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One of the most interesting aspects of guitars is the possibility of changing the pitch of the strings in order to explore a different register or approach to the same instrument. Continue reading our Drop A Guitar tuning guide to learn more.
Some of the most popular tunings are what we call “Drop tunings.” In summary, Drop tunings have the 6th string tuned lower than usual. It will typically be tuned an octave lower from the 4th string’s pitch.
Drop tunings are mostly used by guitarists who are into heavier music, such as heavy metal, death metal, and other genres that usually feature high gain distortion.
Power chords sound fat and chunky in these tunings, and they are extremely easy to play (even easier than power chords in standard tuning)!
These tunings can also work very well with an acoustic guitar, to better complement the voice of a singer that has a lower vocal range.
The most common Drop tuning is Drop D because it is the easiest to tune, play, and maintain comfortable string tension since other tunings such as Drop C and Drop B involve tuning down all the strings on the guitar. Drop D, however, only requires you to tune down the 6th string (an E in standard tuning) to a D.
This guide is going to focus on one of the most extreme Drop tunings – Drop A Guitar Tuning.
What is Drop A guitar tuning, and how do I tune my guitar to it?
The reason why Drop A is one of the most extreme Drop tunings is the fact that you need to lower the 6th string quite a lot (a perfect fifth below E), and the remaining strings are tuned a perfect fourth lower.
One thing you absolutely can’t overlook when tuning this low is adjusting your string gauge and having your guitar set up for the tuning you are planning to use.
This will make playing more comfortable, as the strings won’t feel all wobbly and loose, and your guitar’s neck will be prepared to handle the difference in tension, avoiding intonation and neck curvature issues.
For Drop A, it would be advisable to try at least a .012 string gauge.
Let’s start analyzing this tuning by comparing it to standard tuning, which you should be familiarized with the most.
Starting from the lowest string, standard tuning has the following notes:
E, A, D, G, B, e
In comparison, you must tune to these notes to get to Drop A Guitar tuning:
A, E, A, D, F#, B
If you have ever checked out how baritone guitars are tuned, you will notice that they are usually tuned very similarly to Drop A. Every string is tuned to the same pitch, except for the lowest, which is tuned to a B instead of an A.
While there are some tricks to help you tune a guitar by ear, to be fair, when going as low as Drop A, it is best to simply use a tuner to make sure that all of your notes are pitch perfect. Don’t forget to check all the strings again once you’ve finished tuning the first time.
You will need to lower every string a perfect fourth lower, and the 6th string is dropped an additional whole step, from B to A.
Here’s a visual representation of how Drop A looks like in a guitar’s strings:
How to play chords in Drop A Guitar tuning
To be fair, most of the time that people play in Drop A, they mostly use the lowest 3 strings for riffs based on power chords, which are the easiest to play in this tuning.
They also have a very distinct sound due to the fact that you play them with only one finger barring the lowest 3 strings in the same fret.
Let’s start by checking out how power chords work in Drop A tuning and then look at how you can play other types of chords in this tuning.
Power chords are the easiest chords to play in Drop A.
All you need to do is find the root note of the chord you want to play and then barre the lowest 3 strings with your index finger.
You will need to get used to finding notes in the 6th string since it is no longer tuned in E. However, you can just think of it as if it was the 5th string in standard tuning since that one is tuned to an A as well.
With that in mind, start by memorizing these, and expand your fretboard knowledge from there:
- The open 6th string is an A,
- The third fret is a C,
- The fifth fret is a D
- The seventh fret is an E
- The ninth fret is an F#
- The tenth fret is a G
- The twelfth fret is an A, one octave higher from the open string.
The following guitar tab will teach you how to play a few power chords in Drop A tuning:
In order to practice finding your root notes quickly, you can try to figure out guitar songs that you have learned in the past while limiting yourself to playing only power chords.
You can also run scales with power chords or just call out random notes and find them as fast as you can.
With time, this should come naturally to you.
The beautiful thing about playing open chords on the guitar is the resonance you get from the open strings ringing. It has a distinctive chime that you just don’t get with fretted notes.
They sound great with a clean sound, so make sure you try these voicings if you’re tuning an acoustic guitar to Drop A.
The diagrams below give you a few pointers on open chords in this tuning.
Major chords are built with a root note, a major third, and a perfect fifth. Below, you will find a few examples of major chord voicings that you can play in Drop A.
Minor chords have a root note, a minor third, and a perfect fifth. The only difference from major chords is the third, which is one semitone lower.
You can find some minor chord voicings in Drop A tuning in the diagrams below.
Seventh or dominant chords have a root note, a major third, a perfect fifth, and a minor seventh.
They are widely used in blues, as the most common progression is made up of dominant chords exclusively, but you can find them in any music genre.
Here are some ways of playing dominant chords when tuned to Drop A guitar tuning.
Scales in Drop A guitar tuning
Generally, most music that is written using Drop tunings is in its corresponding key. This means that musicians playing in Drop A take advantage of the low A string to write music around that key center.
For that reason, this section will show you where to find the notes that correspond to the most popular scales in the key of A, starting with the major scale.
A Major Scale
The major scale can be described numerically as “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7”. This means that every interval is major (2nd, 3rd, 6th, and 7th) or perfect (4ths and 5ths).
