Guitar Strings and Notes: Learning the Different Guitar Tunings
There’s nothing worse than trying to play a song on a guitar that’s out of tune. The six strings on a guitar each correspond to a different note, and you can modify each of these notes using different tunings.
From the standard EADGBE tuning to open tunings for slide guitar and heavy metal favorites like Drop D and Drop C, read on to learn how to tune your guitar strings for a sound that better suits your musical tastes and playing style.
Are you just getting started as a guitarist? Learn the seven essential skills for playing contemporary rock, lead guitar and classic guitar favorites with our Beginner Guitar Method course.
The standard EADGBE guitar tuning
Guitars come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, from famous electric guitars like the Les Paul and SG to nylon string classical guitars. Although all of these guitars use different strings, they share the same standard tuning: E-A-D-G-B-E.
In this tuning, the lowest string (the thickest string, closest to the player when they play the guitar) is tuned to E2 – one major third above the C that a cello is normally tuned to. The next string is tuned to A2, and the four other strings are tuned to D3, G4, B3 and E4 respectively.
If you’re familiar with music theory, you’ve probably noticed a pattern between the tunings used for guitar strings: each string, with the exception of the B3 string, is a perfect fourth higher than the string that comes before it. Only the B3 string breaks the pattern – it’s separated from the G3 string by a major third interval.
This tuning is known as Standard Tuning, and it’s the tuning that almost all guitars are configured to by default. More than 80 percent of pop songs are written in the standard tuning or a variation that uses the same tuning intervals.
Make sure you don’t confuse standard tuning with regular tuning. Regular tunings use equal intervals between strings, and are used to teach beginner guitarists how the fretboard works. They’re also occasionally used in jazz guitar improvisation.
All guitar tuners include a setting for standard tuning, making it easy to tune your guitar to EADGBE in minutes. Alternatively, you can use the technique in our Learn Guitar the Easy Way lesson to easily tune your guitar to EADGBE using your ear.
Drop D and other drop tunings
On a standard six string guitar, the lowest string is tuned to an E2 note. This gives the guitar a nice balance between bass and treble notes, allowing most guitarists a reasonable range of keys in which to compose and play music.
In the world of heavy metal, however, the low E2 offered by most electric guitars is rarely enough. A lot of hard rock and heavy metal songs are played in drop tunings such as Drop D, which give the guitarist an extra tone of lower range.
In a drop tuning, only the lowest string of the guitar (in this case, the low E string) is adjusted. Like the name would suggest, it’s “dropped” down, typically by one tone, to give the guitarist a lower open tuning and make playing power chords easier.
In a Drop D tuning, the low E string is tuned down to D. There are several other drop tunings that give guitarists even more lower range. In a Drop C tuning, all strings are tuned down one step, except the low E string, which is tuned down two whole steps.
Drop tunings have several benefits. Firstly, the guitar has a larger range and sounds far deeper when open chords are played. Secondly, the new interval between the E and A strings makes playing two-note power chords possible using just one finger.
A wide variety of rock and metal bands use drop tunings. Linkin Park, Muse, Rage Against the Machine and many others record most of their songs in Drop D. Heavy metal bands like Disturbed and Children of Bodom typically use Drop C tuning.
Some band use seven string guitars in order to achieve an even lower range. On a seven string guitar, the extra string is tuned to B1. Some heavy metal bands drop tune their seven string guitars to drop A, and even drop G tuning.
Do you want to improve your hard rock and heavy metal guitar technique? Learn the basics of heavy metal rhythm and lead guitar, including scales and alternative tunings, in our Beginner/Intermediate Rock Guitar course.
Before you start tuning your guitar down as far as it can go, it’s important to have the right strings. Low tunings reduce the tension on your guitar strings, making it important to switch your standard strings for a set with a higher string gauge.
Open guitar tunings
When you’re using a standard tuning, you need to hold down the guitar strings on certain frets in order to make a major or minor chord. Open tunings allow certain chords to be played when the strings are open, without you fretting anything.
Open tunings are categorized by “base chord” – the chord that’s played when the neck of the guitar is completely open. Normally, the guitar strings are tuned to a major chord, allowing the guitarist to play all major chords using just one finger.
The majority of rock and metal songs are played in standard tuning or a variation of Drop D tuning. Open tuning is typically used for blues and jazz guitar. It’s also one of the most popular tunings for slide guitar, since it reduces the need to finger notes.
Common open tunings include Open D and Open G. Learn how to play blues guitar using open tunings, a slide and finger picking techniques with Guitar Lessons: Blues Guitar Open D and Open G Tuning.
Learn more about playing the guitar
Do you want to learn more about playing the guitar? From tunings to practical tips for improving your technique, learn more about playing acoustic and electric guitar in our blog post on how to play the guitar.
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