Learn how to tune your guitar to Drop C and start playing your favorite songs in Dropped C tuning.
By Ben Nemerioff
Playing in drop C tuning on the guitar is a great way to lower the range of your instrument and play chords in a new way. Similar to the popular drop D alternate tuning, drop C tuning opens up new musical possibilities on your guitar. In this lesson, we’ll show you how to tune to drop C, when this tuning comes in handy, and look at some songs that use it. Let’s get started.
Drop C tuning is commonly used in metal and hard rock styles of guitar playing because it adds more low notes to the range of your guitar. Additionally, some players find drop C helpful when accompanying singers with lower voices. Whether you’re a beginner or a long-time player, drop C is an easy tuning to master, allowing you to play one-finger power chords or lower the pitch of a song in a snap.
Drop C tuning gets its name because you must lower or “drop” your low E string down to C. However, unlike drop D tuning which only requires you to lower one string, in drop C you must lower all six strings of your guitar.
You might notice strings buzzing when you try this tuning for the first time because all of your strings will be looser than they normally are in standard tuning. If you like this tuning and want to stick with it, you might want to invest in heavier strings or take your guitar to a luthier to get it set up in drop C.
The standard tuning that you are used to looks like this, starting with the lowest string:
In drop C tuning, your lowest string will be tuned down two whole steps to C. All other strings get tuned down one whole step.
Now that you know the notes of the strings in drop C tuning, you’re ready to tune down. Here’s how to tune a guitar to drop C:
Start by plucking your low E string.
Tune it down two whole steps to C by turning the tuning peg towards you. Keep plucking the string until you reach the correct note. Generally, it’s better to go a little flat of the note you’re targeting, then tune up to it. This keeps tension on the string so your guitar will stay in tune longer. Pro tip: You can use the Fender Online guitar tuner to help you tune your guitar to the correct note. Use either the Electric Guitar Online Guitar Tuner or the Acoustic Guitar Online Tuner. Or download the app for your phone. Both the web and app versions give you the ability to adjust your settings and tune specifically to Drop C and other alternate tunings. If you don’t have a tuner handy, you can tune to drop C by ear. Press down on the third fret of your A string to hear a C. Then, tune down your E string until the tone matches.
When you tune your guitar to drop C, the lowest note in your guitar’s range is two whole steps lower than usual. Having this lower range can help you shift your guitar parts lower to better complement a singer or other instrumentalist you might be playing with. Drop C tuning also makes playing power chords easier.
To play a power chord in standard tuning, you’ll typically use two or three fingers on your fretboard. In drop C, you can play a power chord by barring one finger across the three lowest strings on your guitar, like this:
Make sure you avoid strumming the highest three strings or use one or more fingers to mute them.
Though drop C tuning can be used in a variety of genres, you’re most likely to encounter it in metal and hard rock music. Here are a couple of songs you can check out to practice playing your guitar in drop C.
“My Curse” by Killswitch Engage is a great example of a metalcore band using drop C tuning to great effect. The open low C string gives the chords in this song an extra low and dark sound.
Bring Me The Horizon also made good use of drop C tuning in their “Happy Song.” In this song, the guitarist creates a heavy mood by droning on the low C string.
The best way to master this new tuning is to keep practicing and continue exploring other songs that rely on drop C for their unique sounds. With practice and patience, you’ll develop an ear for different tunings and build new skills. Learn more with a free trial with Fender Play.