Drop D is a very common tuning amongst ’90s Metal and Rock bands, and even nowadays. It’s quite a simple alternative tuning to the standard EADGBE, as it only modifies the low E string, and the rest stay the same. It facilitates power chords in a barre chord shape on the three low strings, making it easy to slide riffs and alternate them with a D chord or open D notes.
This is a typical metal standard and phrasing that you will only be too accustomed to if you grew up through the late ’90s and early 2000s. It sounds BIG, and since strings that ring out just sound thicker, it gives a very pleasant sound.
Drop D Tuning
The resulting notes each string is tuned to is D A D G B E.
- A little pro-tip for tuning your low E string to D and back to E is to play your 3rd string and tune it an octave below that. It means working on your musical ear, but it’s easy to get used to and very effective. To go back to standard tuning, just ring out your high E string, and that will give you a reference tone again to tune it back to E.
My Top Drop D Songs Pick
Most lists you will find online reference only rock/metal songs. Mostly songs of nu-metal or rock bands of the ’90s. I think I have managed to include all kinds of genres, although yes, rock is my first language on Drop D tuning, and it is also interesting to try and transcribe songs to this tuning and make use of that low D string a bass note.
Most songs on this list are in Drop D and played that way. Some are in Drop C# tuning (which is everything tuned down a half step and then Drop D’d), and some are just songs that suit that tuning thanks to the sonority that Drop D gives us.
Radiohead – I Might Be Wrong
Radiohead is one of my favourite groups of all time. Their songs are beautifully structured, and having a shot at learning their songs will give you a wide arrange of tricks up your sleeve.
This song has hardly any chords but has a cool plucking thing going on—good stuff for practising finger-picking at a constant rhythm. “I Might Be Wrong” is Radiohead’s first single from their 2001 album “Amnesiac”.
Radiohead – Lotus Flower
From their 2011 album King Of Limbs, Lotus Flower is initially a more techno, hyper-produced kind of song. But in some live versions, Thom plays it in Drop D in an arrangement I find beautiful. A very cool song to play and sing at the same time. This song earned them the Grammy for Best Rock Song and Best Rock Performance.
John Mayer – Your Body is a Wonderland
If Drop D tuning is usually associated with metal and rock songs, this one breaks the norm. It’s a great example of how Drop D tuning can be used just for the sake of having a low E string fit in better with how we position our hands for different chords voicings.
Your Body is a Wonderland was released 20 years ago, in 2001, in his album “Room for Squares”. I don’t think I’m too far off if I say this is the song that rose him to fame.
Foo Fighters – Everlong
This is probably one of the first songs I will try once I tune down to Drop D. It’s easy, sounds good, and is a heck of a banger. A word of praise to how harmonically this is fit in perfectly with Drop D tuning and works so well as an acoustic version too.
This song was released in 1997 in Foo Fighters album “The Colour and Shape”. For me and many others, this song defines our adolescence.
Three Days Grace – I Hate Everything About You
This riff comes off as quite an interesting one since you place a regular major chord (as if it were standard tuning) over the Drop D tuning. This is from Three Days Grace homonymous album, back from 2003. This goes with nearly every metal band listed here, but this is not the only Drop D song in their repertoire, but it is the one I find most interesting.
Nirvana – Heart-Shaped Box
As with most great bands out there, live performances are just so much more spectacular to reference than the studio version. Cobain is an excellent guitarist, but his grungy style stands out here as he doesn’t even try to make it sound as clean as possible. A good song for practising single note picking, and the riff itself is quite simple but sounds great.
I sometimes even forget that Foo Fighters Dave Grohl was Nirvana’s drummer. Oh! and the last thing: Yes, this is actually in Drop C# in the studio version. But if you don’t have your guitar tuned down a half step, playing this in Drop D will give you more or less the same result.
Green Day – Whatshername
I’d say Whatshername is one of Green Days lesser-known songs off the American Idiot album. The album is, for me, still a compositional masterpiece, from Jesus of Suburbia to American Idiot. Whatshername relies on simple power chords on the three bottom strings and still doesn’t sound that simple at all.
The rest of the instruments give the song a very well rounded sound, and the vocal line is excellent. American Idiot was released in 2004 under the alternative/indie rock genre.
Havalina – Desinspiración
Going off the charts, Havalina is a prog metal band from Spain with a really potent sound, great guitar riffs and even better drum tracks. They started off in 2001, and this album, “Imperfección”, was released in 2009.
If you’re interested in European rock and metal bands, you should seriously check them out, as they’re imbued with some Spanish flamenco background, and most of their sounds have that Drop D tuning and even Drop C. This song, specifically, works as an acoustic version as well as a full-on band version, which is something I appreciate.
Fall Out Boy – Sugar We’re Going Down
This is such a throwback to MTV days. If you’re a ’90s kid, this song rings a bell for sure. This is probably one of Fall Out Boy’s biggest hits, along with the next song on the list.
It’s another very simple yet effective punk rock riff song, mostly with power chords along the bottom and some easy riffs laid on top. Sugar We’re Going Down was released in 2005 in their album “From Under The Cork Tree”. It won Kerrang’s Best Video award and other MTV awards back in the day.
Fall Out Boy – Beat It
There’s something to be said for a band that can cover a Michael Jackson song and do it to this standard. Patrick Stump, the lead singer, delivers some great vocals on this, proving he has an awe-inspiring range. Some still argue that singers nowadays don’t have to deliver as they did 20 years ago thanks to all these improvements in autotune, and this may well be a great example.
Also featured on this track is another artist that has already been on this list, but under a completely different genre: John Mayer. One of the last living guitar legends, his performances on other artists tracks just ring out with such a defined personality.
