There’s nothing quite like a guitar with a growling low end. And if you play heavier genres of music, you may already be familiar with drop tuning and what it can do for your sound. Though drop A tuning is a little less common than some other lowered tunings (like drop D), it has the distinct advantage of letting you play power chords with a single bar. Here’s what you need to know about drop A tuning, complete with some drop A songs to learn.
What is Drop A Tuning?
Plenty of 7 string riffs in metal and similarly heavy genres are played in drop A tuning. As a drop tuning, drop A gives your guitar a powerful low end that really emphasizes the bass frequencies. It’s a great choice if you want a heavy, dark sound in a given song. And if you write music, alternate tunings like this one can give you new inspiration and help you get past any writer’s block you may have.
One of the main benefits of drop A tuning is that it allows you to play power chords using just a single finger to bar three strings. This is true whether you’re playing in drop A on a 7 string or a 6 string guitar. You might be surprised to hear that tuning a 7 string guitar to drop A only requires you to tune the lowest string down while tuning a 6 string to drop A requires you to tune all six strings down.
How to Tune Your Guitar in Drop A
Before you jump into drop A songs, you’ll need to make sure your guitar is tuned correctly. Here’s how to tune both a 7 string and a 6 string for drop A:
Drop A for 7 String Guitars
The standard tuning for a 7 string guitar, from thickest string to thinnest string, is B-E-A-D-G-B-E. So tuning in drop A on a 7 string is a lot like tuning a 6 string in drop D: you only “drop” the lowest string a whole step from B to A.
If you’re putting a 7 string in drop A, simply tune your low E down to an A. Make sure you’re using a reliable tuner!
Since you’re only dropping one string down, drop A for 7 string guitar is almost the equivalent to dropped D on a 6 string. Here’s your final tuning for all 7 strings:
- 7th string — A
- 6th string — E
- 5th string — A
- 4th string — D
- 3rd string — G
- 2nd string — B
- 1st string — E
Drop A for 6 String Guitars
Unless you’re a fairly metal-focused player, you probably don’t have a 7 string guitar lying around. But luckily, there’s a way to tune a 6 string to drop A as well!
Drop A tuning on a 6 string is a little more complicated. You’ll need to tune strings 1-5 down a perfect 4th (from standard tuning). Then your low E string is tuned down 3.5 steps.
So what does this look like? As you likely remember, standard tuning from 6th-1st string on a 6 string guitar is E-A-D-G-B-E.
When you’re tuning your guitar to drop A, you first drop the low E string 3 and a half steps to A. Tune the fifth string to E, the fourth string to A, the third string to D, the second string to F#, and the first string to A. Here’s a quick reference:
- 6th string — A
- 5th string — E
- 4th string — A
- 3rd string — D
- 2nd string — F#
- 1st string — A
Once you have your guitar tuned this way, you may notice some fret buzz. Tuning down, especially this much, takes a lot of the tension out of the strings. That makes them more likely to hit the frets and cause buzzing.
To fix that, you may need to adjust the action on your guitar a little higher. If you try drop A and want to use it sometimes, having one guitar that stays in drop A is ideal.But if you just have one guitar, a quick action adjustment is often all it takes.
Chords in Drop A Tuning
With drop A tuning, you can play songs in any key, and you can play all the chords you can on a guitar in standard tuning. But the main use of drop A tuning is playing power chords with a single finger.
Power chords are two-note chords made up of the root note and fifth. They are written as the root note name and the number 5 (so A5, C5, etc.). Power chords are neither major nor minor.
These chords are ideal for heavier genres of music. They usually only ask you to play the three thickest strings on the guitar. And because you can use the same finger shape or bar, switching between them becomes easier. Here are some especially useful chords to play in drop A:
Chords for 7 String Guitar
Part of the appeal of drop A on a 7 string is that it adds even more low end to your power chords. If you want to play an A5 chord, you only need the root note (A) and its perfect 5th (E). On a 7 string guitar, that means you would only hold down the third and fourth strings at the second fret. You can play this chord with the five heaviest strings, as the strings above the chord (closer to you as you play) are A and E. Don’t play strings one and two.
To play a C5, you’d bar the seventh, sixth, and fifth strings at the third fret without playing the rest of the strings. As you can probably see, the root of the power chord is whatever note you’re holding down on the seventh string. You can then move this single-finger, three-string bar around the neck to play different chords. Here’a a helpful guide to which chords are at which frets:
- A5 — open
- A#5 — 1st fret
- B5 — 2nd fret
- C5 — 3rd fret
- C#5 — 4th fret
- D5 — 5th fret
- D#5 — 6th fret
- E5 — 7th fret
- F5 — 8th fret
- F#5 — 9th fret
- G5 — 10th fret
- G#5 — 11th fret
Chords for 6 String Guitar
It’s much more common to have a 6 string guitar than it is to have a 7 string, so we’ll cover power chords for 6 string guitars, too. The way the guitar is tuned down might seem odd, but it achieves the same goal as drop A does on the 7 string guitar — it lets you play single-finger power chords.
