A Thorough Guide to Drop B Tuning

Published Categorized as Guitar lessons

Are you looking to explore the outer realms of alternate tunings without going all experimental? Are you a fan of heavy metal and want to explore this side of yourself more with some different temperaments? Are you simply a fan of lower pitches and want to compose within the confines of a tuning that encourages such sounds?

Then join us today as we explore drop B tuning in all its facets including how to play chords and scales in drop B, how to tune to drop B, which strings to use, as well as some modern examples of songs in this tuning to get you started.

Table of Contents

What is Drop B Tuning (and How Can You Do It?)

Drop B tuning is one of the lowest mainstream tunings used in rock and alternative music. Generally, drop tunings don’t go further than drop A since it becomes harder to accurately render these sounds on record.

To compensate for these lower tunings, a heavier string gauge is used, typically a set of at least .012 strings. These will adjust the temperament and allow the drop tuning to work effectively. If this is your first time setting up a guitar in this way, you are best advised to go to a professional to learn how to do it first. This is not, after all, just a case of tuning the guitar a half-step down.

So, if we all understand standard tuning, then we might be a miffed to see that drop B is this from the lowest to the highest guitar strings:

  • B
  • F#
  • B
  • E
  • G#
  • C#

Playing Chords in Drop B

Even if the large majority of guitarists will use drop B tuning to play power chords, there is always the possibility of further harmonic exploration through different chord voicings. Just as in drop D tuning, the ability to play a power chord with just one finger is both handy and tasteful, giving it an edge over the low E string of standard tuning.

However, you are encouraged to experiment with your lowest string as much as possible and to come up with your own explorations on the fretboard. One way to do this is to use the drop B as more of a bass drone with your thumb and to use your other fingers to facilitate some more melodic excursions higher up the fretboard, working out for yourself which notes work with the low B tuning.

Power Chords

Still, though, power chords are likely the main thing people are going to be coming to this tuning for, and with good reason! They revolutionized and devolved harmony to an inconceivable extent when they first came about, showing that harmony and rhythm could once again be one. These chords really are the bread and butter of drop B tuning.

If you haven’t already played such chords in a drop tuning before, you can easily do so by pressing the length of your index finger along the bottom three strings in something akin to a barre shape.

The main issue for most people moving to a tuning like this is memorizing which notes are which. Standard tuning conditions our minds and muscle memory to remember the notes in a certain place on the fretboard so the use of a drop tuning like this might take a little getting used to.

Major Chords

Power chords are all well and good and many metal bands prefer them because of how malleable they are in terms of their tonality and harmony. They consist entirely of the root note, a 5th, and then the octave, thus rendering them devoid of any major or minor tonality. This makes them perfect springboards for metal music or any other style where tonal ambiguity is welcome and encouraged.

However, some day or other you are going to want to learn how to play major chords in drop B tuning. By contrast, a major chord contains a root note, a major 3rd, and a perfect 5th, often with doubling of some or all of these notes along the way. See, for example, the version of B major we have fashioned for you below to get a flavor of how to play it and what it consists of:

Drop B Major

Minor Chords

Just as you might have thought that power chords would be all you needed to write drop B tuning songs, a few songs later you might also realise that you can’t just get around with major chords in drop B. Considering how diametrically opposed major and minor chords often are, it might be surprising to learn how little difference there is in terms of the composition of the chords.

In fact, the difference lies in a single note. Where a major chord will feature a major 3rd, a minor chord will feature a minor chord, thus consisting of the root note, the minor 3rd, and the perfect 5th, alongside repetitions of some or all of these notes.

So conceived, we have merely to change one of the notes in the B major chord to achieve a B minor chord. And yet, through such a small change, greatness is achieved, and you will open up a whole new spectrum of sounds and harmonies to try out in drop B tuning.

A Thorough Guide To Drop B Tuning
Drop B Minor

If you have any intention of writing songs in drop B tuning, then you will want to learn as many chords and chord varieties as possible, lest you be caught compositionally with your pants down.

