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Drop D: The Skeleton Key | Midwood Guitar Studio

Drop D: The Skeleton Key | Midwood Guitar Studio

Drop D: The Skeleton Key

One of the most versatile “alternative” tunings is also the most accessible. By dropping your low E down a whole step, you enter an alternate reality in which the key of D reigns supreme. The benefits to a solo guitarist are legion. Not only do you get a deeper low note, but the 6th string now forms an octave with your 4th string (with a fifth interval in between on the 5th string). This configuration enables you to play “bass” with your thumb and index finger, while the other fingers are free to explore chords and melodies! I like to start out jumping between the Major pentatonic boxes while my thumb and index finger establish a slow  Country Blues bass pattern by alternating between the 6th and 4th strings (throwing in the 5th string every few bars).

Bear in mind that the open 3rd (G,Perfect Fifth), 2nd (Major 6th), and 1st (E, Major 2nd) strings all sound “good” as well. Experiment with lifting fingers off and on the fretboard as you improvise. This is really a tuning that catches you when you fall.

It’s also useful to consider the chordal possibilities presented by that low D. Here are some shapes that follow the D Major scale and incorporate the 6th string:

Most of us associate drop D with the one finger power-chords used by  Led Zeppelin and countless Hard Rock acts to follow. It certainly does make riffing easier! That said, it’s used in all sorts of genres, from Country to Jazz to Classical. I hope that this inspires you to investigate some of its other possibilities. It is unique tuning that serves as an excellent introduction to the “open” sound.

Dec 31st 1969 Robinson Earle

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