Bands such as Tool, Smashing Pumpkins, Avenged Sevenfold, Korn, and others all use Drop-D tuning in their songs. So why is this guitar tuning so prominent?
Here are the 8 reasons why Drop-D tuning is used so often:
- It’s easy to tune an Instrument to Drop-D.
- Drop-D tuning doesn’t cause stress for your instrument.
- It’s easier to play power chords in Drop-D tuning.
- Drop-D tuning makes it easier to shift ranges.
- Drop-D tuning provides access to a lower pitch.
- There’s no risk of the tuning affecting the highest pitch.
- Drop-D tuning has a heavier sound than standard tuning.
- You can use Drop-D tuning in multiple genres.
The rest of this article will explain each item from the list above in detail. Read on to find out why Drop-D is so popular and the benefits of using this guitar tuning method.
1. It’s Easy To Tune an Instrument to Drop-D
Some beginner guitarists may be intimidated by Drop-D tuning because they might think it’s not easy to tune to. However, all it takes to get a standardly tuned instrument to Drop-D tuning is dropping a single string down a complete step.
The standard six-string guitar tuning goes as follows (from the lowest to the highest string):
- E (low)
- E (high)
Drop-D tuning only requires the player to alter the pitch of the low E string by tuning it down a whole step (or tone). This slight adjustment means that Drop-D tuning looks like this (from the lowest to the highest string):
- D (low)
- E (high)
How To Tune To Drop-D
Tuning your guitar down to Drop-D is so easy that you can even do it by ear. Simply lower your sixth string from E down to D. There are other methods if this doesn’t feel accurate or comfortable.
You can rely on your sense of pitch or use the comparison method. By plucking the D (4th) string, you can compare and match the sound between the two strings. When using your 4th string as a reference, remember that the E (6th and lowest) string you’re tuning down should be an octave lower than the 4th string.
Guitar players who aren’t confident in their relative pitch should use a guitar tuner for best results.
Keep in mind that the rest of your strings need to be in tune before you start tuning your guitar to Drop-D. This especially applies to those who are tuning their instrument by ear.
2. Drop-D Tuning Doesn’t Cause Stress for Your Instrument
Some tunings are notorious due to the side effects they might show on your instrument over time. Tuning too low or too high can have negative effects on the guitar’s neck, body, and entire construction.
Some more drastic alternate and drop tunings might require a professional guitar setup with each tuning change to counter these negative effects. This can be a costly and time-consuming task.
However, considering the fact that only one of the strings is losing some tension with Drop-D tuning, these concerns are unwarranted. Drop-D tuning is perfectly safe for both acoustic and electric guitars and even basses.
Additionally, you can easily shift between the regular tuning and Drop-D version with no additional instrument adjustments. Tuning back to the regular guitar tuning from Drop-D only takes seconds and a few turns of the tuning peg.
3. It’s Easier To Play Power Chords in Drop-D Tuning
The ability to play power chords easily and shift between them extremely quickly is one of the main reasons why Drop-D tuning is so popular among guitar players. Playing this type of chord is much easier than with standard E tuning, and here’s why.
A typical power chord consists of three tones. These tones are the root note, the fifth, and the octave. You need to use at least three fingers to play a power chord. With standard tuning, playing power chords can take some practice, especially if you need to change between chords quickly.
For Drop-D tuning, on the other hand, playing power chords is much easier. As the last three strings in this tuning (DAD) create a chord, all it takes is one finger across these three strings to play a full power chord. Keep in mind that this only applies to the lowest three strings.
The tricky part is getting used to the new positions. While your first tone used to be E in standard tuning, everything shifts for an entire step when using Drop-D tuning. This means that the last three strings produce a D5 power chord when played open. The first fret is the D#5, while E5 comes in the third position.
The only remaining question is whether the ability to play chords using just one finger is worth having to rewire your brain. Remember, you’ll need to learn how to think of the sixth string as a completely different tone from what you’re used to.
Luckily, there’s a simple answer to this dilemma. According to the number of artists using this tuning, the answer is a definitive yes.
4. Drop-D Tuning Makes It Easier To Shift Ranges
There’s another major reason why Drop-D tuning is so popular among globally famous bands. Even though most of them don’t hide this fact, it’s not something that is openly discussed.
In addition to making things easier for the guitar players, Drop-D tuning is an excellent choice for bands that want to make things easier for their singers by lowering the range by a full step.
Here’s how and why Drop-D tuning can be helpful in these cases.
Singers with lower voices can struggle with the standard guitar tuning. Lowering the pitch without changing the tuning might affect the style of the song. This is when Drop-D and similar alternate tunings step in.
5. Drop-D Tuning Provides Access to a Lower Pitch
Here’s another common reason why famous and bedroom guitar players across the world choose to play in Drop-D.
The standard guitar tuning limits the guitarist to an E2 as the lowest note on the fretboard. However, shifting the tuning down to Drop-D adds two lower notes that can open a whole universe of playing options that aren’t possible with the standard tuning.
By dropping the lowest string a step, a guitarist shifts the tuning and obtains access to two more low notes than with the previous tuning. Drop-D tuning enables the guitarist to play the D#2 and D2 notes on the sixth string. The guitarist is not limited to E2 as the lowest point on the guitar.
In addition, having access to these notes makes it easier to play the songs that were recorded using the same tuning (more on those later).
6. There’s No Risk of the Tuning Affecting the Highest Pitch
Choosing a different tuning for your guitar commonly includes giving up on some aspects. The most common thing guitar players need to sacrifice in a lower tuning is the ability to play some of the high notes.
If what concerns you about trying Drop-D tuning is missing out on some soloing range, have no worries:
Drop-D tuning doesn’t affect the highest tones our instrument can produce in standard tuning. Since Drop-D tuning only affects the guitar’s lowest string, all of the notes available in the standard tuning stay at the players’ disposal.
Not only does Drop-D tuning not remove any high notes from the fretboard, it even adds some. As mentioned, guitar players have a D2 and D#2 to add to their lowest strings’ register when playing in this tuning.
7. Drop-D Tuning Has a Heavier Sound Than Standard Tuning
Dropping the lowest string by a full step allows guitar players to achieve a heavier and darker sound compared to the standard tuning. The best part is, they don’t even need to tune the other five strings or set up the guitar hardware for the lower tuning.
Even though a single-step change might not seem like much, let’s take a look at the frequencies involved with the sixth guitar string.
In standard guitar tuning, the sixth string tone (E2) has a frequency of 82.41 Hz. On the other hand, the frequency of the sixth guitar string changes to 73.42 Hz when tuned down to Drop-D (D2).
This heavier sound that slightly shifts a guitar towards the bass tone territory is what makes Drop-D tuning so popular among rock, metal, and grunge enthusiasts.
8. You Can Use Drop-D Tuning in Multiple Genres
The combination of easier power chord playing, lower pitch access, and overall heavier sound has led to Drop-D tuning becoming a standard for heavier music genres. The list of music genres that commonly use Drop-D tuning includes:
- Heavy Metal (and its subgenres)
- Hard Rock (and its subgenres)
You can hear guitars in Drop-D tuning in songs such as Led Zeppelin’s Moby Dick, Foo Fighters’ Everlong, Nirvana’s Heart Shaped Box, etc.
While famous for the genres listed, the Drop-D tuning was first introduced in blues and classical music. You can also commonly hear it in both country and folk songs.
This is why Drop-D tuning is also present in songs such as Neil Young’s Harvest Moon, Chris Stapleton’s You Are My Sunshine, and the Beatles’ Dear Prudence, among others.