Drop C songs and an in-depth guide to Drop C tunning

21 minutes read
Drop C songs and Drop C tuning in-depth guide

Drop C tuning is one of the most popular alternate tunings for guitarists who want to play heavy metal, hard rock, or other genres that require a lower and heavier sound. It involves tuning all six strings of your guitar down by one or two whole steps, giving you more low notes and a darker tone. But how do you play guitar in drop C tuning? In this article, we will answer these questions and introduce Drop C songs and more.

We will show you how to tune your guitar to drop C, how to play chords and scales in drop C, and how to improve your tone and sound quality in drop C. We will also provide you with some examples, exercises, and tips to help you master this tuning and play some of the most awesome songs in drop C.

Whether you are a beginner or an advanced guitarist, you will find something useful and interesting in this article. So grab your guitar, tune it to drop C, and get ready to rock!

Contents

How to Tune Your Guitar to Drop C

So, what’s this Drop C tuning all about? Well, in a nutshell, it’s an alternate tuning that reduces the pitch of all six strings on your guitar.

This tuning is a staple among metal and hard rock musicians, adding a lower range of notes and creating a thicker, heavier sound. Plus, it’s perfect for those one-finger power chords that make you feel like a guitar god! It’s like adding a turbo boost to your guitar, giving it a more powerful and robust sound.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there are some challenges. You might need to adjust your guitar’s setup and switch to heavier strings to prevent string buzz. You’ll also need to practice a bit to get a hang of the new chord shapes. But hey, no one said rock ‘n’ roll was going to be easy, right? 

How to Get Your Guitar into Drop C

Alright, time to roll up those sleeves and get to work. Here’s a quick rundown of how to get your guitar into Drop C.

Guitar Repair Bench explains how you can tune your guitar into Drop C:

“To tune your guitar is Drop C, simply lower your 6th string to D and then lower all the strings, including the 6th string one full step. Drop C tuning is tuned to C-G-C-F-A-D.” (“How to Setup an Electric Guitar for Drop c Tunings and Low Heavy Metal Tunings,” 2019).

First, you’ll need to lower all six strings by one or two whole steps. Using a tuner or a reference note will make this process easier.

The final notes of your strings should be C-G-C-F-A-D, starting from the lowest string. 

There are also 2 variations of this and these are:

CGDGBE – Drop the low E to C, and then the A string to a G to make a fifth cord. The rest of the strings stay the same (Lidel, 2001, p. 82).

CADGBE – This variation can be achieved by taking the standard tuning (EADGBE) and dropping the low E to C. The remaining strings stay the same.

Once you’re all set up, you’re ready to rock some Drop C songs or songs in drop c. Trust me, you’ll feel like you’ve unlocked a whole new level of your guitar playing!

The History and Origin of Drop C Tuning

Now, let’s take a moment to appreciate the roots of this alternate tuning. It’s believed that Drop C tuning originated with blues and folk guitarists in the early 20th century. Musicians like Lead Belly and Woody Guthrie were among the first to use it.

Then came the rock and metal bands of the ’60s and ’70s, like Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, and Deep Purple, who brought Drop C tuning into the spotlight. This trend continued in the ’90s with bands like System of a Down and Slipknot using it to create their signature sound.

Other metal bands that play in drop C tuning are Mastodon, Bullet for My Valentine, The Black Dahlia Murder, Converge, Metallica, and August Burns Red (Gudge, 2022).

How Drop C Tuning Shaped Music

Beyond rock and metal, Drop C tuning has found its place in blues, folk, acoustic, alternative, and even progressive rock. It’s a versatile tool that offers a range of moods and emotions, from the aggression of metal to the somber tones of blues.

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Drop C Tuning

What’s the deal with Drop C tuning? Here’s the lowdown, folks.

