“The Magic Of Drop D”
Creating your own songs in drop D can open up new creative avenues as it did many other players throughout history. It gives you a different way to look at the instrument and the resulting music is usually not like anything else you’ll play in standard tuning. If you’re looking for something to create that special “magic”, then drop D may be what you’re looking for.
This book hopes to fully instruct you in the ways of drop D. You’ll learn how to play your chords and scales in this alternate tuning. We’ll explore some of the great drop D songs as well as how to use the tuning to create your own compositions. Hopefully somewhere along the way you’ll discover the true magic of drop D.
Tune To Drop D
Drop D is an alternate guitar tuning that has been used by a variety of artists through the years. From The Beatles and Pink Floyd to more modern rock acts such as Tool and Soundgarden.
In this video I’ll show you how to tune to drop D. It’s easy!
Drop D tuning has become popular as of late. In drop D tuning the low E string is tuned down one whole step to D. This enables the guitarist to play power chords with a single finger. If your favorite band uses drop D tuning and you want to experiment with this tuning, by all means do so. What ever you do, don’t learn the guitar in drop D tuning-you’ll get all mixed up.
To tune your guitar to drop D tuning, first make sure your tuned to standard tuning. Then you’ll want to tune your low E string down two steps to D (we drop it down one step, hence the name). See the picture below. You can use the audio clip below to tune your low E string to D for drop D tuning.
Drop D Chords
Open Chords In Drop D
Many common chords aren’t affected by the different tuning. Any chord with a root on any string other than the low E (now the low D), such as the open A and open C chord, remains unchanged. Chords, such as the open E and G, that use the low E string as a root become somewhat obsolete in drop D.
Open D Chord
In drop D, the D chord is expanded from a 4 string chord to a full six string chord such as in figure 4. This creates a very rich and robust D chord. As you can see, this tuning can greatly enhance a song in the key of D, especially if more “muscle” is required.
The open D chord
The tuning doesn’t get in the way of creating a D minor chord. You would play the D minor as normal, but now the A string and low D string are included to create a bigger bottom end as in figure 5.
The open D minor chord
If we add the 2nd scale step in the D major scale (an E note) we end up with a Dsus2 chord, or D suspended 2nd. To create this chord in the open position we simply drop the F# on the high E string and instead play the string open to produce our added E note as in figure 6.
Suspended chords sound dissonant and are screaming for resolution back to a D chord. Practice playing a Dsus2 chord and then switch to a D chord. See how it resolves, or eliminates the dissonance of the suspended 2nd? Dissonance occurs when two notes are harmonically very close together. This is a combination of notes that sound harsh or unpleasant to most people and that’s why it wants to “resolve” back to the plain ole D chord to relieve the tension
If we take the 4th scale step (a G) and add it to the D chord we create a D suspended 4th chord, oftentimes labeled as Dsus4. It can be played a couple of different ways (figure 7) and tends, like the suspended 2nd chord, to want to resolve back to a D chord.
The suspended 2nd and 4th chords are “busy” chords. Let’s say you’re playing a song that has the D chord in it a lot. You’re just playing along, but things are getting boring, so you spice things up a bit by adding a suspended 2nd or 4th chord in there to add some tension.
A jazzy chord you can create is the sixth chord. Just add the 6th scale step from the D major scale (a B note) to the D chord and you have a D6 (figure 8). You can use a D6 to substitute a D chord if you want to pep things up.
The major 7th is a very common chord in all types of music. You can play a D major 7th, or Dmaj7 by adding the 7th scale step in the D major scale (C#) to the D chord. To play a Dmaj7 chord in the open position, just barre your first finger across the second frets of the G, B, and high E strings and then play the low D, A, D strings open as in figure 7.
Now, with all that technical mumbo-jumbo out of the way, let me say it’s a very easy chord to play and has a very pleasing sound. It can be used at any point you would use a regular D chord, or you can use it to alternate between a D chord. Take a few minutes to play between the Dmaj7 and the D chord to hear the difference between the two. Can you see how many people love to add the maj7 chord for effect?
