A Complete Guide to Drop D Tuning

Of all the alternative tunings that exist for guitarists to explore and enjoy, Drop D is one of the first that people try, simply because you only have to change the pitch of your lowest string.

This means that you don’t need to memorize a lot, and can quickly switch back and forth between standard and Drop D, since the remaining 5 strings are exactly the same pitch as they are in standard tuning. Another reason is that it allows you to play power chords with only a one finger barre shape across the lowest 3 strings.

It is mostly used by players who prefer heavier genres of music, as one finger power chords sound really chunky with distortion. You also get the ability to write music in the key of D, which is one whole tone below the lowest pitch you can play in standard tuning (E).

It is also a great option to accommodate a song to a singer who has a lower voice register.

In order to maintain string tension, you can try this tuning with a heavier string gauge than you normally would use. A .011 string gauge works really well with Drop D tuning, for example.

This guide will teach you how to tune your guitar to Drop D, how to play some of the most important scales and chords, along with all the diagrams and tabs to help you learn these as fast as possible!

How to Tune Your Guitar to Drop D

Let’s start by comparing Drop D to Standard Tuning.

As you probably already know, the standard tuning, starting from the lowest string, looks like this:

  • E
  • A
  • D
  • G
  • B
  • E

Drop D, however, has the following set of open strings:

  • D
  • A
  • D
  • G
  • B
  • E

There is a small variant of the Drop D tuning which is called “Double Drop D”. The only difference is that it also lowers the 1st string (high E string) to a D, instead of tuning only the lowest string down.

The easiest way to get to Drop D from standard tuning (if you don’t have a tuner on you) is to pluck the 4th string (D), and then lower your low E string until the pitches match. 

You will hear a dissonant interval when you first hear them together, but as you lower the 6th string, you will eventually reach a point in which both pitches sound consonant and clear – that’s when you stop. 

It is more usual to first play the 4th open string, then the 6th, and start detuning while you can hear them both simultaneously.

They must be tuned to D, one octave apart (the 6th string should be one octave lower than the 4th string). 

The image below illustrates Drop D tuning on a guitar’s headstock:

A Complete Guide to Drop D Tuning - How to tune to Drop D

How to Play Chords in Drop D

When you start getting into chords in Drop D tuning, there is one thing that you should always keep in mind:

  • Every chord voicing that did not include the 6th string in standard tuning remains the same in Drop D, since those strings are tuned to the same pitches as before.
  • The notes on the 6th and 4th strings are the same, except they are one octave apart.

If you have already spent some time memorizing the fretboard in standard tuning, you will notice that Drop D will feel comfortable to you very quickly. 

You can just move all of the shapes you used to play against the open 6th string two frets down, and take advantage of your low D string instead. This applies to chords, scales and any other musical idea.


Power Chords in Drop D

As you might expect, power chords are very popular among players who use the Drop D tuning in their songs. They are easy to play, and sound great with distortion, which is how you have probably heard them most of the time.

To find the chord you want to play, all you need to do is memorize the notes on the 6th string. It is tuned to a D, so you must count from there.

Once you’ve found the root note of your chord, barre the 3 lowest strings on that fret, and you’re playing a power chord.

A good exercise to memorize the fretboard quickly in Drop D would be to write some random notes on a piece of paper, and then try to hit those power chords in sequence.

You could also try to figure out some songs you already know, but using only power chords in Drop D.

The tab below shows you how to play some power chords in Drop D tuning:

A Complete Guide to Drop D Tuning - Power Chords in Drop D

As you can see, power chords in Drop D are pretty straightforward once you can quickly find any root note on the 6th string.


Major Chords in Drop D

The following diagrams show you some examples of major chords that you can play in Drop D tuning.

A Complete Guide to Drop D Tuning - D Major
A Complete Guide to Drop D Tuning - D Major 5fr
A Complete Guide to Drop D Tuning - A/E
A Complete Guide to Drop D Tuning - E Major

Notice how you can now use the open 6th strings when playing a D chord, regardless of being major or minor.

Minor Chords in Drop D

Now let’s take a look at how minor chords are played in this tuning.

A Complete Guide to Drop D Tuning - D Minor
A Complete Guide to Drop D Tuning - E Minor 7
A Complete Guide to Drop D Tuning - D Minor 7
A Complete Guide to Drop D Tuning - G Minor 11

Notice again how you can play the open 6th string on D minor and D minor 7, instead of needing to mute it when playing in standard tuning.

Seventh Chords in Drop D

Seventh (7th or dominant) chords have a root note, a major third, a perfect fifth, and a minor seventh.

 They can appear on any song, but they are especially frequent in blues, where most of the progressions are made up of mostly 7th chords.

Here are a few examples of these chords in Drop D:

A Complete Guide to Drop D Tuning - D7
A Complete Guide to Drop D Tuning - E7
A Complete Guide to Drop D Tuning - G7D
A Complete Guide to Drop D Tuning - F7

Open Chords in Drop D

Open chords work great on guitar because they take advantage of the sound you get from the resonating open strings. 