Pros:

  • Heavier and Darker Sounds: Drop C tuning is like adding an extra shot of espresso to your Americano. It gives your guitar a darker, heavier tone, perfect for rock and metal genres. 
  • Ease of Playing: Some songs become a breeze to play with Drop C tuning. No more awkward hand stretches or gymnastics. 
  • New Chord Shapes and Scales: Drop C tuning opens up a whole new world of chord shapes and scales to experiment with. It’s like discovering a secret passage in your favorite video game. 

Cons:

  • Guitar’s Setup and Intonation: With great power (chords) comes great responsibility. You might need to adjust your guitar’s setup and intonation. 
  • Heavier Strings or Capo: To avoid string buzz and unstable tuning, you may need to invest in heavier strings or a capo.
  • Relearning Fingerings and Patterns: Remember those fingerings and patterns you spent hours practicing? Yeah, you might have to relearn some of those. 

When is Drop C Tuning Preferable?

  • Playing Heavy Metal or Hard Rock: If you’re a fan of bands like System of a Down, Slipknot, or Killswitch Engage, then Drop C tuning could be your new best friend.
  • Accompanying Low Range Instruments: Drop C tuning is a great choice if you’re jamming with a baritone singer or bass instrument.
  • Exploring New Musical Styles: If you’re all about pushing boundaries and trying new things, drop C tuning allows for a lot of musical experimentation.

When is Drop C Tuning Not Preferable?

  • Playing Classical or Jazz: If you’re into traditional classical or jazz songs, sticking to standard tuning might be your best bet.
  • Playing with Standard Tuning Musicians: Jamming with musicians using standard tuning can become a bit tricky if you’re using Drop C tuning.
  • Frequent Setup Changes: If you’re not into frequent setup changes and want to keep things simple, Drop C tuning might not be for you. 

Drop C vs. Other Tunings

Drop C tuning is like the rebellious younger sibling in the tuning family. It’s similar to Drop D tuning, but tuned down a whole step, which gives it a lower pitch. But, unlike standard tuning, Drop C lowers all six strings by one or two whole steps, giving you a different fretboard layout and chord shapes. It’s one of the lowest standard tunings for a six-string guitar, only surpassed by drop B and drop A tunings.

How does Drop C Tuning Affect Your Guitar?

  • Playability: Your strings become looser, making bending and vibrato easier, but they may also be more prone to slipping and breaking. 
  • Tone: Drop C tuning gives your guitar a darker, heavier tone. It’s like switching from decaf to a full-bodied dark roast.
  • Maintenance: The setup and intonation can become more complicated, making your guitar potentially more difficult and expensive to maintain.

How to Play Drop C Chords and Scales

The theory and shapes of Drop C chords and scales are based on the standard tuning, but we’re moving them down one or two whole steps. 

So, for instance, our good old C major scale in standard tuning (C-D-E-F-G-A-B) now becomes A#-C-D-D#-F-G-G# in Drop C tuning. It’s the same for chord shapes – your E major shape now takes on the identity of D major, A minor turns into G minor, and so forth. Exciting, isn’t it?

Common Drop C Chords and Scales

Drop C isn’t just about shifting pitches; it also brings some unique chord opportunities. Power chords, barre chords, and open chords are all easy to play in Drop C tuning. Power chords are as simple as barring the lowest three strings on any fret. Barre chords require a bit more effort – you’ll need to bar all six strings and move the root note down one string. Open chords are a tad trickier; you either avoid the lowest string or mute it with your thumb. Who said Drop C tuning was hard?

Now, let’s talk scales. The major scale, the minor scale, the pentatonic scale, and the blues scale all have a place in Drop C tuning. The major and minor scales take the same shape as in standard tuning, but you’ll start from the fifth string and move the root note down two and three frets, respectively. The pentatonic and blues scales follow the same rule, but the root note moves down three frets for minor and five frets for major, with the blues scale having an added flat fifth note.

Exercises and Practice Tips

Just like learning any new skill on your guitar, it’s all about practice. Try playing these chords and scales with a metronome or a backing track to get your timing and rhythm down. Switch between different chords and scales to improve your transitions and coordination. Try these scales and chords in different keys, positions, and patterns to get a better understanding of your fretboard. And don’t forget to play around with different techniques like hammer-ons, pull-offs, slides, bends, vibrato, and palm muting.

