need to leave the low E (6th) string uncovered, you can’t use one of those capos that have to cover all 6 strings. 

This means the elastic backed capos are not suitable for this type of tuning. However most other types of capo will be suitable. These include;

  • G7th Capos
  • Trigger Capos
  • Shubb Capos
  • Spider Capos

SEE ALSO: What Is A Spider Capo? (and whether you should get one)

Things To Watch Out For In Pseudo Drop D Tuning 

Using a capo to achieve a drop D-like tuning is great for all of the reasons stated above. There are, however, a few things to watch out for… 

As the capo is set at the 2nd fret, all of the chords you play will be one whole step higher than usual.

For instance, playing the standard D shape will produce an E sounding chord. Likewise, a standard A shape chord will produce a B sounding chord and so on.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I use A capo for drop D?

By placing a capo upside down at the 2nd fret on all of the strings apart from the 6th (low E) string produces the same interval as drop D tuning. What this does is move everything up a whole step so instead of drop D it is effectively a type of drop E tuning.

Is drop D heavy?

In drop D tuning, the loosened low E (6th) string makes the guitar sound heavier. It gives a lower frequency sound that can be described as heavy compared to standard tuning.

Can I use a strap capo on the 2nd fret to create drop D-like tuning?

Due to the way a strap capo covers all 6 strings on your guitar, it is not possible to use a strap capo on the 2nd fret to achieve drop D-like tuning.

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