Ultimate guide to Drop C Tuning

Drop C is a tuning that allows you to explore a lower register of your guitar. The lowest note you could play in standard tuning (E) is now a major third lower (C), adding a lot of weight to your sound. Baritone guitars have their lowest string only a semi-tone lower than that!

This tuning is essentially Drop D tuned one whole step down, so if you’re familiar with that one, Drop C should be easy to understand and master.

It is mostly used in heavier music genres, and fits main advantage other than the lower notes you gain access to is the fact that you can play power chords with just a one finger bar across the 3 lowest strings.

Another great application of this tuning would be to better complement the voice of a singer with a lower register. 

An important thing to take into account when tuning this low is that you should adjust your string gauge accordingly. Using strings gauges like .009 or .010 won’t be very comfortable as you’ll lose a lot of tension. 

Experiment with gauges such as 0.11 or even .012 and higher.

How To Tune Your Guitar In Drop C tuning

In Drop C, the strings on your guitar will all be tuned one whole tone lower, except for the 6th string, which will be tuned two whole steps lower. 

In summary, starting from the lowest string:

Standard Tuning

  • E
  • A
  • D
  • G
  • B
  • E

Drop C Tuning

  • C
  • G
  • C
  • F
  • A
  • D

One of the easiest ways to go from standard tuning to Drop C would be:

  • Start by tuning your guitar in D standard, or one whole step down from standard tuning. 

This gives you D G C F A D, from the lowest string to the highest.

  • Now, tune the lowest string one whole step down, from D to C, and you’re done! 

A nice trick to easily tune the lowest string after tuning the other 5 is to pluck the 4th string (which is now a C), and then lower the 6th string gradually until the pitches match. They should both play a C, one octave apart.

How to play chords in Drop C tuning

A couple of useful things to keep in mind when approaching Drop C tuning are:

  • Everything is the same as Drop D, just one whole tone lower. Use this to your advantage if you have already tried Drop D before.
  • All chord shapes that don’t include the 6th string stay the same, but they sound one whole tone lower than they would in E standard. For example, the D Major open shape corresponds to C Major, the A Major shape corresponds to G Major, and so on.

Also, having solid fretboard knowledge and a good understanding of intervals will be particularly useful for you to figure out how to transpose and modify the voicings you’re already familiar with to this new tuning.

Power Chords in Drop C tuning

The truth is that most guitarists who play in Drop C tend to use power chords a lot, not just because they’re easy to play, but also because of the tight, chunky sound you get out of the bar power chords. 

This works very well with distortion, making it an excellent tuning for heavier genres of music.

Here’s a tab outlining where you can find these power chords after tuning your guitar down to Drop C:

All power chords in drop c tuning

As you can see, playing power chords in Drop C is as easy as being able to find the root note of the chord you wish to play, and then barring the three lowest strings on the corresponding fret.

Practice your fretboard memory by trying to play songs that you already know, using only these power chords! Since you can’t use the voicings you’re used to, it will force you to remember where the root notes are in Drop C.

Major chords in Drop C tuning

Here are some diagrams to help you get started with major chords:

Major chords in drop c tuning

Minor chords in Drop C tuning

Next, let’s take a look at minor chords. Drop the third of each voicing a half step and you’re good to go:

minor chords in drop c tuning

Seventh chords in Drop C tuning

Seventh (or dominant) chords consist of a root note, major third, perfect fifth and a minor seventh. 

You’ll find them on songs of any genre, especially blues, since the basic I-IV-V changes use dominant chords on every degree. 

Seventh chords in drop c tuning

Open chords in Drop C tuning

Open chords take advantage of having open strings ringing, which gives you a fuller, lush, resonant sound. 

They’re also good since you frequently have a finger or two available to play embellishments over the chords, making them a great resource for comping in certain contexts.

You will be able to use some of the patterns you know from standard tuning, but keep in mind that every note is now 2 frets higher than it used to be!

Check a few examples below, but keep in mind there are even more open chord voicings at your disposal.

Open chords in drop c tuning
More open chords in drop c tuning

Scales in Drop C tuning

When it comes to scales, the logic you need to apply is the same as you did with the chords.

