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One of the defining moments of my musical career was when I discovered Drop D tuning. I was either in 8th grade or a freshman in high school, and one of my friends showed me what Drop D tuning was on his old Yamaha Acoustic.
To say my mind was blown is an understatement. Suddenly, with one quick turning of the low E string, it was as if the guitar had become an entirely new instrument.
Now I truly felt like a rock star. If only tuning to Drop D would have also magically given me an increase in talent!
I am sure many of you experienced something similar the first time you tuned down that low E string. If you are reading this and haven’t experienced the joy of Drop D tuning yet, give it a try after reading this article.
So why is that first Drop D tuning session such a magical experience for guitar players? And why is Drop D tuning so popular in music?
Drop D tuning is a highly versatile tuning that works across several genres, from Metal to folk, bluegrass, and many others in between. It creates a heavier, deeper sound that appeals to musicians and listeners alike, is easy to tune your guitar to, and makes power chords much easier to play.
That’s the quick answer but let’s dive a bit deeper into five reasons why Drop D tuning is so popular.
1. It is Simple to Tune To
First, setting up your guitar in Drop D tuning is extremely easy, which is a big reason why it is such a popular tuning among guitarists.
Drop D tuning only requires changing one string-the low E-string, instead of having to tune all of the strings lower like is needed in other alternate, heavier-sounding tunings like D standard or C standard.
To achieve Drop D tuning, you tune the low E-string down a whole step to D. That is it! It is that simple.
You will now have a tuning that is DADGBE instead of a standard tuning of EADGBE.
Since the fourth string is also tuned to D, you can (in theory) pluck that string and tune the sixth string to match. However, the fourth string would also need to be in tune to tune correctly. When in doubt, it is best to use a tuner instead of relying on tuning by ear.
Another benefit of Drop D tuning, as opposed to lower alternate tunings, is that the sixth string will stay in tune better than if you tune lower.
2. It Won’t Effect Strings, Tension, and Intonation (As Much)
Although constantly tuning your guitar isn’t going to harm your guitar, constantly moving between lower tunings like D standard, C standard, or even lower can put a strain on the strings and shorten their lifespan.
While this is also true when moving the low E down to D and back up again, it obviously won’t affect the other five strings; thus, you won’t need to change strings as often.
However, if you continually move between these two tunings, it is a good idea to have some extra sixth strings available. Of course, you will usually have to buy full packs of strings, as individual strings are harder to come by, but at least you will have many backup strings, which is never bad.
Another good thing about Drop D tuning is that it doesn’t require such extreme tension changes in the strings as other lower tunings do. Moving into Drop D will reduce the tension of the sixth string, but not nearly as much as lower tunings like Drop C, B, or A.
This decrease in tension (and re-tension by tuning up) will decrease string life and cause serious tuning stability and intonation issues.
This is why many guitarists who play in lower tunings use thicker-gauged strings to help maintain tension or utilize a baritone or 7-string guitar.
Thus, the beauty of Drop D tuning is that you can avoid many of these issues and still play in a lower tuning.
Of course, in a perfect world, you would have a guitar(s) for every tuning to avoid constantly tuning up and down.
For example, one of my Jackson guitars is permanently set to C standard. I also utilize a locking nut on this guitar to help keep my guitar in the correct tuning, which could also be used if you have a guitar specifically set to Drop D tuning.
3. Power Chords Are Easier to Play
Another one of the main reasons why Drop D tuning is so popular is that it makes power chords extremely easy to play. The added bonus is that they sound fantastic on both acoustic and electric guitars.
As you can see in the video above, instead of playing across multiple strings by using multiple fingers and frets, as you do for Power Chords and Barre Chords, you only need one finger on one fret.
Below is a close-up of me holding a power chord position in Drop D tuning versus standard tuning.
This simple change eliminates a sometimes-difficult bar of entry for many beginner guitarists, as properly playing a barre chord requires some significant finger dexterity.
The video below shows the comparison between barre and power chords in standard tuning. As you can see in the video, even though power chords are significantly more accessible, both are much more difficult than the video demonstration above regarding Drop D power chords.
By eliminating the need for playing a chord across multiple frets, you will automatically increase the speed at which you can play these power chords.
This is especially beneficial for beginner or intermediate-level guitarists as the tempo of songs and riffs is often a significant limiting factor on which songs they are able to learn and play.
The other huge benefit of power chords in general, but particularly their use in Drop D tuning, is that you don’t have to worry about whether you are playing a minor or major chord, as power chords can work in both instances.
While it is a good idea to learn some basic music theory as you progress in your playing and songwriting, power chords allow you to jump to playing without worrying if you should be playing minor or major versions of chords based on the Key you are in.
4. It Sounds Heavier
Disclaimer: You do not need to leave standard tuning to sound heavy. Many heavy bands like Metallica, Megadeth, and Black Sabbath write most of their songs in standard tuning, and they still sound very heavy.
With that being said, moving your guitar to Drop D tuning will undoubtedly give you a heavy sound.
Many metal and hard rock bands have used Drop D tuning through the years: Because it works. Drop D tuning allows for a very heavy tone without worrying about messing with thick string gauges, tension issues, etc.; instead, they can focus on the playing with a quick tuning adjustment of one string.
Tuning a whole step lower to Drop D not only gives you a heavy sound but also makes it easier to sound heavy. As we learned in reason number 3, power chords are straightforward to master in Drop D tuning so that you can create those heavier-sounding riffs without much thought or practice.
Further, if you plan to form a band or play with a singer, Drop D tuning, according to Ben Nemeroff at Fender, can help singers with lower voices sing on pitch.
So if you are looking for a quick fix to start sounding heavier, Drop D tuning is the way to go. However, remember that achieving a heavy sound is just as much about how you play as how you tune.
5. It Provides Versatility for Several Genres
Drop D tuning is not just for metal and hard rock, although it is perhaps most commonly utilized in these genres. Early proponents in the rock genre were Led Zeppelin and the Beatles.
Yes, the Beatles.
Their song, Dear Prudence, was written in Drop D, as was Moby Dick by Led Zeppelin.
Drop D is one of the most versatile tunings available to guitarists, and getting comfortable playing in this tuning can expand your creativity no matter what genre you play.
Many fingerstyle-picking songs use Drop D tuning, especially in genres like folk, bluegrass, and blues. One of the coolest guitarists to use this style often is Justin Johnson.
If you listen to these last two songs, in particular, they are certainly not what one would consider “heavy.” Yet, they both use Drop D tuning.
There are countless other examples across a multitude of genres.
Learning to be comfortable in Drop D tuning will not only expand your repertoire of what you can play by other artists across many genres, but it will also help spark further creativity in your own songwriting endeavors.
There are several reasons why Drop D tuning is so popular, so don’t miss out! Take advantage of this simple alternative tuning and get started today.
If you listen to interviews of many famous guitarists, you will quickly realize they rarely limit themselves to playing in one tuning or genre. They learn from the best, no matter the tuning or genre, and I encourage you to do the same.
I hope you have found this list worthwhile and wish you the best of luck as you continue exploring the fun and inspiring world of Drop D tuning.
Hi everyone! I have been involved with music most of my life, beginning in grade school with the trumpet. I am a largely self-taught multi-instrumentalist (drums, guitar, bass, and starting the piano and violin). I currently play drums in two bands and write and produce many genres of music in my home recording studio. I am also an avid guitar and drum collector.