If you take the Dmaj7 and flat the 7th and you end up with the D7 chord. Of all the seventh chords, perhaps the most important is the dominant seventh. It was the first seventh chord to appear regularly in classical music.
More Open Chords
You can create a neat Em chord chord, G chord, and G6 chord in open D as in the figure 11. The cool thing about the tuning is that it’s fun to experiment with. With so many open strings to play around with you can easily make up your own chord voicings by moving patterns around (but more on this later). Most chords in drop D are either open D, of the power chord variety, or those that use the open strings in new an mysterious ways.
Em, G, G6
Movable Chord Patterns
We can take the open D chord and slide everything up to play different chords. There is one problem and that’s the note on the high E string. It becomes a pain to play in the configuration, so we omit it as shown in figure 12. This chord shape would be a D#.
The full movable form
To take things one step further is to drop all notes except the notes on the bottom three strings. These chords are called power chords (figure 13).
Power chords are not really chords. Chords are 3 notes or more, whereas power chords only have 2 different notes. A more correct name would be “power intervals” because they only contain two different notes. Usually power chords are composed of the root, a perfect 5th, and the octave. Basically they are just like playing
perfect 5th intervals and doubling up a note or two.
Power chords are easy to play just about anywhere on the neck, but lend very little harmonic texture to a song. They do not have a major or minor third interval. A chord needs this interval in order to make it a major or minor chord.
If you’re playing a song with a lot of distortion, strumming a full chord might create too much dissonance. Plus if you have a fast chord change, it’s often easier to use power chords for the really fast
part. Beginners will overuse them due to their convenience, but if used in moderation they can come in handy.
Power chords can be a crutch, especially in drop D tuning. The tendency of many players to play extravagant one finger riffs up and down the fretboard tends to get old quick. A lot of the subpar stuff is going to sound like a dozen other songs in drop D, so take care to not fall into this trap.
So, it’s easy to play those one finger power chords, and it’s easy to know the name of the chord your playing. That is if you know the notes on your low D string. You can use the friendly chord finder in figure 14 to help you identify what chords you’re playing. The lowest note is the root note which gives the chord it’s name.
Note that there are sharps and flats between each chord except between E and F, and between B and C. To play a D# chord you would play your power chord on the first fret (it’s up one step from D). To play an A flat chord you would play the power chord pattern on the sixth fret, or one step down from A on the 7th fret.
You can use the handy chart below to find the common one finger power chords while in drop D tuning:
Additional Drop D Chord Voicings
With these chord charts you’ll find various ways to play common drop D tuning chords. There are more voicings for each chord than you’ll probably ever need, but it’s fun trying playing them all! You never know, one of these voicings may spark something creative in you.
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Drop D Videos
Drop D Harmonics
One Finger Melody
How To Play Dear Prudence
Mark Tremont Shows Us How To Play “Higher”
Creating Drop D Riffs
Writing your own riffs with the drop D tuning can be fun and open up new creative ideas. Here I’ve compiled a collection of my own riffs creating using drop D tuning. Try coming up with your own!
1. Tuning to drop d allows you to play one finger power chords. Just barre your 1st finger on the bottom 3 strings and you’ve got an easy to move power chord pattern.
One finger power chords are what I used to create the riff below. Turn up the distortion and apply a heavy palm mute to get a heavy sound:
2. Here’s a riff that sounds best with a clean tone. It can be fingerpicked or you can use a pick. Either way.
3. This is another riff built for distortion.
4. Use a clean tone for this one. Let all of the notes ring out. You should notice the string skipping.
5. This one sounds best on an acoustic. We’re using all six strings for a nice fat sound.
6. Since we’re letting the notes ring out on this riff, it’s best to go for a clean tone.
7. Power chords+distortion=heavy riffing.
8. Here’s a little fun with harmonics.
9. I call this the rolling riff.
10. Here’s a moving bass line (low notes) with a a moving melody (high E string).
Say, do you want all 10 of the riffs from above in a snazzy PDF file? Here you go: drop-d-riffs PDF