6.25.2013

Power Chord Habits: Part IV (The Drop-D Lesson)


This is going to be the fourth and final installment of the Power Chord Habits series, and in this chapter, there's only one topic that I want to cover: Drop-D.
James Mead of Kutless
James Mead of Kutless hitting up some drop-D

Some people think it's cheap, but that's ridiculous. It's a tuning. You can't tune your guitar to make it easier on yourself or to somehow cheat. It's still just strings stretched over a fretboard with some electronics in it, which means the only thing you can do to make that process easier is practice.

So that's what we'll do here; we'll practice our power chords in drop-D and cover a few different concepts that relate to playing in that tuning.

Drop-D Tuning

I suppose the first thing we should do is a quick review of what exactly "drop-D" is. Simply put, you're tuning the sixth string from E to D; plain and simple.

Thus the tuning comes out like this: D-A-D-G-B-E

In turn, that means the power chord shapes we've been using no longer apply; in fact, they get easier. For example, if a G power chord in standard tuning looks like this...

E|-----
B|-----
G|-----
D|--5--
A|--5--
E|--3--


...then the same chord in drop-D will look like this...

E|-----
B|-----
G|-----
D|--5--
A|--5--
D|--5--


...which means that you can now play that power chord with just one finger, which is pretty good news for anyone who is into the modern rock or metal scene.

This tuning is pretty widespread and popular among alternative rock, nu-metal and other modern rock genres, because of how easy it makes transitioning between chords. When a progression of power chords can be played with one finger, the speed with which you will be able to change between those chords increases tremendously, thus fitting in nicely with the metal and heavy rock styles.

Is it cheating?

Opinions will differ, but my take on drop-D is that it's no more cheating than any other kind of tuning. My advice would be this: Don't play in drop-D all the time, because it shouldn't replace standard tuning.

Instead, maybe spend 60-70 percent of your time in standard and 30-40 percent in drop-D. Just a suggestion, but don't be afraid to use it if it works for your style.

Make sure that if you can fly through power chords in drop-D, that you can also hold you own in standard tuning where it takes two or three fingers to play most power chords instead of one.

Moving through Drop-D Power Chords

The only real "form" is the one we saw up top, so that's all we'll worry about in this article. When you move through progressions use your pointer and ring finger as anchors. How you move between chords is up to you, whether you choose to slide or switch fingers.

To get started, let's try something simple:

E|-----------
B|-----------
G|-(D)(F)(G)-
D|--0--3--5--
A|--0--3--5--
D|--0--3--5--


It doesn't get much more straightforward than this.

Note that the chords you're playing are D, F and G, not to be confused with E, G and A. This is because the sixth string is tuned down one whole step, from E to D, thus the chords all move down as well.

As far as what fingers you use, the first chord (D) will obviously be open, while the second (F) should be grabbed with your first finger and the third (G) should be picked up with your ring finger.

I don't want to divulge too much into which fingers to use in which situations, because typically, that's going to be mostly decided by muscle memory and your own preferences. Just use the fingers that are comfortable for you, as you'll probably be able to tell if you're doing something that's inefficient.

Let's go through a few more progressions:

E|---------------
B|---------------
G|---------------
D|--0--10--5--7--
A|--0--10--5--7--
D|--0--10--5--7--


E|------------------
B|------------------
G|------------------
D|--3--5--8--1--10--
A|--3--5--8--1--10--
D|--3--5--8--1--10--


E|----------------------
B|----------------------
G|----------------------
D|--12--10--7--3--5--0--
A|--12--10--7--3--5--0--
D|--12--10--7--3--5--0--


Remember the section of Part I where I talked about the most typical frets that your power chords will fall on? I had a list for drop-D as well, which goes as follows:





  • Open --D
  • 3rd -- F
  • 5th --  G
  • 7th -- A
  • 8th -- Bb
  • 10th -- C
  • 12th -- D
  • - See more at: http://www.guitarchalk.com/2013/06/power-chord-habits-part-one-guitar.html#sthash.mhxNIu8J.dpuf









  • Open --D
  • 3rd -- F
  • 5th --  G
  • 7th -- A
  • 8th -- Bb
  • 10th -- C
  • 12th -- D
  • - See more at: http://www.guitarchalk.com/2013/06/power-chord-habits-part-one-guitar.html#sthash.mhxNIu8J.dpuf
    • Open --D
    • 2nd --  E 
    • 3rd -- F
    • 5th --  G
    • 7th -- A
    • 8th -- Bb
    • 10th -- C
    • 12th -- D








  • Open --D
  • 3rd -- F
  • 5th --  G
  • 7th -- A
  • 8th -- Bb
  • 10th -- C
  • 12th -- D
  • - See more at: http://www.guitarchalk.com/2013/06/power-chord-habits-part-one-guitar.html#sthash.mhxNIu8J.dpuf
    Because of where these notes fall, most (not all) of your chord progressions in drop-D will be made up of these frets, thus it pays to practice them and know what notes they are. The best way to do that is by spending a little time engaging in boring memorization, and the rest of the time learning by habit and repetition.

    Jumping from the Sixth to the Fifth String in Drop-D

    As far as concepts go, drop-D is pretty straightforward. You just need to spend a lot of time using the chords and getting used to the progressions. Once you do, you'll find that the tuning is pretty easy to play in.

    One concept that I do want to address however, is that of changing from a sixth string power chord to a fifth string power chord when you have your guitar in drop-D.

    It's not terribly complex, but note that you'll be moving between playing a power chord with one finger, to then having to play a power chord with three fingers.

    For example, take the following tab:

    E|--------
    B|--------
    G|-----7--
    D|--5--7--
    A|--5--5--
    D|--5-----


    The first chord you'll probably have barred with your pointer finger; but what about the second one?

    In this case, all you would have to do is place your ring finger on the seventh fret, mute the sixth string and then strum the fifth and fourth strings.

    Try picking through it like this:

    E|----------------------
    B|----------------------
    G|-------------------7--
    D|--------5h7-----7-----
    A|-----5-------5--------
    D|--5-------------------


    The idea is to get to that second chord to come out as smoothly as possible, and the good news is that the way in which these chords are shaped will make it pretty easy.

    Let's say that the second chord is on a different fret. For example:

    E|---------
    B|---------
    G|-----12--
    D|--7--12--
    A|--7--10--
    D|--7------


    In this situation you have to move your whole hand, and I would recommend getting to the second string first, then sliding up to the 10th fret. Here's what it would look like in single note form:

    E|--------------------------
    B|--------------------------
    G|----------------------12--
    D|--------7---------12------
    A|-----7-----7--/10---------
    D|--7-----------------------


    It's easier to get your pointer finger above the fifth string and then move up, then the other way around. It's a small detail, but I've found that this has helped me get around the fretboard more quickly when I'm making this kind of chord transition.

    Enjoy Your Power Chords

    As far your guitar and forming good power chord habits, that's about all I've got. Each tip has been pulled from my own playing experience, so if it helps you, great; if not, feel free to leave a comment or send me an email.

    Take the stuff that helps you and build it out yourself. The more you're able to do that, the more this kind of thing will help you beyond the time you spend reading it and the immediate practice sessions that follow.

    So when you practice your power chords, do your best to establish these habits and make them last. I guarantee that it will help your playing.

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    About Robert Kittleberger

    Robert is the founder and editor of Guitar Chalk and Guitar Bargain. You can get in
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