Genres and Styles Using Drop C Tuning

Drop C isn’t just a novelty, it’s used across a range of music styles. Rock and metal fans, especially the nu metal, alternative metal, and metalcore crowds, love it for its heavier and darker sound. 

Drop C tuning is frequently used in songs that fall under heavier genres like rock, metal, metalcore, and death metal. However, it also finds occasional use in blues and bluegrass music. The characteristic of songs in Drop C tuning is a more profound, heavier sound with a somewhat rough texture to the guitar. (Buckley, 2021).

How to Play Drop C Riffs and Solos

Guitarist in rock band playing his solo

Now, let’s talk about the nitty-gritty of drop C riff techniques. There’s a whole repertoire of techniques that can turn your regular guitar strumming into a head-banging performance. Ready to learn? Let’s go!

  • Alternate Picking: This technique involves striking the strings up and down quickly and consistently. It’s like a pendulum swinging back and forth, but with your guitar pick!
  • Palm Muting: Ever wondered how to get that muted, percussive sound? Simple. Use the side of your palm to dampen the strings. “By placing the lower edge of your palm across the strings next to the bridge and moving it between there and the soundhole you can control the level of the dampening effect” (Wilson, 2020).
  • Pinch Harmonics: Want to make your guitar squeal with joy (or rock and roll)? Try pinch harmonics. Lightly touch the string with your thumb right after picking it for a high-pitched sound. If you want to learn more, you can check out this guide by Tom Merry.
  • Legato: To achieve a smooth, fluid sound, use hammer-ons and pull-offs. These techniques allow you to play notes without picking them.
  • Tapping: Use your picking hand’s fingers to tap on the fretboard. This technique will help you create extra notes and patterns.

Just as important as these techniques are the effects that you can use to add depth and dimension to your sound. I’m sure you’ve heard of distortion, delay, chorus, wah, and flanger. These effects can turn your sound from simple to sophisticated, from plain to potent.

Watch these 10 iconic Drop C guitar riffs:

The Legends of Drop C

There are countless famous riffs and solos played in drop C tuning. From System of a Down’s “Chop Suey!” to Slipknot’s “Psychosocial” and Killswitch Engage’s “My Curse”—each song uses a unique combination of techniques to create a distinctive sound. 

Here are some audio clips to help you master these iconic riffs:

1. “Chop Suey!” by System of a Down

2. “Psychosocial” by Slipknot

3. “My Curse” by Killswitch Engage

4. “Toxicity” by System of a Down

5. “The End of Heartache” by Killswitch Engage

The Different Types and Genres of Drop C Songs

There’s a common misconception that Drop C songs are confined to the heavy metal genre. In reality, this unique tuning spans across a wide range of musical styles, each adding its own flavor and spin to the mix. From heavy metal to blues, folk to indie rock, and even progressive rock, the versatility of Drop C songs is astounding.

What’s the secret sauce that makes Drop C songs so diverse? It’s all in the details—mood, tempo, structure, instrumentation, and lyrics. Each genre, and each artist, infuses their own cultural and historical context into their music, creating a rich tapestry of Drop C songs.

The Cream of the Crop: Best Drop C Songs Across Genres

Let’s take a sonic journey through some of the best and most popular Drop C songs in various genres. Buckle up, because this is going to be a wild ride!

Heavy Metal and Hard Rock: When you think of heavy metal and hard rock, bands like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin probably come to mind. Their iconic songs “Iron Man” and “Kashmir” respectively, are sterling examples of Drop C tuning.

Nu Metal and Alternative Metal: Slipknot’s “Psychosocial” and Killswitch Engage’s “My Curse” are fantastic specimens in this genre, showcasing how Drop C tuning can add that extra zing to a song.

Blues and Folk: Drop C tuning isn’t just for the headbangers. It shines in the realm of blues and folk as well, as demonstrated by “Goodnight Irene” by Lead Belly and “This Land Is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie.

