Experimenting with alternative tunings is one of the most interesting things to do on the guitar, as it allows you to obtain sounds that just aren’t possible to get with standard tuning.
Some tunings drastically change the way you approach the guitar (drop tunings, open tunings), while others simply take standard tuning and change the pitch of every string by the same amount of semitones.
The most common tuning that follows this principle is the Eb tuning, which consists of tuning every string one semitone/half step lower than in standard tuning.
Even though it isn’t a radical change from standard, this tuning offers several benefits and advantages that will be discussed and demonstrated in this KillerGuitarRigs guide.
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- Eb Tuning: Overview and How to Tune
- How to Play Chords in Eb Tuning
- How to Play Scales in Eb Tuning
- Popular Songs that use Eb Tuning and Tabs
- Additional Song Examples Featuring Eb Tuning
- Final Thoughts About Eb Tuning
Eb Tuning: Overview and How to Tune
The Eb tuning is quite simple to comprehend. It is the same as if you took any guitar riff you know and played it one fret lower. You have access to a low Eb instead of the usual low E present in standard tuning.
There are many bands and guitarists that have played using Eb tuning throughout most or all of their careers, such as Stevie Ray Vaughan, Slash, Jimi Hendrix, Alice in Chains, and many more.
In fact, many people argue that some guitars such as Stratocasters tend to sound much better when they’re tuned a half step down. A lot of factors come into play, such as the change in string tension, harmonics and how the guitar resonates with different frequencies.
Lastly, one of the best advantages of playing guitar in this tuning is that bending is much easier to accomplish, you need to apply much less force in general to play the instrument, and that can be a big plus depending on what you play.
To get to Eb tuning from standard, you must lower the pitch of every string by a semitone.
Let’s compare both tunings further to see the differences more clearly.
Standard tuning has the following notes (from lowest to highest string):
Eb tuning on the other hand, has the following set of strings:
As you can see, it is as simple as lowering each string by a semitone in pitch.
This means that everything that you knew how to play before can still be applied using this tuning. If you play it on the exact same frets, it will sound a half step below what you were hearing before.
If you were playing in E before, you will be playing in Eb instead, taking advantage of the lower bass note you get from this tuning.
Here is a visual representation of the two tunings we’ve seen so far:
If you are considering giving the Eb tuning a shot, you should know that it has an effect on your string tension. Because of this, you might want to try a slightly heavier string gauge to compensate.
If your guitar has a tremolo system, like Stratocasters or Jazzmasters usually do, you really ought to have it set up for the new set of strings, otherwise you will most likely have intonation problems due to the changes in string tension.
How to Play Chords in Eb Tuning
Playing chords in Eb tuning couldn’t be simpler – you probably already know a bunch of different chord voicings for most types of chords. Since every string goes down in pitch by the same amount, the fingerings are the same.
The only thing that changes is the name of the chord, and it is still useful to know where everything is for communication purposes with other musicians.
It could be that you’re playing with a guitarist and a bassist that are also tuned down, and something like maintaining the same names for the sake of being practical could pass, albeit slightly incorrect.
However, if you’re playing with someone like a pianist, this kind of approach wouldn’t work, which is why you should get used to naming chords properly when tuned a half step below standard.
Here are a few examples of chords of different qualities for you to check:
Major Chords in Eb Tuning
Major chords contain a root note, a major third and a perfect fifth.
The diagrams shown below are a few examples of chord voicings that you can use in Eb tuning.
Minor Chords in Eb Tuning
Minor chords have a root note, a minor third and a perfect fifth. The only difference from major chords is the third, which is a semitone lower.
Check a few examples of minor chords you can play in Eb tuning:
Dominant Seventh Chords in Eb Tuning
Seventh chords have 4 notes instead of 3. Dominant seven chords have a root, a major third, a perfect fifth and a minor seventh.
The diagrams below represent some of the possibilities you have to play them in Eb tuning:
Open Chords in Eb Tuning
Open chords can be of any quality (major, minor, etc), but they must use the open strings of the guitar. The resonance obtained by using open strings gives you a full-bodied sound that you should take advantage of.
Here are some open chords you can play using Eb tuning:
How to Play Scales in Eb Tuning
Once again, you’re in luck – every scale that you have learned in the past in standard tuning is also transferrable to Eb tuning. In any case, it is still important to understand where the notes are really located on the fretboard.
Here are the diagrams of some of the most commonly used scales in music, in the key of Eb, since it is a key that many guitarists choose to use with this tuning.
Eb Major Scale
The Major scale is undoubtedly one of the most important scales in music, and it is the foundation of many more theoretical concepts.
It can be described by its formula: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.
In the key of Eb Major, we have the following set of notes:
Here is a fretboard diagram representing the location of every note that belongs to the Eb Major scale:
Eb Natural Minor Scale
The natural minor scale is also one of the most important scales to know as a musician.
It is built upon the 6th degree of the major scale and it has the following scale formula: 1, 2, b3, 4, 5, b6, b7.
The Eb natural minor scale has the following notes:
The note “Cb” sounds like a B, but it is written this way so that it is still Eb’s minor sixth, while B would be an augmented fifth.
