Most of us can answer the question, “What is drop D tuning?” But in case you’re not quite sure, it is quite simple, just take your low E string and take it down a whole tone, or a whole step, to D.
Why Should You Use Drop D Tuning?
Well, there are several reasons to use drop D tuning. But I want to dispel a couple of myths first of all. You do drop the note to gain a bit of added depth. But, this is not just to create a bass sound; it’s because the D note adds something to the music which a D on the 4th string wouldn’t.
You also don’t drop to D to make the guitars sound fuller. Tune Dropped D is only used occasionally for a specific purpose. It is not usually part of the overall sound of the guitar, in chords, for instance, most of the time.
The Big Reason
I just touched on it. It is to give you access to a D, or an Eb, of course, that is in a lower register. As I said, playing a D on the 5th string just wouldn’t do a certain job. Dropping the E down to D gives you an extra option. And that applies especially to a run coming down that you might want to end on a low D.
It has been used by many people in a variety of ways. So let’s take a look at a few of the best drop D tuning songs where it made an impact.
1 – “Moby Dick” by Led Zeppelin[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-3O3kx104Xg[/embed]
Recognized as one of the greatest rock bands in the world, they have been involved with some memorable tracks over the years. In my opinion, this is one of them.
I was fortunate enough to have seen them a few times at a club at the back of a pub in Southall in West London. That was about the time they started recording Led Zep 1. Page played a Telecaster, the “Dragon,” given to him by Jeff Beck in those days.
Moby Dick was taking shape in stage performances, and most of the audience waited in anticipation of Bonham’s solo. But I went to the front and risked my hearing. I wanted to see how Page played those riffs. It didn’t seem possible with a standard guitar. In my young innocence, I had never heard of Drop D way back then.
That changed quickly…
This is because playing a riff in drop D tuning gives it a power that doesn’t exist without it. It’s a great riff anyway, and with John Paul Jones hammering in the background, it becomes monumental. But the Drop D makes it what it is. A rock and roll classic and a great example to start with by a band who knew how to do the job.
2 – “Never Going Back Again” by Fleetwood Mac[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2nkAJogQioc[/embed]
Another band I was fortunate to see many times in pubs and clubs in London in my formative years. In those days, though, with Jeremy Spencer, Danny Kirwan, and of course, Greeny.
In their next reincarnation, after all the troubles, they appeared with Lindsey Buckingham. He changed them forever and brought something extra and very special to the ‘Mac’ table. “Never Going Back Again” is a good example of what he was capable of.
An impressive song…
Made better by Buckingham’s finger-picking style of playing it. His use of the Drop D tuning emphasizes the low end and gives it a nice harmonic feel.
If you are going to attempt to learn it, you will find it is not the easiest song to play in this style. However, it will be well worth the effort to get it right.
3 – “Warming Up The Band” by Heads, Hands, and Feet[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_y5BFNdSep0[/embed]
This is a great song from the 70s by a set of very talented musicians. Chas Hodges, later from the ‘Rockney’ duo of ‘Chas and Dave’, played bass and sang. It is a song that when I played it live, I would tune my bass down to Drop D. That way, I could match the guitar and add some real low end to the ‘D’ notes of the guitar lick.
The guitar is played by the great Albert Lee. He dropped the D down to accommodate the end of his great little guitar lick. He wanted to include the lick, but it didn’t have the same effect without the low ending note.
They wanted to sing it in ‘D’ because ‘E’ was too high. The compromise produced the dropped D, which in the end, made the song even better. An excellent example of how Drop D tuning can impact music if used intelligently.
4 – “Harvest Moon” by Neil Young[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n2MtEsrcTTs[/embed]
One of the greats of the last fifty years, he is well known for his experimentation with alternate tunings. He will use them when playing songs live on an acoustic that he has recorded on an electric guitar. “Rocking In The Free World” is a good example.
Harvest Moon, though, uses a Drop D tuning. It was a song that was not universally appreciated then and even now. In our world, where the only good thing is ‘instant results and happiness,’ this talks of long relationships.
The Drop D tuning is one of the things that makes this beautiful song great. So typical of Neil Young. It adds some harmonics at the low end giving the chords an unusual sound.
5 – “Dear Prudence” by The Beatles[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MBmyBM-fIzg[/embed]
We could not possibly finish any deliberation about today’s music without including this lot. You could say that everything you hear today came from them. There isn’t very much they weren’t the first to try and then achieve with great skill. As songwriters, they were streets ahead of everyone else.
“Dear Prudence” from the ‘White Album’ is easily one of the best Drop D tuning songs ever recorded. Written by John about experiences in India, it took shape in George Harrison’s bungalow in Esher. With the addition of the Drop D and a finger-picking style.
George, ever the intimate and thoughtful creator, took the opening passage and made it memorable. And as the song progressed, it was used time and time again as the changing chords demanded. If there is an example of what Drop D tuning can do for a song, this is it.
More Resources for Drop D Tuning
For some additional guides with more information about Drop D tuning, have a look at The Frustrated Guitarist’s Guide To Alternate Guitar Tunings #1: Secrets of Drop D and A Visual Guide to Chords and Arpeggios for Guitar in Drop D Tuning. And if you want to explore some more alternate tunings, The Complete Book of Alternate Tunings may be of interest.
Looking to Expand Your Music Skills?
Learning more about Music Theory can be a big help. Have a look at our handy guides on Relative vs Parallel Minor, What Is AABA Form In Music, What Is Theme And Variation In Music, The Minor Scales, The Aeolian Mode, and A Complete Guide To Major Scales for more useful information.
If you want a good feel for Drop D tuning, a new guitar could do the trick. Check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Acoustic Guitars Under $300, the Best Acoustic Guitars Under $500, the Best Jazz Guitars, the Best Resonator Guitar, the Best Hollow And Semi-Hollow Guitars, and the Best Blues Guitars you can buy in 2021.
Best Drop D Tuning Songs – Final Thoughts
So there we are, some great music influenced by the Drop D tuning. You can hear the impact it can have just by going down a tone on your low string. It is usually the simple things that work the best.
Have fun, and let your music play.