Acoustic and Indie Rock: Who says Drop C tuning can’t be gentle? John Mayer’s “Neon” and The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus’s “Your Guardian Angel” prove otherwise, showing how Drop C can bring depth to softer tunes.

Progressive and Experimental Rock: Bands like Metallica and Mastodon have pushed the envelope with songs like “Frantic” and “Oblivion,” using Drop C tuning to enhance their complex musical structures.

What Makes Each Genre Stand Out?

Every genre has its own defining characteristics, and this is no different when it comes to Drop C songs.

  • Heavy metal and hard rock songs are known for their distorted guitars, loud drums, and aggressive lyrics.
  • Nu metal and alternative metal songs often mix in elements of rap, funk, electronic, and pop music.
  • Blues and folk tunes typically feature acoustic guitars, harmonicas, simple chords, and storytelling lyrics.
  • Acoustic and indie rock songs usually have clean guitars, catchy melodies, and personal lyrics.
  • Progressive and experimental rock songs are known for their complexity, unconventional instruments, and creative lyrics.

The Emotional Landscape of Drop C Songs

Music is a powerful emotional language, and the emotions that Drop C songs express are as diverse as the genres they span:

  • Heavy metal and hard rock songs often embody feelings of anger, power, rebellion, and violence.
  • Nu metal and alternative metal songs convey groove, attitude, diversity, and innovation.
  • Blues and folk songs often evoke feelings of sadness, nostalgia, and culture.
  • Acoustic and indie rock songs tend to be mellow, romantic, intimate, and relatable.
  • Progressive and experimental rock songs express complexity, diversity, exploration, and experimentation.

So, next time you’re jamming on your guitar, remember that Drop C songs aren’t just about heavy metal. They’re a rich and diverse world of music waiting to be explored. And who knows? You might just find yourself playing the next big Drop C hit!

Top 10 Drop C Songs to Learn and Play

 1. “Chop Suey!” by System of a Down

First up on our list of top drop C songs is the iconic “Chop Suey!” by the nu metal band System of a Down. Released in 2001 from their second album “Toxicity,” it quickly became the band’s biggest-selling single, even earning a Grammy nomination for Best Metal Performance. Can you believe that? 

The catchy heavy riff, combined with its epic chorus, makes this song a blast to play on a Drop C tuned guitar. Plus, you get to rock out to one of the best metal songs of all time. How cool is that?

2. “Hearts Burst Into Fire” by Bullet for My Valentine

Next is a melodic metalcore song from Bullet for My Valentine, “Hearts Burst Into Fire.” This 2008 release from the album “Scream Aim Fire” discusses the struggles of being away from home and loved ones while on tour. 

Its technical riffs, soaring solo, and the emotional lyrics make this song a treat for both the ears and your guitar skills. Plus, any song featured in a video game, in this case, NHL 09, has to be pretty rad, right?

3. “My Curse” by Killswitch Engage

We can’t talk about drop C songs without including “My Curse” by Killswitch Engage. This metalcore song, released in 2006 from the album “As Daylight Dies,” is a powerhouse of groovy, aggressive riffs, and an emotional solo. 

Written by former lead singer Howard Jones, the song’s theme of a failed relationship is something we can all relate to. Plus, WWE fans might recognize this as the theme song for the New Year’s Revolution event. Now, who said wrestling and guitar playing don’t mix?

4. “Goodnight Irene” by Lead Belly

Switching gears, we have a classic blues song, “Goodnight Irene” by Lead Belly. Recorded way back in 1933, this traditional American folk song is a testament to the timeless appeal of simple, heartfelt music. 

With its acoustic guitar and simple chord progression, this song is great for beginners looking to dip their toes into drop C tuning. Plus, how often can you say you’re playing a song inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame?

5. “Neon” by John Mayer

John Mayer’s “Neon” is an acoustic rock delight that showcases Mayer’s guitar skills in a complex fingerstyle pattern. Released in 2001 from his debut album “Room for Squares,” the song’s clean guitar sound is fantastic for those evenings when you just want to chill out and play. 

