Particularly if you’re a metal or hard rock guitarist, you may have found that drop tunings can create a whole new sound. Playing tuned down gives rhythm guitar some extra power and lends leads some extra bite. In this article, we’ll talk you through tuning down and introduce you to some drop C songs to learn.
What is Drop C?
The name “drop C” can be a little misleading. After all, in drop D tuning, you just tune the low E string down a step to D while leaving the rest of the strings in standard tuning. But drop C requires you to tune all the strings down. You’ll need to tune the low E string two steps down to C. But then, you’ll need to tune the rest of the strings down just one step. Effectively, it’s D standard tuning with the low E tuned down an additional step.
If you’ve just mastered your guitar scales, playing in drop C can be a little tough. Most players learn their scales in E standard. Playing scales in a tuning like D standard is a bit easier, as you just shift your chord shapes down a whole step. But since drop C doesn’t preserve the intervals between the strings, playing scales is a lot different. But as we’ll see in a moment, the real beauty of drop C tuning is the ability to play power chords with just one finger.
How to Tune Your Guitar in Drop C
You likely already know that standard tuning for a six-string guitar is EADGBE from the low E string to the high E string. Here’s how to go from standard tuning to drop C tuning:
Low E String: Tune this one down two steps from E to C.
A String: Tune this one down one step to G.
D String: Tune this one down one step to C.
G String: Tune this one down one step to F.
B String: Tune this one down one step to A.
High E String: Tune this one down one step to D.
Of course, when you tune down this way, make sure you use a high-quality tuner. If you want to work on tuning by ear, try tuning down without a tuner at first. You can then use the tuner to check your work and adjust as needed.
It’s also a good idea to first tune each string slightly flat and then tune back up to the desired note. This will keep tension on the string more consistent, and that will help keep your guitar in tune.
Before we proceed, a quick note on tuning down: if possible, have one dedicated guitar to keep tuned to drop C. Constantly switching tunings places a lot of stress on a guitar. And since tuning down reduces string tension, you may find that your guitar’s action will need to be raised to reduce fret buzz. If you’ve ever played a guitar with very high action, you know why you wouldn’t want to go back to standard tuning with the action raised! High action means you’ll need to exert more pressure to push the strings to the frets. That can cause both hand strain and finger pain.
Switching to heavier gauge strings is also a smart choice with drop C tuning. Larger strings increase tension on the neck, so they’re less likely to cause buzzing issues. And if you’re playing heavier-sounding music, those larger strings can really add some weight to your tone.
Drop C Tuning Chords
Now that you have your guitar tuned properly, let’s take a look at how to play different chords with this tuning. Remember that because the strings don’t keep the same intervals as the strings in E standard, your usual chord shapes won’t sound right.
Open Chords in Drop C Tuning
As we’ll see in a minute, drop C is especially useful for power chords. But you can still learn some open chords in drop C.
To start, let’s look at an F major chord. Playing this one as an open chord is extremely difficult, as you need to mute strings in between fretted notes. Here’s one way to play it:
- Fret the fifth string at the second fret
- Fret the second string at the third fret
- Fret the sixth string at the fifth fret
- Mute or skip the rest of the strings
Playing G major poses a similar challenge. But one of the easiest ways to play it is as follows:
- Fret the sixth string at the seventh fret
- Fret the third string at the sixth fret
- Fret the second string at the fifth fret
- Mute or skip the rest of the strings
If you’re like most people, you might think that playing open chords in this tuning isn’t worth the hassle. After all, muting strings in between fretted notes isn’t impossible, but it can certainly be difficult. That’s why most tabs written for guitars tuned to drop C don’t include “regular” chords. Usually, you’ll see a combination of power chords and individual notes.
Power Chords in Drop C Tuning
We mentioned earlier that one of the best things about drop C tuning is that you can play power chords with one finger. Doing so makes rapid rhythm sequences a lot easier. It also helps you avoid unnecessary finger strain.
To play any power chord while in drop C tuning, you need one finger to fret the three thickest strings on the same fret. You can tell which chord you’re playing by the root note. The root note is the note you’re fretting on the low string (the one tuned to C). When playing this way, do not play the first three strings (the three thinnest strings).
If you play hard and are worried about accidentally striking one of the higher-pitched strings, you may be able to mute them. As you press the last three strings down with your index finger, you may find that the lower part of your finger naturally mutes the strings. Alternatively, you may find that resting your pinky or another finger on these strings mutes them.
Let’s check out an example of a single-finger power chord. You know that the sixth string is a C when played open. So if you fret the sixth, fifth, and fourth string at the first fret, you’re playing the C# power chord. Power chords are simply notated as the root note name plus the number “5” at the end. So the chord you’re playing now is a C#5.
Before we go further, it’s worth briefly mentioning how power chords work. The “5” notation reflects the fact that a power chord only contains two notes — the root note and the fifth. Most chords contain three notes. In the case of a major chord, you’re playing a root, a major third, and a fifth. For minor chords, you play the root, a flattened third, and a fifth.
Since a power chord only contains a root and a fifth, a power chord is neither major nor minor. It isn’t as sonically nuanced as full chords, but it’s ideal when you want a loud, bold sound.
If you’re used to barre chords with the root note on the sixth string, it can be tough to internalize which root means which chord. Here’s a quick reference for barring power chords in drop C — just remember to barre strings four, five, and six while skipping the first three.