Here is the location of the Eb natural minor scale’s notes on the fretboard:
Eb Harmonic Minor Scale
The harmonic minor scale is similar to the natural minor, but with a small twist.
You can think of it as a minor scale with a major 7th.
Its formula is: 1, 2, b3, 4, 5, b6, 7.
In Eb, this gives us the following notes:
Here is where you will find these notes on a guitar tuned down to Eb:
Eb Major Pentatonic Scale
Pentatonic scales are widely used across every genre of music. As the name implies, they are scales that have only 5 notes. The Major pentatonic is one of the first examples people generally learn about.
It is essentially a Major scale without its 4th and 7th degrees. Removing them gives it a more open sound, mainly because there isn’t a tritone interval in the scale anymore.
Its scale formula is: 1, 2, 3, 5, 6.
In Eb Major, this corresponds to the following notes:
The following diagram represents the location of the notes that belong to this scale on the fretboard, if you’re tuned in Eb.
Eb Minor Pentatonic Scale
The minor pentatonic scale is another huge staple in guitar oriented music, most players usually start learning how to improvise over chord progressions using this scale and other similar ones such as the blues scale.
It is just like a natural minor scale, except without its 2nd and 6th degrees.
Its scale formula is: 1, b3, 4, 5, b7.
In the key of Eb minor, this means we’ve got the following notes:
Here is the corresponding diagram illustrating where you will find the notes of this scale once you are using the Eb tuning:
As always, it is very important to be able to visualize the shapes of each scale throughout the neck so that you can use them comfortably regardless of the fretboard region that you’re playing in.
Memorizing scales takes time, and you should not rush it at all. Prioritize building muscle memory over speed, be methodic, consistent, and results should come to you.
You should start by practicing each of their patterns at a slow tempo (about 60bpm) and increase the speed in increments of 10bpm as you notice that you’re playing scales consistently with no mistakes, both ascending and descending.
Once you are comfortable with playing in every region of the neck, you should start working on connecting them all so that you can improvise freely independently of where your hand is on the guitar’s neck.
Popular Songs that use Eb Tuning and Tabs
Listening to songs that feature the Eb tuning is a great way to get a better idea of how it feels and what changes in comparison to standard tuning.
The following list contains some examples that you can check out to hear the Eb tuning in action, as well as their corresponding tabs:
Stevie Ray Vaughan – Pride and Joy
Stevie Ray Vaughan was a legendary blues guitar player that inspired countless guitarists after him.
He was well known for playing a Stratocaster tuned down to Eb with very high gauge strings, and for running a tubescreamer through a roaring amp to get his signature heavy tone.
Pride and Joy is a great song to learn to get into blues playing in Eb tuning.
The tab below shows a section of the beginning of the song.
Jimi Hendrix – Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)
Jimi Hendrix is arguably the most famous guitarist that mostly played using Eb tuning. Many people believe that this tuning is a big part of his signature sound, alongside other factors such as a very specific string gauge he usually played.
Voodoo Chile is one of his most heard songs, and it is a great starting point to try out this tuning.
Lynyrd Skynyrd – Simple Man
Lynyrd Skynyrd did not play in Eb tuning all the time, but songs such as “Simple Man” feature it. They might have chosen this tuning to convey a deeper feeling to this song, and it worked perfectly.
Guns n’ Roses – Sweet Child O’ Mine
Guns n’ Roses played in Eb tuning during the majority of their career. Slash has said that he likes to use this tuning with a set of .010 strings so that he can dig in a bit more while playing, otherwise the tension would be too low to play comfortably.
The song “Sweet Child O’ Mine” is one of their all-time greatest hits, and it was written in Eb tuning.
Extreme – More Than Words
Extreme had several hit songs, but their most known work is certainly “More Than Words”. This song is generally played on an acoustic guitar, and has lots of interesting details such as the percussive strikes throughout the main riff.
Additional Song Examples Featuring Eb Tuning
If you would like to further explore the vast collection of songs that feature Eb tuning, here are a few more suggestions that you might want to look into:
- Poison – Every Rose Has Its Thorn
- Guns n’ Roses – Welcome to the Jungle
- Jimi Hendrix – Hey Joe
- Eddie Van Halen – Eruption
- The Beatles – Across the Universe
- Alice in Chains – Man in the Box
- Nirvana – Where Did You Sleep Last Night (Unplugged)
- Thin Lizzy – Fighting
- The Smithereens – Behind the Wall of Sleep
- Michael Jackson – Beat It
Final Thoughts About Eb Tuning
From a playing standpoint, the Eb tuning shouldn’t pose much of a challenge in terms of fretboard knowledge if you have studied it before with standard tuning, since all the patterns stay the same, they just sound one semitone lower than before.
If you are playing with other musicians, especially another guitarist who is tuned in standard, keep in mind that the same fret on your guitars will play two notes that are one semitone apart.
The Eb tuning is an excellent way to tighten up your sound and access a lower register of the guitar. Try it out with some of the songs discussed in this guide!