6. “Frantic” by Metallica

Metallica’s “Frantic” takes us back to the heavier side of things. This thrash metal song from their 2003 album “St. Anger” explores the band’s struggles with addiction and anger. 

The fast, rhythmic riffs are a challenge, but hey, who doesn’t love a good challenge? Plus, it’s the first song to feature their new bassist Robert Trujillo, adding a bit of trivia to your guitar playing.

7. “All Laid Back and Stuff” by Andy McKee

Andy McKee’s “All Laid Back and Stuff” is a folk song that adds a bit of percussive tapping to the mix. This instrumental song from his 2005 album “Art of Motion” is a fantastic way to diversify your drop C repertoire. 

8. “Marigold” by Periphery

“Marigold” by Periphery is a progressive metal song that brings a powerful and diverse riff to the table. Released in 2016 from the album “Periphery III: Select Difficulty,” the song was even nominated for a Grammy for Best Metal Performance.

9. “Tears Don’t Fall” by Bullet for My Valentine

Another entry from Bullet for My Valentine, “Tears Don’t Fall” is a metalcore masterpiece. The heavy riffs and melodic solo make this song from their debut album “The Poison” a must-learn for drop C enthusiasts. 

10. “Toxicity” by System of a Down

Rounding out our list is “Toxicity” by System of a Down. This nu-metal song from their 2002 album of the same name features fast, rhythmic riffs and a strong political message. 

Tips and Tricks to Improve Your Tone and Sound Quality When Playing in Drop C

Playing your favorite Drop C songs can be an exhilarating experience, but much like tuning your guitar to a low C, getting a perfect tone requires a bit of finesse and understanding of your gear. Keep reading to explore some tips and tricks to optimize your tone and sound quality when playing in Drop C.

Understanding the Impact of Drop C on Your Tone

Drop C tuning has a distinct impact on your tone. The strings become looser and more flexible, resulting in a darker, heavier tone. However, it also complicates the guitar’s setup and intonation. The trick to mastering this is to understand the factors affecting your tone in this tuning and how to manipulate them effectively.

Gear and Equipment for Drop C

Having the right gear for Drop C can make a world of difference. Here are some equipment essentials to consider.

1. Heavier Strings: Opt for 0.11 or 0.12 gauge strings. They provide more tension and stability for your tuning and prevent string buzz and tuning instability. 

2. Capo: This handy tool can help raise the pitch of your strings if you want to play in higher tunings without changing your string gauge or setup.

3. Tuner: A must-have for any guitarist, it ensures your guitar is accurately and easily tuned to drop C or any other tuning.

4. Distortion Pedal: Adding gain and clipping to your signal, creates a dirty and crunchy sound, perfect for heavy metal and hard rock genres.

5. Delay Pedal: It repeats your signal after a short time, creating an echo and ambiance effect that suits acoustic and indie rock genres.

6. Chorus Pedal: This pedal modulates your signal with a slightly detuned copy, creating a thick and shimmering sound that works well with blues and folk genres.

Tweaking Your Settings for Optimal Tone

Adjusting guitar intonation

When it comes to achieving the best tone for playing Drop C songs, paying attention to your settings is crucial. Here are some adjustments that can enhance your sound quality.

  • Lower your guitar’s action: This makes the strings easier to press, especially on the higher frets.
  • Adjust your guitar’s intonation: This ensures your guitar is more accurate and in tune across the fretboard.
  • Balance your amp’s EQ: This helps to shape your tone according to your preference and genre.
  • Experiment with different pickup combinations: Different combinations can provide varied tonal options and characteristics.
  • Use a noise gate: This reduces unwanted noise and feedback from your signal, making your sound cleaner and clearer.

Pitfalls to Avoid When Playing in Drop C

Avoiding common mistakes can make your Drop C playing experience a lot more enjoyable. Here are some pitfalls to steer clear of.