- Open: C5
- First fret: C#5
- Second fret: D5
- Third fret: D#5
- Fourth fret: E5
- Fifth fret: F5
- Sixth fret: F#5
- Seventh fret: G5
- Eighth fret: G#5
- Ninth fret: A5
- Tenth fret: A#5
- Eleventh fret: B5
- Twelfth fret: C5
- Thirteenth fret: C#5
- Fourteenth fret: D5
As you get further down the neck, playing power chords becomes a little less practical. Most players end up mostly using the chords closer to the headstock. With this array of power chords, though, you should be able to play songs in any key.
Songs in Drop C
Looking for some easy songs in drop C to learn? Now that you know the basics of this interesting tuning, here are some songs to play!
1. “My Curse” by Killswitch Engage
In any article about drop C songs, you’ll probably see this song as one of the first ones listed. Thanks to the low tuning, the song has a powerful, dark sound. It focuses on mourning a loved one. Its relatable theme and intense sound has led it to be featured in a variety of video games.
If you’re looking to primarily learn the rhythm part of the song, you may be relieved to hear that the chords you need are relatively easy. This resource shows you both tabs and chords for the entire song. As far as chords go, you mostly need C5, F5, and G#5.
2. “Animal I Have Become” by Three Days Grace
When you’re on the hunt for songs in drop C tuning, you’re almost certain to run into “Animal I Have Become.” This popular song has a heavy, sad theme: it focuses on realizing you’ve become someone you hate or don’t recognize. As is the case with many down-tuned songs, the lower tuning on “Animal I Have Become” really helps support the song’s message.
“Animal I Have Become” involves a few more chords than “My Curse.” For the most part, you will need C5, D5, D#5, F5, G5, G#5, and A#5. To really play it well, you’ll need to alternate chords with single notes played on the low C. This really accentuates the low end of the song.
3. “Blew” by Nirvana
The lower tuning makes drop C metal songs sound especially intense. And “Blew” by Nirvana is an especially intense song. It’s a bit similar in subject matter to “Animal I Have Become,” as it focuses on feeling as though you’ve blown your shot at life. The ending of the song adds a bit of a hopeful twist, though: the lyrics simply repeat the phrase “you could do anything.”
In terms of the power chords used, “Blew” isn’t all that different from many of the other songs on the list. You will need C5, D#5, F5, F#5, and G5. You also will need a few full chords, including C and F.
4. “Savin’ Me” by Nickelback
Nickelband is a band that gets a lot of hate. But their song “Savin’ Me” at least offers you an opportunity to practice playing in drop C tuning! The song is one of the more sorrowful ones on the list. It chronicles someone who feels that they have lost all hope and have fallen far from what they wanted to achieve in life. They beg those around them to offer some kind of help before it’s too late.
As you can see from the song tabs here, “Savin’ Me” doesn’t necessarily include straightforward power chords. But if you look closely, you’ll see that you can simplify some of the chords by only playing the thickest three strings. For the power chord portions, you will mainly need D#5 and F5.
5. “Buttersnips” by PERIPHERY
Thus far, the songs on the list have mainly straddled the line between hard rock and metal. But for fans of very heavy metal, “Buttersnips” by the djent band PERIPHERY is a great choice to learn. The name of the song may sound delicate and whimsical, but the song is anything but. As part of the djent genre, this song uses powerful, high-gain distortion. Combine that with down-tuned playing, and you get a sound that is absolutely monstrous.
The song itself focuses on the cyclical nature of life and existence. And though its lyrics are thoughtful, it’s the powerful guitar that’s at the forefront of the mix. “Buttersnips” is also one of the more difficult songs on the list to play. As you can see from these tabs, there are changing time signatures, ties and slides, and rapid-fire playing thatcan be tough for newer players. This is a great song to play if you’re looking for a challenge. And if you have a pedalboard, make sure to crank up your dirt pedals!
6. “Frantic” by Metallica
Metallica is one of the most respected names in the world. But even their die-hard fans seemed to hate their “St. Anger” album. Some think the production is bad, others think the material is uninspired, and many people say the music reflected the fact that Metallica was beginning to fall out as a band. That said, “Frantic” is a pretty good song.
This powerful song kicks off the “St. Anger” album. It deals mostly with many of the band members’ struggles with addiction. As you can see in these tabs, “Frantic” isn’t too terribly hard to play. Much of the song is played on the sixth string. You do need some chords, though. You’ll mostly need C5, D5, D#5, and F#5.
Whether you’re looking for inspiration to create some of the best drop C riffs or just want to learn a few drop C songs, we hope this article has helped you at least get a start. Whether it’s your first foray into drop tuning or you’re just looking for another tuning to add to your arsenal, drop C is a great tuning to learn!
Now we’ve been through a thorough introduction to both drop C tuning and drop C songs. But you still might have some questions before you really get started. Here are a few that guitarists commonly ask:
You can technically play any song in drop C. However, because it adds that extra low-end growl, it’s most commonly found in metal and hard rock. Alternatively, if you’re playing along with someone who has a low voice, drop C can be a good choice.
In and of itself, tuning down to drop C isn’t bad for your guitar. But you may want to make some adjustments. For optimal sound and to avoid unnecessary buzzing, it’s best to switch to heavier gauge strings. That’s because heavier strings exert more tension on the neck than lighter strings do. Tuning down reduces tension, so by adding some tension with heavier strings, you can help keep buzz to a minimum.
In some cases, your guitar may need a truss rod adjustment or to have the action raised. This depends on how much buzzing you experience and whether or not you need or want to reduce that buzz.
Drop C music could describe any songs played in drop C tuning (CGCFAD). It isn’t considered to be a genre by itself. However, this type of tuning is most often seen in “heavy” genres like hard rock and metal.