A guitarist tuning the sixth string
Drop D tuning involves changing the sixth string down to D

Drop D is one of the most common tunings in use in both Fingerstyle and Classical guitar. In this article we will show you how to enter Drop D tuning on the Guitar

Introduction to Drop D Tuning

Drop D is the most common alternate tuning.  In Classical Guitar, which is where my background is, it’s not uncommon to tune down the sixth string to D.

Drop D tuning is therefore not uncommon and found all throughout the history of the guitar repertoire.

Start With Drop D Tuning

Drop D is an ideal tuning if you are getting started with alternate tunings. With Drop D, we need only to modify one string, and this involves loosening the string, not tightening.

Understanding Drop D Tuning

Drop D tuning is a guitar tuning where the low E string is tuned down a whole step (two frets) to D. As the name suggests, we need to lower the sixth string to ‘drop’ it down from E to D.

How to Drop D Tune Your Guitar

There are several ways to enter Drop D tuning. You can use an app, a guitar tuner or by ear.

If you want to Drop D tune your guitar with an app, select "Drop D" from the settings and go from there. Otherwise, you can use a tuner or tune by ear using the methods below.

How to Drop D Tune a Guitar with a Tuner

To tune your guitar in Drop D tuning with a guitar tuner, first make sure your guitar is tuned correctly in standard tuning. Make sure your guitar tuner is set to Guitar mode, and tune each string of your guitar correctly.

Guitar headstock with a clip-on guitar tuner
Use a chromatic guitar tuner that clips on to the headstock of the guitar to enter Drop D tuning.

Next, switch your guitar tuner from "Guitar" to "Chromatic".

Now, play the sixth string and carefully loosen the string until the guitar tuner shows the note "D". You have now entered Drop D tuning.

How to Tune By Ear Into Drop D Tuning

When tuning by ear, you will use the method of listening for the beats. Since you will be tuning the sixth string down to the note that is one octave below the fourth string, it will be easy to hear the beats as you approach Drop D tuning.

Beats are a phenomenon that occurs when two waves of slightly different frequencies interfere with each other. When the waves are played together, they create a pulsating effect, sort of a wah-wah.

Using Beats to Determine When the Guitar Is In Tune

When you pluck the fourth and sixth strings simultaneously while you tune the sixth string down from E to D, you will hear an acoustic phenomenon which sounds like beating.

These beats will get slower as your sixth string approaches the note D. The beats will finally disappear as the sixth string note is tuned exactly one octave below the fourth string.

Tuning the sixth string of the guitar
Pluck the sixth and the fourth strings simultaneously when tuning to Drop D by ear.

Method For Reaching Drop D Tuning by Ear

  1. Start by making sure your guitar is precisely in tune. Use an app or a tuner if necessary.
  2. Play the fourth and sixth strings simultaneously, and lower or loosen the tuning peg of the sixth string.
  3. Continue lowering the sixth string as you listen for the beats.
  4. When you can no longer hear the beats as you pluck the strings simultaneously, you are in Drop D.
  5. Test your tuning by playing a D chord and strumming all the strings. You should not hear any beats now.
  6. Should the beats disappear only to re-appear as you are tuning, you have probably overshot the note and will need to re-tighten the string.

Drop D Tuning Represented on the Five Line Staff

Here is what Drop D tuning looks like on the five line staff.

Drop D tuning on the staff
Fig.1 - Drop D tuning notes on the treble clef.

The D String on the Guitar Helps With Entering Drop D

It is simple to for us to enter Drop D tuning since we already have a D string on the guitar; namely, the fourth.

Notice how we have now dropped the E String down to the note D that is one octave below the note sounded on the fourth string.

Songs That Use Drop D Tuning

A song that uses Drop D tuning is Kiss by Sungha Jung.