Drop D tuning is the most popular alternate tuning for guitarists. If you’ve only played in standard tuning, you need to give Drop D a try.
Drop D is an easy alternate tuning to learn and gives you a good idea of why alternate tunings are so useful. While some guitarists will go through their entire lives never moving away from standard tuning, Drop D is a great example of how those guitarists are missing out.
In this guide, you will learn:
- How to tune your guitar in Drop D
- Great songs in Drop D tuning with Guitar TAB
- Easy chord shapes you can play in Drop D Tuning
- Scale diagrams for Drop D
Any guitar tuner can be used to tune your guitar in Drop D. If you don’t have a tuner, check out this guide on the Best Guitar Tuners to find one that suits you.
After you read through this guide, find out how to play in Drop D Tuning in this lesson. The lesson shows you how to play and write your own riffs in Drop D tuning.
How to Tune Your Guitar in Drop D
Tuning your guitar in Drop D is easy to do and easy to remember.
To tune your guitar in Drop D, tune your low E string down to D. All the other strings remain the same. You will end up with your guitar strings tuned to D A D G B E.
Here is a diagram showing what each string is tuned to in Drop D tuning:
The name ‘Drop D tuning’ comes from the simple idea that you ‘drop’ the tuning of your low E string down to D.
Drop D tuning is different than ‘D Standard’ or ‘D tuning’. In ‘D Standard’ tuning, you tune all six strings down the same amount so the strings end up as D G C F A D. D Standard tuning feels the same to play as standard tuning, while Drop D feels different to play.
How to tune your guitar in Drop D by ear
While it is always recommended you use a guitar tuner to tune your guitar (tuners are more accurate than our ears), you can tune to Drop D by ear.
There are two ways you can tune your guitar to Drop D by ear.
The first method is to compare the seventh fret on the sixth string to the open A string and tune the sixth string down until both notes match.
When you tune your low E string down far enough, the seventh fret will match the pitch of the open A string.
The second method is to play the open D string (fourth string) and tune the low E string down until you hear it resonate as an octave.
When you tune the low E string down far enough, you will hear that it suddenly starts to resonate clearly. With some practice, you can learn to quickly tune to Drop D just by listening to how the two strings resonate.
Drop D Tuning Chords
The great thing about Drop D is that most of the open chords you already know stay the same. Any chord you know from standard tuning that doesn’t use the low E string is exactly the same to play in Drop D.
Open Chords in Drop D Tuning
Here are some examples of chords that are the same to play in standard tuning and Drop D tuning:
If a chord uses the sixth string, it will be different in Drop D tuning. Here are some new chords to learn for Drop D tuning:
A lot of songs in Drop D focus on chords based on D, so it’s worth the effort to memorize these chords.
Power Chords in Drop D Tuning
One of the things that make Drop D Tuning so fun to play is how you play power chords.
Here is how you play power chords in Drop D Tuning:
Instead of using two (or three) fingers to play a power chord as you would in standard tuning, you only need to use one finger.
Power chords are played as normal on all other strings, but when they start on the sixth string, you only need one finger to play them.
As you will see in the Guitar TAB for songs later on, this lets you jump around the fretboard and play fast-moving power chords.
Metal and rock guitarists commonly use Drop D tuning (or lower tunings based on Drop D such as Drop C or Drop B) simply because of how different power chords feel to play.
Drop D Tuning Scales and Fretboard
If you have already memorized the notes on the fretboard in standard tuning (read this guide to learn how), you will find it easy to play scales in Drop D.
Here are the notes of the fretboard in Drop D Tuning:
This is easy to memorize because the top five strings are exactly the same as they are in standard tuning. So you should already know them.
The low D string is also easy to memorize because you should already know the note positions on the fourth string, which is also D.
If you already know the notes in standard tuning, you already know the notes in Drop D. All you need to do is get used to the sixth string being in D.
Here is the D minor scale in Drop D Tuning:
D minor is a popular scale when writing songs in Drop D Tuning because it makes great use of the open D string.
Metal and rock guitarist like to write in D minor (“D minor is the saddest of all keys”) and D minor works perfectly in Drop D.
If you’re looking for something a bit brighter, here are the notes to the D Major scale in Drop D Tuning:
The above fretboard diagram should make it clear that any scales you already know are easy to figure out in Drop D Tuning. All you need to do is replace the low E string with the notes you already know on the D string.
Drop D Tuning Songs
Drop D Tuning is the most popular alternate tuning and there are countless songs that use it. You can find songs written in Drop D tuning in so many different styles of music.
Here are a few good examples of how to use Drop D tuning.
Everlong by Foo Fighters
Everlong is a great example of how Drop D can work for an electric guitar as well as acoustic guitar. The acoustic version of this song is as popular as the full-band version.
In the below Guitar TAB, you can see that the song uses a lot of sus2 chord shapes, which are playable in standard tuning, but very easy in Drop D tuning.
If you have an acoustic guitar, try tuning it in Drop D and playing the above part. Check out the full song to see how simply the chorus chords are.
Slither by Velvet Revolver
The main riff to Slither is a great example of how you’re able to jump around with power chords in Drop D.
A lot of riffs in Drop D follow this style of playing due to the fact that you can play a power chord with one finger.
Trying to play this riff in standard tuning would be awkward and would never sound as clean as it does in Drop D tuning.
If you like coming up with power chord riffs, try tuning in Drop D and see how it changes your approach to riff writing.
Black Hole Sun by Soundgarden
Chris Cornell used a lot of different tunings, so if you’re interested in alternate tunings, there are plenty of examples in Soundgarden’s songs.
If you try to play along with this song, you might notice that it doesn’t sound quite right. That’s because the guitars in this song are tuned halfway between D and Eb. So while you can play this song in Drop D, the actual recording is slightly sharp.
The great thing about Drop D Tuning is being able to play simple chord shapes like the above riff.
Schism by Tool
If you want plenty of examples of Drop D in action, Tool uses Drop D as their main tuning.
In Schism, most of the riffs don’t use the low D string at all. So when a riff like the below finally does make use of it, it packs a lot of power.
Simple power chord-based riffs like the above feel completely different than similar riffs in standard tuning.
After learning some Tool riffs, try coming up with your own Drop D riffs in a similar style. You might be surprised by how easy it is to come up with fun riffs and ideas.
Moby Dick by Led Zeppelin
A common idea when writing riffs in Drop D is to bounce around with the octave note on the fifth fret on the A string. You may notice a lot of Drop D riffs do something similar to this and it’s a lot of fun.
The simple riff in Moby Dick shows you don’t always need to play power chords when in Drop D. Single-note riffs sound great too.
Killing In The Name by Rage Against The Machine
From the first opening chord, this song makes great use of the low D string. There are plenty of great Drop D riffs throughout this song and a wacky whammy solo to top it off.
If you are interested in writing riffs in the style of Tom Morello, check out my summary of his Masterclass here. It contains some great advice on riff writing.
To learn about the gear and effects used in this song and other RATM songs, check out my Guide to Tom Morello here.
To find out about other tunings worth trying out, check out my Ultimate Guide to Alternate Tunings here. If you’ve only tried standard and drop tunings before, you might be surprised with how different some other tunings feel to play.
Find out how to play in Drop D Tuning in this lesson. The lesson shows you how to play and write your own riffs in Drop D tuning as well as how to use different power chord shapes to spice up your songwriting.