Seventh Chords

And then, just as you once thought only power chords or major chords were enough to sustain your curiosity in drop B tuning, you will inevitably soon tire just these two and seek new excitement and satisfaction. In such instances, it would not be at all surprising for you to turn to seventh chords for your next compositional hit.

So, where major and minor chords are in essence three-note chords, seventh chords are extended chords consisting of four notes, including the root note, the major 3rd, the perfect 5th, and then the 7th degree of the scale, the note that provides that signature tension.

This tension is why this chord finds such prevalent use in blues and jazz music and now you can play along yourself.

A Thorough Guide To Drop B Tuning
Drop B7

Open Chords

Of course, you might be the kind of guitarist who wants to eschew all the fancy terminology and just strum a few chords in this new tuning. Well, thankfully this is a tuning that facilitates such a viewpoint, allowing the user to capitalize on the dropped tuning without needing to compromise their preference for open chords.

Open chords – or cowboy chords as some prefer – provide a distinct sound thanks to the full open nature of the vibrations that occur when the strings are allowed to so boldly ring out.

A Thorough Guide To Drop B Tuning
Open Drop B Major

Playing Scales in Drop B

So, now you have a better understanding of how chords work in drop B tuning, let’s have a look at how scales are transposed in this tuning. Just as with drop D tuning, the heavy prevalence of such a temping low note usually results in many writing their songs in the key of B when in drop B tuning. As mentioned above, this is actually a great way of exercising the possibilities of this tuning for your own playing style, using your thumb to sustain the low B drone while allowing your other fingers to explore the upper echelons of the pitch. Still, it is nice to return actual scales from time to time.

B Major

This is what many would refer to as the mother of all scales, the scale from which all other scales are born. The intervals between the notes here will go as follows – 1st, 2nd, Major 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th.

If we look at the major scale in the key of B and work from the intervals above, we get this B, C#, D#, E, F#, G#, A#, and then we return back to B.

B Natural Minor

Closely mirroring the major scale is the natural minor scale which, when notated diagrammatically in terms of its intervals, looks like – 1st, 2nd, Minor 3rd, 4th, 5th, Minor 6th, Minor 7th, before returning to the root note again.

In comparison to the major scale, we see that three degrees of the scale are flattened by a semitone, the 3rd, 6th, and 7th degrees to be exact. If we render this in terms of the key of B, then we are left with B, C#, D, E, F#, G, A, and finally, again, B.

B Harmonic Minor

Divorced from the natural minor scale by the exceptionally large distance between the 6th and 7th scale degrees, this scale is rendered with a distinct sound that is hard to miss if you know what to listen out for.

Following the trend of the previous two scales, let us explore this scale diagrammatically in terms of its intervals: 1st, 2nd, Minor 3rd, 5th, 5th, Minor 6th, 7th, and then the root again. You should be able to see that the only thing that really separates the natural minor scale and the harmonic scale is the fact that the 7th degree of the latter scale is major whereas the same degree is minor in the former scale.

This is the reason for the exceptionally large distance between the 6th and 7th scale degrees in the harmonic minor – the equivalent of a minor 3rd (a minor within a minor if you will). If we take this and render it in the key of B, then we are left with B, C#, D, E, F#, G, A#, and then, again, the root of B.

B Major Pentatonic

Many would argue that the pentatonic scale in any of its permutations is one of the most useful tools in the composition of music. Not only is it an easy scale to navigate, being composed of only five notes, but it is a scale that easily sounds good with just about anything you throw it in with.

The major pentatonic is the same as the major scale but without two of its scale degrees, in this instance 4th and 7th (those degrees that together form a tritone interval within the scale. If we take the diagrammatic intervals of this scale (1st, 2nd, Major 3rd, 5th, and 6th) in the key of B major, then we are left with the following result: B, C#, D#, F#, and G#.

B Minor Pentatonic

Along with the major pentatonic, this minor pentatonic is another staple of a guitarist’s bag of tricks, allowing them to navigate just about any rock-based musical situation. This is often the first scale a guitarist will learn as it has so much standing in the realm of rock and blues music, though, if their bent is toward blues music more specifically, they will inevitably go on to learn the blues scale which is the same but with a flattened 4th.