Everything on the 1st to 5th string is moved two frets higher, except for the 6th, which is 4 frets higher.

Check the neck diagram below to visualize all the natural notes across the fretboard when you’re tuned in Drop C:

All natural notes on the fretboard in drop c tuning

This article will be focusing mostly on C scales, since drop tunings are mostly used to take advantage of the lowest obtainable note. 

If you need to find a different scale, just move these shapes across the neck!

C Major Scale

The C Major scale has no sharps or flats, all notes are natural. You could represent this with the formula “1 2 3 4 5 6 7”.

In C: C D E F G A B

Every note is separated by a whole step, except 3-4 and 7-1. 

The following diagram represents where all of the notes from the C Major scale can be found on the neck when you tune your guitar to Drop C.

C major scale on fretboard in drop c tuning

C Natural Minor Scale

The natural minor scale is characterized by having a minor third, minor sixth and a minor seventh. It is built from the 6th degree of the Major scale. 

Its formula would then be: “1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7”.

In C: C D Eb F G Ab Bb

Check the diagram below for the C natural minor scale’s patterns: 

C natural minor scale on fretboard in drop c tuning

C Harmonic Minor Scale

The harmonic minor scale has a distinctive sound due to its seventh, which is raised by a semitone. This forms an augmented second interval with the sixth degree of the scale. 

This seventh is also a strong leading tone to the tonic due to the minor second interval between them, so make sure to play it in your phrasing to make it clear that you’re using this type of sound.

Its formula would be: 1 2 b3 4 5 b6 #7 

In C: C D Eb F G Ab B C

Find the diagram for this scale below:

C harmonic minor scale on fretboard in drop c tuning

Popular Songs In Drop C Tuning

Asking Alexandria – Morte Et Dabo

This song features a fast intro riff which fully takes advantage of the low C, as you’ll notice with a lot of music written in Drop C tuning. 

Asking Alexandria – Morte Et Dabo

Make sure you get down the notes that are palm muted and the ones that are not, as that will add character to your interpretation.

As I Lay Dying – Through Struggle

Released in 2005, Through Struggle also features a riff that relies heavily on the low C, watch out for the harmonized section that comes up a few bars into the song!

As I Lay Dying – Through Struggle

Just like the previous example, respecting the notes that are palm muted and the ones that aren’t is crucial to make this riff sound right.

System of a Down – Shimmy

Its arguable that no Drop C song list would be truly complete without a System of a Down song, as they’ve been adepts of this tuning for a long time. 

Shimmy is a great example of how you can use barred power chords to take advantage of Drop C. 

System of a Down - Shimmy

System of a Down’s discography is full of music written in Drop C. Try to learn some of their riffs that are played with a clean sound to explore this tuning from a different perspective (Aerials, for instance).

Disturbed – Stricken

Stricken has a distinguishable riff that takes advantage of slides and power chords to create a dynamic movement that would certainly be harder to play in standard tuning.

The chord voicings that end the riff are also a great way to explore the alternative note disposition you get with the low C string.

Disturbed – Stricken

This riff resolves on beat 4 and a half, so timing is crucial. Practice it slower than the original until you get the timing perfect, otherwise you might sound slightly out of place.

Children of Bodom – Are You Dead Yet?

Children of Bodom’s Alexi Laiho also used Drop C frequently. Are You Dead Yet is an interesting combination of the palm muted open C string, hammer-ons and double stops.

Children of Bodom – Are You Dead Yet?

More Songs In Drop C Tuning

Here are a few more examples of songs where you can listen how Drop C sounds:

  • Killswitch Engage – My Curse
  • Rammstein – Mein Herz Brennt
  • Mastodon – Oblivion 
  • Periphery – All New Materials
  • Bullet for My Valentine – Waking the Demon
  • Three Days Grace – Animal I Have Become
  • Bring Me the Horizon – Happy Song

Conclusion

If you’d like to experiment with a lower range on your guitar and you enjoy listening to heavy music, Drop C tuning is something you should definitely try out. 

Just make sure you have heavy gauge strings that compensate for the lower tension.

Andrew Bell

I don't think I'll ever stick to one instrument - but the great thing about life is you don't have to.

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