  • Using too light strings: This can make your strings too loose, causing string buzz and tuning instability.
  • Using too high action: This can make your strings too hard to press, leading to intonation and fretting issues.
  • Overusing distortion: Too much distortion can make your sound muddy and noisy, losing clarity and definition.
  • Overusing delay: Too much delay can make your sound washed out and cluttered, losing focus and impact.
  • Overusing chorus: An excess of chorus can make your sound thin and artificial, losing warmth and depth.

The Challenges and Difficulties of Playing in Drop C and How to Overcome Them

When it comes to guitar playing, venturing into unknown territory can be an exhilarating experience. But it can also be, well, let’s be honest, a little daunting, right? This is especially true when you’re diving into the world of alternate tuning. Let’s take Drop C tuning, for example. It’s like being teleported to a different planet where everything seems familiar yet strangely different. 

Challenge #1: Adjusting to the Lower Pitch & Range

First off, you’re dealing with a lower pitch and range. It’s like suddenly singing bass after years of being a tenor. Your ear training and fretboard knowledge might feel a bit shaky. Reddit threads are chock full of guitarists expressing their confusion dealing with this new terrain.

The Solution: Practice with Tools

What’s the remedy, you ask? Practice, my friends, with a tuner, a metronome, and a backing track. It’s like having your personal guitar guru guiding you through the rough patches. You’ll be tuning accurately, keeping tempo consistently, and playing in the right key in no time.

Challenge #2: Loose and Flexible Strings

Next up, those strings. They feel a tad too loose and flexible, don’t they? This can throw your tuning stability and string tension for a loop.

The Solution: Heavier Strings or Capo

But fear not, heavier strings or a capo can be your knights in shining armor. They provide more tension and stability, preventing the dreaded string buzz and tuning instability. 

Challenge #3: Changing the Guitar’s Setup

Then there’s the altering of your guitar’s setup and intonation. This can affect the action and accuracy of your guitar, making it feel like you’re playing a completely different instrument.

The Solution: Professional Setup

A professional setup and intonation is the way to go here. It’s like getting a tailor-made suit instead of a one-size-fits-all outfit. Your guitar will feel more comfortable and precise to play.

Challenge #4: Finding the Right Tone

And let’s not forget the quest for the ‘right’ tone and sound quality. This can feel like a wild goose chase, with so many variables at play – string gauge, amp settings, effects pedals, you name it!

The Solution: Tone Experimentation

Here’s where you get to play mad scientist. Yes, you heard me, experimenting with different tone and sound options can help you find that sweet spot. It’s like finding the perfect ingredients for your drop C recipe.

Challenge #5: New Chord Shapes & Scales

Finally, there’s the learning of new chord shapes and scales. Your fingers might feel like they’re playing Twister on the fretboard. It’s a whole new ball game that requires additional practice and memorization.

The Solution: Online Resources

Thank the guitar gods for online resources and video tutorials! They offer a treasure trove of lessons and examples on how to play chords and scales in drop C.

Conclusion

Drop C tuning is a fun and versatile tuning that can open up new musical possibilities and expressions for you. It can help you create a heavier and darker sound that suits many genres and styles of music, such as metal, rock, blues, folk, and more. It can also challenge you to learn new chord shapes and scales, and improve your tone and sound quality.

In this article, we have shown you how to tune your guitar to drop C, how to play chords and scales in drop C, and how to improve your tone and sound quality in drop C. We have also provided you with some examples, and tips to help you master this tuning and play some of the most awesome songs in drop C.

We hope you have enjoyed this article and learned something useful and interesting. Now it’s time to grab your guitar, tune it to Drop C, and rock on!

Alon Cooper

Alon Cooper

Hey! I'm Cooper, and I hope I can be a helpful friend on your musical journeys. I'm a music artist based in Austin & Amsterdam, playing venues with a band / solo, and trying to learn with the most inspiring musicians wherever I go. In the last 8 years I've lived in Australia, northern Europe, the US and more.

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The Guitar Campfire Songbook

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