In the A Major scale, we have the following set of notes:
The scale diagram that you will find below represents every note that belongs to the A Major scale when you tune your guitar to Drop A.
You can use this diagram and the ones that will appear later to help memorize important strings, such as the 6th, to play power chords quickly.
A Natural Minor Scale
The natural minor scale can be described numerically as “1, 2, b3, 4, 5, b6, b7“. In comparison to the major scale, its 3rd, 6th, and 7th degrees have been flattened, which means they are one semitone lower.
In the key of A, this scale has the following notes:
You have probably noticed that there are no sharps or flats, which makes this a great scale to learn while you are starting to get used to this new tuning.
Here is how this scale looks like on a guitar’s fretboard:
A Major Pentatonic Scale
The reason why the major pentatonic scale is being included here is that it is one of the most used and abused scales by musicians spanning across every genre, alongside the minor pentatonic.
It consists of the major scale but without its 4th and 7th scale degrees, which are the notes D and G# in A Major.
In the key of A, that would correspond to these notes:
Here is where you will find those notes on a guitar that has been tuned to Drop A.
A Minor Pentatonic Scale
The minor scale is also one of the scales that musicians rely on the most for improvisation, as it has many different ways to be applied.
It is the same as the natural minor scale, except that it has its 2nd and 6th degrees removed. In A minor, that corresponds to B and F.
In A minor, that corresponds to the following scale:
A Harmonic Minor Scale
The harmonic minor scale is the one that has the most exotic sound to it, thanks to the big interval between its 6th and 7th degrees.
It can be described numerically as “1, 2, b3, 4, 5, b6, 7”.
In summary, it is like having a natural minor scale, but with a natural 7th.
Many musicians use this scale to improvise and also to build melodies that have a different sound from the ones written around the natural minor scale.
In the key of A, we get the following scale:
Here is the corresponding diagram, illustrating the location of each of these notes on the fretboard.
Examples of songs played using Drop A tuning with TABs
This section will get you started on Drop A tuning with some song examples that incorporate this tuning. You can learn some of them to understand how this tuning is typically used.
You will notice that these examples are all heavy songs with a lot of distortion. It is simply because this is a tuning that attracts musicians that want to play low, deep, and powerful sounds, and tuning such as Drop A works amazingly well for that.
Slipknot – Sarcastrophe
Slipknot is known for using Drop A a lot. The song Sarcastrophe is a great way to start getting used to this tuning. The main riff isn’t very difficult to play. As long as you start slow and build up the tempo from there to make sure that you are playing every note accurately; otherwise, it will sound unclear.
Volumes – Wormholes
The song “Wormholes” by Volumes is another example of a song that you can learn as you’re getting into Drop A.
The tab below is only a fraction of the song, there are other riffs and ideas that you can grab and practice isolated from the rest of the song.
This one uses bends to create a dissonant effect throughout the riff.
Coheed and Cambria – Gravity’s Union
Coheed and Cambria are also fond of Drop A, and you can hear it in their song “Gravity’s Union.” This riff uses a mix of intervals across the 5th and 4th strings with power chords, making it perfect for you to practice your Drop A guitar skills and maybe come up with a new idea for one of your compositions.
Muse – Citizen Erased
Although Muse isn’t the heaviest sounding band out there, they have also tuned down to Drop A for some songs, which proves that it can sound just as good in other music genres that aren’t metal.
The intro riff features some tasty artificial harmonics, which sound great with the lower tuning and distortion. The rest of the song is worth checking out as well!
Dragonforce – Three Hammers
Dragonforce has always been known for its fast riffs and blazing solos. This power metal band also uses Drop A for several of their songs, such as Three Hammers.
It might be tricky to be able to play this at the original tempo while being very accurate, but practice consistently and you will get there sooner than you might expect!
Additional songs that feature Drop A tuning
Here are some additional songs that have also been written in Drop A tuning, so you can learn some more music of this kind, or simply explore to see how it sounds and how people take advantage of it.
- Slipknot – Psychosocial
- Jinjer – Pisces
- Bloodbath – Eaten
- Nile – Sacrifice Unto Sebek
- Foo Fighters – Stacked Actors
- Staind – King of All Excuses
- Slipknot – The Heretic Anthem
- Amon Amarth – Guardians of Asgaard
- Muse – Supremacy
As you are learning songs by other artists, you might be inspired by a certain fragment of that song, which might lead to an original idea of yours. This is one of the best parts about transcribing and learning how to play other people’s music!
Drop A Guitar Tuning – Conclusion
Drop A tuning is a fantastic way to explore a lower register that the guitar can reach but isn’t available if you are using standard tuning.
Most players take advantage of this lower range to play heavy music with distortion and power chords, but it also sounds deep and full if you try it out on an acoustic guitar.
Tuning to Drop A is not difficult, but you must not forget to make the necessary changes to play comfortably and avoid damage to your instrument.
Have your guitar set up by a professional if you aren’t comfortable doing it yourself. Adjust the truss rod and the action at the bridge.
Also, consider using a heavier string gauge; otherwise, your strings will feel very loose compared to standard tuning.
Try it out, and you might be inspired to write new music once you start exploring the new sounds that you will have at your disposal!