They sound good in many situations, so it is great to have a few options under your fingers.

Here are a few examples you can use:

A Complete Guide to Drop D Tuning - D Major 7
A Complete Guide to Drop D Tuning - G/D
A Complete Guide to Drop D Tuning - E Minor
A Complete Guide to Drop D Tuning - Dm9

Scales in Drop D

In terms of scales, Drop D doesn’t require a very complicated approach since every string looks exactly the same as it does in standard tuning; you just need to focus on visualizing the notes on the 6th string.

Here is a visual representation of every string of a guitar tuned to Drop D. This also corresponds to the notes of C Major and A minor.

A Complete Guide to Drop D Tuning - Scales in Drop D

D Major Scale

Next, let’s look at some scales in the key of D, since the vast majority of music written in Drop D is either in D Major or in D minor.

Starting with the D Major scale, we’ve got the following set of notes: D, E, F#, G, A, B, C#.

Here is how that scale would look like on a guitar tuned to Drop D:

A Complete Guide to Drop D Tuning - D Major Scale

D Natural Minor Scale

The natural minor scale has a flat 3rd, flat 6th and flat 7th in comparison to the major scale.

In D minor, this gives us these notes: D, E, F, G, A, Bb, C.

Here’s where you can find all of those notes on the fretboard once you’ve tuned your guitar to Drop D:

A Complete Guide to Drop D Tuning - D Natural Minor Scale

D Harmonic Minor Scale

The D Harmonic Minor Scale has a more exotic feeling to it, and many musicians choose to use it to create more interesting melodies. You can think of it as a natural minor scale with a major 7th instead of a minor 7th.

Here is the D Harmonic Minor Scale on the guitar, when tuned to Drop D:

A Complete Guide to Drop D Tuning - D Harmonic Minor Scale

D Major Pentatonic Scale

One of the most popular scales to solo and compose melodies with is the pentatonic scale, since it sounds so good in many scenarios. It is basically the major scale, but without the 4th and 7th degrees.

In D Major, those would be G and C#. Here’s how that looks on a guitar tuned to Drop D:

A Complete Guide to Drop D Tuning - D Major Pentatonic Scale

D Minor Pentatonic Scale

Alongside the major pentatonic, the minor pentatonic scale is one of the most used scales in improvising and composing, especially for guitarists.

It is the same as the natural minor scale, except for the 2nd and 6th degrees, which have been removed. In D minor, these notes are E and Bb.

Here are its notes on the guitar’s fretboard, in Drop D:

A Complete Guide to Drop D Tuning - D Minor Pentatonic Scale

Popular Songs in Drop D Tuning

This section will let you know about various examples of songs that have been written using Drop D tuning.

Led Zeppelin – Ten Years Gone

This is probably one of Led Zeppelin’s most beautiful songs, and it just so happens that it was written in Drop D. There are some riffs and licks that are worth learning throughout the song.

A Complete Guide to Drop D Tuning - Led Zeppelin – Ten Years Gone

The Beatles – Dear Prudence

Dear Prudence by The Beatles is another great song to learn and get familiarized with Drop D, as it uses the open 6th string a lot.

A Complete Guide to Drop D Tuning - The Beatles – Dear Prudence

John Mayer – Your Body is a Wonderland

This tune by John Mayer was also written using Drop D tuning. Learning this song is a nice way to start getting used to how the 6th string is related to the rest of the strings on the guitar when you tune it to Drop D.

A Complete Guide to Drop D Tuning - John Mayer – Your Body is a Wonderland

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – Ohio

One of the most recognizable songs from this group, Ohio, features a beautifully crafted riff that is definitely worth investing time in learning.

A Complete Guide to Drop D Tuning - Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – Ohio

Filter – Hey Man, Nice Shot

This Drop D riff allows you to make the most out of the one finger power chords, which is one of the most favorite aspects of this tuning.

A Complete Guide to Drop D Tuning - Filter – Hey Man, Nice Shot

More Examples of Songs in Drop D Tuning

Here are a few more songs that you can check if you want to learn more music in Drop D:

  • Marilyn Manson – The Beautiful People
  • Avenged Sevenfold – Nightmare
  • Ratt – Lay it Down
  • King’s X – It’s Love
  • Foo Fighters – Everlong
  • Nirvana – On a Plain
  • Rage Against the Machine – Killing in the Name of
  • Tool – Forty Six & 2
  • Soundgarden – Spoonman
  • Led Zeppelin – Moby Dick

Final Thoughts on Drop D Tuning

As you can see, Drop D is a great option to consider if you are thinking about trying alternative tunings on the guitar.

It is easy to tune a guitar in Drop D, and most of the notes remain the same as they are in standard tuning.

You should definitely try it out if you are into playing rock, metal and other heavy genres, you’ll love how your power chords sound in this tuning.

Gustavo Pereira

Gustavo is a Portuguese musician based in Barcelona, where he’s studying jazz & modern music interpretation on the electric guitar. Favorite genre: blues, jazz, funk, soul

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