You know immediately it’s him. This song was released in a Live in Phoenix album in 2008. If you don’t know the other famous metal rendition of a Michael Jackson song, listen to Ant Alien Farm!
Paramore – Decode
I remember discovering this band and their first two studio albums thanks to the Twighlight films. Not that I watched them straight off the bat, but both Paramore and Muse got an incredible commercial boost thanks to these films that did so well back in the day.
This song, which is not technically in Drop D, and neither does it use the low D note at any time, benefits from a Drop D tuning just for how it’s played. It’s a bit along the lines of Sugar We’re Going Down and Whatshername. Decode was released as a single back in 2008 and won Teen Choice Awards for best rock song and MTV Movie award for best song in a movie.
Avenged Sevenfold – Bat Country
Avenged Sevenfold was another one of those metal bands you got into back when you were a teen, right alongside Korn, Linkin Park, Deftones, etc.
As a singer back then, I was always very impressed with M. Shadows vocals; that range and roar he had were at the top of the game. Bat Country is one of the more technically advanced songs on this list, with quick power chords, slides and changes, and fast riffs. Legendary Synyster Gates, ladies and gentlemen. This song was released in their album “City of Evil” in 2005.
RATM – Killing in The Name of
I haven’t included any songs on this list previous to 1995; this is the only one. I know there are more old-school songs than this that use a Drop D tuning, but I can’t list them all! The groove of these songs plays on the bottom D string with a great funky style, adding a chromatic riff at the beginning and some barre chords later.
Tom Morello is an excellent guitarist to reference and learn from if you like unusual metal phrasings. Killing in The Name was incredibly their first released single in 1991 and goes down in history. Denzel Curry’s version on “Like a Version” is also very much worth checking out on Youtube!
Muse – Stockholm Syndrome
Dead Star, Fury, Assassin, and many other songs by Muse are in Drop D, but I picked this one for the riff. Muse was, and still is, one of my favourite bands, as it stretches a wide variety of genres in all their albums. Their first studio albums were best, leading up to Black Holes and Revelations.
This song is from their album from 2003 called Absolution. I still envy Matthew Bellamy’s skills for playing and singing at the same time- it is not easy to deliver an excellent vocal performance and play this riff at the same time.
Soundgarden – Black Hole Sun
Chris Cornel is one of the legends from the ’90s prog and nu-metal bands, very much similar to the style of Queens of The Stone Age, in case you didn’t know.
Heavy riffs and chugging power chords are the norm for these bands, and this song is no different. I remember the first time I discovered this song was through a University professor who played it in class at one point, and from then on I was hooked. This is one more song from before 1995 actually, released in 1994 in their album Superunkown.
System Of A Down – BYOB
If you took Muse’s Stockholm Syndrome and raised the bar, technicality and speed, you kind of end up with this. This is another song that is actually in Drop C# but still works well in Drop D. System Of A Down is a band of Armenian musicians raised in LA.
This is curious, because you can hear their heritage in their music, and I remember it being a band that I had to wrap my head around until I finally started to enjoy their music.
It didn’t come easy, but it definitely broadened my musical taste, which is something I think we should all aim for. The album Mesmerize, which this song is on, is an absolute masterpiece, released in 2005. SOAD won Grammy for best rock performance with this song.
Tool – Schism
Tools dark, eery sound is something that you either like or you don’t. They are a reference for those who listen to “prog metal”. If you’re into mathematical rock, complicated time signatures and great drumming, check them out.
Nearly all their songs are in Drop D, and their phrasing and riffs are very unique. 7/8 is a constant in their songs, as you’ll see. Schism was included in their album Lateralus, from 2001. After this album, they spent a 20-year hiatus until they dropped another album.
Billy Talent – Fallen Leaves
We’re getting in the hard metal part of the list now. This song is not that difficult and a joy to play. This is one of the first songs I learned in my first band.
So if you have any doubts if you could learn how to nail this song if you’ve only been playing for six months: rest assured, it’s not that difficult; you can do it. Most of Billy Talents songs are in Drop D, so if you like this one, there are more on their albums, Billy Talent and Billy Talent II.
Reuben – Stuck in My Throat
Surprisingly Reuben went under my radar until only a few years ago. This band would have completely fit into the style of songs I was playing and listening to back in the day, but unfortunately, I didn’t discover them till now. This song is in Drop C#, but it can also be played in Drop D to the same effect and can also be played as an acoustic version.
The epic drums and an incredible melody give this song a great edge, not to mention the roar at the beginning, which sounds nearly better than Chester Bennington’s voice! This song is on their 2004 album “Racecar is Racecar Backwards”.
Marilyn Manson – Beautiful People
Not much to say about this song, you probably already know Marilyn Manson, and this is one of his most well-known songs, with more than 227 million views on Youtube. This was released in his album “Antichrist Superstar” in 1996.
Question: How do You Play in Drop D?
Answer: The most common way of playing in Drop D is barring either your index finger or ring finger from playing power chords on the bottom three strings (DAD), which is the root, fifth and root an octave higher. It doesn’t give away if you’re on a minor or significant scale, either.
Question: Is Drop D Easier to Play?
Answer: Some songs are easier to play in Drop D, making forming power chords and getting a “heavier” sound easier.
Question: What is the Difference Between Drop D and Standard D
Answer: Standard D is like standard tuning in E, but with every string dropped a whole step. With Drop D, it’s only the low E string to D.
Question: Can You Play Drop D songs in Standard Tuning?
Answer: Yes, you can. You won’t have access to a low, deep D note in the bottom string, that’s all.
Question: Do Most Metal Bands Play in Drop D?
Answer: I’d say it’s not the most “metal” of tunings. You’ve got Drop C#, and Drop B. Drop B is, indeed, very metal.