In fact, the shape you use is the same — you just bar (and play) the three heaviest strings. Did you notice that the heaviest three strings on both the 6 string and 7 string guitars are tuned to the same thing? Both are tuned to A-E-A. That means the fingerings for power chords on the 6 string are the exact same as the fingerings on the 7 string, but only when both are in drop A tuning.
Songs in Drop A
Now that you know drop A tuning and how to play power chords with it, you’re probably ready to learn a song or two. Whether you’re looking for some 7 string guitar riffs to learn or just want to play in drop A on a 6 string, starting with a few well-known songs is always a good idea.
Here are some easy 7 string songs to play in drop A (although it’s perfectly fine to play on a 6 string, too). And if you’d like to improvise along, make sure to brush up on your scales!
If you want to start out with a well-known metal song, “Psychosocial” is perfect. Though it’s fast-paced and high-energy, its theme is ultimately both angry and sad. The song is from the perspective of someone who hates being alive.
This song is one of the most popular songs played in drop A tuning. Most lists of songs in drop A include it. It’s a good first choice, as the chords are pretty simple. You will need G#5, D#5, A#5, G5, and C5. You can see the tab and chords here.
2. “Supremacy” by Muse
In this song, you can really tell the difference the drop A tuning makes. From the start, “Supremacy” has a sinister air about it. And its theme is somewhat sinister too — the lyrics assert that freedom is nothing but a short-lived illusion. “Supremacy” is one of Muse’s heavier songs, but it still manages to tread the line between rock and metal.
If you’re fairly new to playing lead guitar, you might want to try out this song’s catchy, single-string riff. It’s easy to play, but it sounds great. It can also help you get used to moving quickly up and down the neck as you play. It doesn’t matter if you’re playing on a 7 string or a 6 string guitar — you play the riff on the heaviest string, or the one closest to you as you play. This helpful tab can get you started!
3. “Welcome to the Fold” by Filter
This energetic song is more rock than metal, but from the beginning, you can really feel the low-end punch. It’s a song fraught with emotion, and the solo before the bridge is especially powerful.
This detailed tab shows you what you need to know in order to play the song. If you’re playing chords, you will mostly need A5, C5, and D5.
4. “Remember Everything” by Five Finger Death Punch
Drop A tuning is perfect for heavy, angry songs, but it also adds some unexpected depth to acoustic pieces. You can hear that on “Remember Everything,” a somber meditation on a fraught parent-child relationship.
You can of course play this song through an overdriven amp with plenty of distortion, but it sounds especially poignant when played clean. Plenty of people have even done acoustic covers of it! And if you want, you can even venture into fingerpicking as you learn to play it. Check out the helpful and detailed tab here.
Now you’ve gotten a crash course in drop A tuning. But if you’re like a lot of players, you probably have some questions. Here are some common ones:
Though anyone can play in drop A, this tuning is most often found in rock and heavy metal. Distorted, powerful, and bass-heavy tones are popular in these genres, and drop A tuning can deliver all three. Notable bands that sometimes use drop A tuning include Slipknot, Coheed and Cambria, Foo Fighters, Muse, and Staind.
Technically you can, but there are a couple things to consider. Most guitars will need their action raised when tuned to drop A, as the slack strings are more likely to buzz against the frets. If you want your guitar to sound its best and remain very playable, you may need to adjust the action each time you change tunings.
Changing your tuning on a daily or near-daily basis can be bad for your guitar’s tuning pegs and nut over time. It’s possible for tuning pegs to get worn out, and the nut slots can start to wear down, too.
Kind of. When you tune down, you’re lessening the tension on the strings. That makes them vibrate more, so they’re more likely to hit the fretboard and cause buzzing issues. Thicker strings have a smaller vibration and exert more tension on the neck than thin strings. So if you use a heavier gauge, you’re less likely to get fret buzz. And if you still need to adjust your guitar’s action, it likely won’t be by much.
No, the fingering patterns for drop A tuning aren’t the same as they are in standard tuning. However, they’re the same as they are in drop D tuning.
However, if you’re playing power chords using only the thickest three strings, the fingerings are the same between a 7 string and 6 string as long as both are tuned to drop A.
Drop A tuning has two main advantages when it comes to heavier genres of music. Since it’s lower, it delivers a rumbling, bass-like tone. It also makes it possible to play power chords with only one finger. Since plenty of rock and metal songs have a relatively high bpm, this simplified chord shape is ideal for rhythm guitarists.
Alternate tunings are one of the best ways to add some life and variety into your playing. And while A lot of 7 string songs use this tuning, you can play it on a 6 string guitar, too. If you’reready to make your power chords even more powerful than before, try drop A!