The tuning of the guitar can be easily changed from standard to alternate, like on the majority of other string instruments. Tunings of guitar nearly always refer to the open string – unfretted – pitch, even though some tuning types may not be attained without a capo. When we speak of standard guitar tuning, the EADGBE row refers to the string pitches from the lowest – low E – to the highest – high E – respectively.
Dropped tunings suggest tuning of the 6th string low relative to the other five strings, frequently (but not all the time) by a full step, also referred to as “drop 1” tuning. Certain dropped tunings can require the use of a baritone guitar because of the string tension needed for drastically low sounds, while others can be attained by the use of capo or partial capo technique.
The relative relationship between the strings is what really matters for fingering purposes. For instance, in drop B tuning all strings are tuned to notes different from standard tuning, but the strings still have the same relationship between them, like in the drop D tuning – this is where only the 6th string is swayed away from standard tuning – and, as a result, you have almost the same fingerings for them as if you would be playing a guitar with a standard tuning.
A lot of the terms presented in this article are equivocal, whether it’s about only the 6th string tune down – a “N” tuning in the standard “E” key – or all strings are in lower tune with the 6th string tuned lower than the other strings – normally, a “drop 1” tuning in some sort of other key. For instance, a drop C tuning is normally referred to as “drop 1” tuning in the D key; in other words, the sixth string gets tuned two full steps down and all other strings are tuned one full step down. This is similar to a standard drop D guitar tuning, where the 6th string is one step lower from the standard, while other strings remain in the standard tuning. Nevertheless, there’s also a “drop C tuning”, which is a “drop 2” tuning in the E key – the sixth string is tuned two full steps down, while other strings remain in the standard tune. The former employs fingerings for standard drop D, as in all drop 1 tunings, while the latter needs separate fingerings due to the distinct relationship of the 6th string to other strings.
Another drop tuning type is tuning two distinct strings each in a different way. Tuning the 1st and 6th strings down similarly frequently gets a new name. The described above are not the only possible tunings. For instance, in “Stacked Actors” by Foo Fighters the guitarists use an AADGBE tuning, where 5th and 6th strings are forming an octave on the A note. In this tuning, they’ve dropped the 6th string down a perfect fifth and raised the 5th string a major second. At times, this tuning is referred to as “drop A,” since the 6th string is lowered to A. However, it is distinct from either “drop A” variants of drop D – drop 1 in the B key – or even the less common “drop A” tuned by such bands as Periphery and Mastodon – drop A 4th string in the D key.
This tuning is also known simply as DADGBE. It is probably the simplest alternate guitar tuning. When your guitar is tuned in Drop D, you will have no issues forming a power chord on the last three strings, anywhere along the neck. It is comfortable to shift around it, moving up and down, barring just the last 3 strings at the same fret with a single finger. The sole difference between the standard tuning and Drop D is that the 6th string is lowered a whole tone to a D, while in the standard tuning it is tuned at an E.
Drop D tuning is often employed in heavy metal and alternative rock genres. It is due to the frequent need of the guitarists to maintain extremely quick transitions between power chords. Nevertheless, Drop D has also found use in a lot of other music genres, such as folk, country, classical music, and blues. Because of Drop D’s similarity to standard tuning, it is recognized to be a good introduction into alternative guitar tunings, logically bringing to the exploration of Open D, DADGAD, and Drop D Drop G – both the 6th and 5th strings are lowered a tone.
Drop D permits taking chords with a bass or root note of D to be played with a D note an octave lower, than in the standard tuning. It also allows playing open D chords, which involved the 5th and 6th strings, helping to reach the full resonance of the guitar. This can particularly be of use for songs in the D major and D minor keys and has a very effective sounding when executed on acoustic guitar. Drop D tuning as well lets fingerpickers play chord shapes on higher positions along the neck, while keeping an alternate bass sounding. If you leave the last three strings open, they will vibrate in a sympathetic manner. It is pretty easy to achieve a drone effect using chords on the top three strings, while leaving the bottom three to vibrate freely.
Drop D is one of the most popular alternative guitar tunings in general. It is used by a wide range of modern metal and rock bands and artists, including Zakk Wylde, Metallica, Rage Against the Machine, Lamb of God, Lordi, Helmet, Rammstein, Avenged Sevenfold, Radiohead, Tool, Audioslave, Foo Fighters, Nirvana, Incubus, Quicksand, Creed, Silverchair, Muse, Evanescence, Fugazi, Soundgarden, Hatebreed, Terror, and many others.
Drop C tuning is quite similar to the tuning described above. If you’ve got a Drop D tuning on your guitar, you can easily tune it to Drop C by dropping all strings down by 2 semi-notes. Knowing this, it is pretty easy to tune your guitar to Drop C. There might be other ways of tuning as well, but this one seems to be the easiest. So, you can use standard tuning as a starting point, because it is the most common.
However, the term “Drop C tuning” may be employed to refer to two separate alternative tunings of the guitar.
CGCFAD is the most common tuning for what is called Drop C, although the term is not absolutely correct. This actually could be described as ‘dropping to a C in a standard D tuning,’ or ‘Drop D tuned down a whole step,’ where the entire tuning is moved to the D key and the low D is tuned down an additional full step to C. You can review the abovementioned and described Drop D in a previous section.
This tuning has a wide use in the rock and metal culture, implemented by such bands, as Bullet for My Valentine, Ill Nino, Mastodon, As I Lay Dying, Children of Bodom, Slo Burn, P.O.D., Killswitch Engage, Breaking Benjamin, System of a Down, Bring Me the Horizon, Staind, Helmet, Skillet, Seventh Star, Slipknot, Mudvayne, August Burns Red, Disturbed, Cult of Luna, Atreyu, Sleeping Giant, Norma Jean, The Carrier, and many others.
CADGBE is actually the technical determination of dropped C tuning. There’s no other way of defining it other than a “dropped C tuning.” You can achieve it by tuning your guitar in standard E key and then dropping the sixth string to a C. Although the actual dropped C tuning is rarely used today, there are some artists and bands, who implement it anyway (for example, John Mayer in the “Neon” song, and Muse in the “Map of the Problematique” song).
Although there are many different alternative guitar tunings, Drop D and Drop C take the lead in the modern world of rock music. They are the simplest to handle since they are very similar to the standard tuning and don’t require much time to learn playing them. If you need faster riffs with the tone close to the standard tuning, just go Drop D and play it. If you need a lower sound for greater drive and heavier tone, it’s definitely Drop C. Although these tunings are mostly used by rock bands and metal bands, there have been some singer-songwriters playing acoustic guitar, who have also employed them, such as Chris Carrabba of Dashboard Confessional. It just takes thought, imagination, inspiration, and effort to make it sound the way you want.