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Full Step Down Tuning: Why You Might Use It (2022 Edition)

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If you’re curious about full step down tuning for the guitar and why someone would use this tuning, this post is for you!

Guitar Goes Way Beyond the Standard E Tuning

When you start off on a guitar, the instrument seems complicated. After a while, maybe 6 to 12 months, it may seem a bit limiting in some aspects. In particular, I’m talking about the instrument’s tuning. Sure, the tuning is conceived in such a way to allow you to easily go through chords and scales.

But what if you want to go lower? Is there a way to get that covered? The simple answer is yes. Essentially, you can go as low as you want, but only as long as you can get decent tension out of each string, as well as tuning stability.

Although the E standard tuning is the most widespread, there are so many alternatives. You can detune all strings and keep the same distribution of intervals among them. But you can also use different tunings, like open tunings. In short, the guitar is a much more versatile instrument than it might seem at first.

Full Step Down Tuning

However, what I’ll be discussing in this article is full step-down tuning. However, to understand it, let’s first take a closer look at the E standard. From the bottom to the high string, it goes:

  • E2
  • A2
  • D3
  • G3
  • B3
  • E4

But what does the E standard tuning actually mean? If you play all of these strings together, they do form a chord. Sure, it’s a weird one, but it’s still a chord. There are many ways to define it though. But we could call it an E minor 11.

What we’re interested in, however, is the relations between two neighboring strings. Essentially, we have all perfect 4th intervals except with 2nd and 3rd strings. Here we have the major 3rd interval. So the top two strings, E and B, are kind of “shifted” one semitone lower.

However, we can keep the same distribution of intervals and just go lower. This is what we’re aiming for here. So this means that the bottom and top strings are D. And we refer to this tuning as D standard. From the bottom to the top string, it looks like this:

  • D2
  • G2
  • C3
  • F3
  • A3
  • D4

As you can see, it’s not that complicated. You get the same distribution of intervals between strings. What this means in practice is that you can use the same chord and scale shapes as if you were playing in the E standard tuning. However, you’ll need to move them up two frets higher if you want to keep the same key or root note.

How to Go One Full Step Down?

The simplest and quickest way is to use an electric tuner. This is what every guitar player should always have. Just aim for the notes that I mentioned above.

However, in my honest opinion, you should always strive to do everything by ear. When it comes to tuning, using your ears more will help you feel and understand your instrument better.

So the first thing that you should do is drop the bottom string one whole step lower. You can do this by playing it along with the 4th string. You should slowly lower the pitch until you notice that they’re exactly one octave from one another. This shouldn’t be difficult but it may take some time to get used to it.

Next up, you should move on to the 5th string. And you can tune it according to the bottom D string that you just tuned.

Press the bottom string on the 5th fret. Then play the open 5th string and keep lowering the pitch until it matches the 6th string. After that, you just follow the same pattern as you would in the E standard tuning. When you get to the 2nd string, your reference should be the 3rd string on the 4th fret. Everything else is 5th fret.

But I should add one more important tip here. When you’re tuning down, you shouldn’t just lower the tuning to the desired note. Go slightly below it and then tune up to the aimed frequency. This should keep your tuning more stable.

What’s It Good for?

So now we get to the main part. What’s the deal with this kind of tuning? What’s the main use for the D standard?

Well, you’ll mostly see it in metal, hard rock, and similar genres. On an electric guitar with distortion on, you get a specific tone on the bottom strings if you tune down. You’ll get a slightly heavier tone with this approach.

Another use of this tuning is when you just want to transpose two steps lower and yet keep the same fingerings of a song. It’s also what we often see in metal music. Since this is guitar-driven music, changing positions to transpose won’t yield the best results. These riffs and chord progressions will just sound off. So just detune them and use the same shapes that you did in the E standard tuning.

The main reason for this is to adapt to a vocalist. A lot of metal bands have originally recorded some pretty high-pitched vocals. And as vocalists age, they can no longer hit those high notes so easily. So tuning down one semitone or one whole step is a common practice. All of the guitar parts will sound pretty similar and they won’t change their character. In some cases, bands will even tune one-and-a-half or two whole steps lower.

Of course, the practice isn’t uncommon outside of metal music either. You’ll find it with some acoustic players as well. Especially if they’re performing on their own or with a very small band. Extending your range in the lower territories can help you sound fuller.

Some other electric guitar players might also use it. Some classic rock, punk, or even pop musicians might do it. The simplest answer here is that anyone can use it if fits their goals.

Full Step Down Tuning: Conclusion

I hope this article has helped you think through full step down tuning and if this tuning is one you want to explore!

And if you want to read more about the different types of tunings and their uses on this blog, then check out:

Lastly, feel free to leave a message in the comments below if you have questions about this or another guitar-related topic!

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