Summarily, a minor pentatonic scale is the same as its relative, the natural minor scale, but missing the 2nd and 6th scale degrees, looking a little something like this: 1st, Minor 3rd, 4th, 5th, and Minor 7th. If we render this in the key of B, we are left with the notes B, D, E, F#, and A.

Examples of Songs in Drop B

It’s all well and good getting to know the theoretical parts of drop B tuning, but how does it appear in real-world examples, we join our correspondent on street level to learn more.

1. “Before I Forget” by Slipknot

Slipknot is no stranger to drop B tuning and uses it on many of their recorded songs. This just happens to be one that we really enjoy and happen to remember from our teenage years. Their use of drop B tuning is now legendary and has encouraged countless other artists to follow the trend, and you can understand how by following the tab!

Before I Forget

2. “Halo” by Machine Head

Fittingly borrowing their name from the classic Deep Purple album, Machine Head is an American heavy metal band hailing from California and formed in 1991. Their fitful and aggressive musicianship made them one of the pioneers of the newer wave of American metal during their early tenure, as evinced in the tablature for this song.

Many will likely remember them best for the controversy they spurned around the 9/11 attacks, releasing their album Supercharger only three weeks afterward which included a single “Crashing Around You” whose music video featured burning buildings. This was almost the end of the band, though they thankfully came to something of an arrangement with their label and management.

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3. “Don’t Stay” by Linkin Park

In contrast with Machine Head, Linkin Park prefers to be known as a rock band, though they also share the state of California as their place of origin. Their earlier music is characteristic of its times, featuring tasteless blends of heavy metal and hip hop, and their later material also aligns with the trend of artists from this era trying to stay current with more pop and electronic elements.

This track (whose tab you can find here) is featured on their smash hit debut album, Hybrid Theory.

Don't Stay

4. “Pray for Plagues” by Bring Me the Horizon

Formed in Sheffield, Bring Me the Horizon is a British Rock band that came together in 2004. Though their debut album Count Your Blessings (from which the song below is culled) was met with criticism at the time, you can still find the tab here.

It was only upon the release of their second album Suicide Season that the band began to garner the kind of critical acclaim and commercial success that they ought to be used to by now.

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5. “Wage Slaves” by All Shall Perish

All Shall Perish also formed in Oakland California, the same place as Machine Head, though they have since broken up, unlike Machine Head who are still going strong.

As pioneers of the deathcore genre, this band has a lot to answer for (including this tab), and thankfully you can see the various members perform in other projects. Vocalist Hernan Hermida, for example, is now a member of Suicide Silence.

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Final Tones

So, there you have it! Hopefully, you are now feeling ready and able to commit to playing in drop B tuning yourself, whether you play chords and scales or whether you simply like to hear that low B hum!

FAQs Drop B Tuning

What tuning is Drop B?

Drop B tuning is an alternate tuning for the guitar that forces a guitarist to tune each of the other strings down a minor 3rd and then to further tune down the lowest string another tone (two frets).

How do you tune a string to Drop B?

Technically, you don’t tune a string to drop B. Rather, you tune the guitar’s entire set of strings to drop B, tuning them all down a minor 3rd and then tuning the lowest string down a further two semitones.

What does Slipknot tune to?

Allegedly, Slipknot is rather fond of drop B tuning, as can be seen in the sheer number of songs that they write in the context of this tuning.

What gauge is best for Drop B tuning?

The ideal drop B string gauge is 11 – 60 or 12 – 60, though this will entirely depend on the scale length of your guitar. For higher tension, you might even want to go with a higher set of strings, though you will certainly need to get a technician to prepare the guitar for such usage if it hasn’t already been done.

By Nate Pallesen

Nate is just your average (above average) guitar player. He's no Joe Satriani, Jimi Hendrix or Jimmy Page - wait this site is about acoustic guitars (sorry) He's no Django Reinhardt, Chet Atkins, or Michael Hedges, wait? who!? He's no Robert Johnson, Eric Clapton or Ben Harper - more familiar? Anyway you get the point :-)

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