I'm writing a piece that needs to have a drop D tuning- how do I mark the guitar's tuning at the top of the score? Is there a standard? Something like "E = D" or just "DADGBE"? Maybe a chord fingering chart type thing with the letters at the nut of the guitar?

I'm fine with "Tuning = DADGBE", but if there's a standard, I'm interested in what it is.

  • 1
    That’s called “scordatura” in the classical world. You might do a web search on that. Feb 4, 2023 at 19:03

4 Answers 4


I just got some rep with exactly that tuning. It says:

6 = D

at the top, but with the 6 inside a circle.

You don’t have to specify the other strings are in standard tuning. Just that the sixth string is D.

  • 6 = Re is also pretty common
    – flappix
    Feb 4, 2023 at 19:46
  • 2
    It can also show words "muta in" (change to). Like "6ª muta in Ré" etc. etc.
    – Ramillies
    Feb 4, 2023 at 21:29
  • 3
    There is a ⓺ character (DOUBLE CIRCLED DIGIT SIX) but I don't know if that renders correctly in all browsers.
    – Martin R
    Feb 5, 2023 at 12:06
  • Is it customary to notate the sounding pitch or just write D as an E in the case of (6) = D? I understand the latter is the case when using an explicit scordatura staff, as seen in Yuxi L's answer.
    – Not Legato
    Feb 6, 2023 at 2:21
  • 1
    @NotLegato What happens is we develop scordatura muscle memory. We also have to decide where on the neck to play and we have to adjust our analyses for scordatura also. It’s kinda like doubling on banjo or mandolin where we change how the notes on the page translate to our hands. Feb 6, 2023 at 19:16

In Behind Bars, Elaine Gould writes that "scordatura" is indicated as "<string number> to pitch", with <string number> circled (pp. 388–89).

Indicate the different tunings above the first staff.

See the image below for her example, from Walton's Five Bagatelles, No. 3.

Gould p. 389

  • Exactly, see Capricho Arabe by Tarrega for instance.
    – moonwave99
    Feb 6, 2023 at 22:00

I agree with all the answers above. An alternate way, in case you ever get crazy tuning schemes, is to notate your alternate tuning with the staff. The advantage with this method is that you don't get confusions over which octaves the alternative tuning notes are in.

An example from Carlo Domeniconi's Koyunbaba:

Koyunbaba first line


I've seen your last sentence written way more than anything else. It makes immediate sense, and is unequivocal.

Tab may be different, in that the 6 strings would be notated DADGBE on the start of the tab.

  • 1
    Which sentence are you referring to? Feb 5, 2023 at 4:14
  • @JohnKugelman - since my answer is to OP, the OP's last sentence.
    – Tim
    Feb 5, 2023 at 9:06
  • As in, "I'm fine with 'Tuning = DADGBE'..."? Why then add "Tab may be different..."? Feb 5, 2023 at 17:28
  • @JohnKugelman - basically, I'm trying to be a little more thorough than necessary?
    – Tim
    Feb 5, 2023 at 17:33

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