Just to confirm, when dropping a key on the guitar tune, would you subsequently change the chords as well? or just play the same chord?

closed as unclear what you're asking by user45266, Tim, ttw, Dom Feb 21 at 14:11

Please clarify your specific problem or add additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it’s hard to tell exactly what you're asking. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 1
    Can you be a little more clear in what you are asking? Are you asking about changing the tuning of your guitar from standard to something else or about transposing chords from one key to another? – Dom Jan 12 '16 at 3:03
  • eg. if the guitar was in a standard tune, and the one of the chord was C. But if you changed the guitar tune to a note lower, would you consequently also need to transpose the chord to something else? – user25814 Jan 12 '16 at 4:41
  • @user25814 do you mean tuning every string a semitone lower? if you do that, then the same chord that was C will now be B - a semitone lower. – topo morto Jan 12 '16 at 9:18

The answer depends on what exactly you are trying to accomplish by dropping the tuning.

I often drop my tuning from standard E A D G B E to half step flat tuning which is Eb Ab Db Gb Bb Eb (or D# B# C# etc. if your clip on digital tuner defaults to sharps instead of flats). I do this so I can play the songs I want to play with the usual chords for each of those songs but can sing the song a half step lower so it falls more comfortably within my vocal range.

So if you want to tune your guitar lower in order for the singer to be able to sing in a lower key while you play the easy chords say from the G major chord set (as an example) - then you can play those easy G C D chords - but the singer can sing the song as if you were playing in the key of F if you tuned your guitar a whole step flat.

I am not sure why else you might want to tune your guitar a whole step flat, but if your guitar is tuned a whole step flat, you would have to play different chords than written for the song in order to play the song in the key the chords were written for.

So if you are looking at a chord chart/lead sheet/fake book and the chords are written for a song in the key of G (using G and C and D major chords) and your guitar is tuned a whole step flat, you would not be able to play it in the key of G using the G and C and D major chord shapes. If you did, you would actually be playing the song in the key of F instead of G.

If you wanted to still play it in the key of G you would have to transpose the chords in your brain (or write down the new chords) so that you would know that you now must play as if it was in the key of A in order to be in the key of G. So whenever you saw a G chord you would play an A shape which would sound like a G (but look like an A) if you are tuned a whole step flat. To play a C chord (sounds like) on a guitar tuned a whole step flat you would play a D shaped chord.

One easy way to transpose on guitar without changing your guitar's tuning - is to use a simple tool called a capo. There are many different types of capos but they all do the same thing - allow you to instantly transpose a song on guitar to a new key while using the familiar and easy chords you like to use. Here is a picture in case you have not yet learned about the magical capo.


Here is a useful chart you can use to help you transpose to different keys using a capo.

Capo Transposition Chart

  • But a capo would only allow the key to raise higher rather than lower,right? – user25821 Jan 12 '16 at 7:38
  • Yes, a capo allows you to "transpose up" on a guitar easily. – user6164 Jan 12 '16 at 13:45
  • @User813 Actually a capo will allow you to transpose to a lower key as well. For example in the capo chart shown in this answer you can see that if you want to play chords from the key of D but transpose down to to say the key of B - you can place the capo on the 9th fret and sing the song in the lower key of B. It is more common to use a capo to transpose up though. – Rockin Cowboy Jan 13 '16 at 2:40
  • 1
    Not necessarily 'more common to use a capo to transpose up'. Often, players use a capo in order to play a song in the key they want, but using chords 'from a different key'. I.e. Song's in C, open chords, using C F G. Player likes A D E. Puts capo on 3rd fret. Voila! No transposing anywhere really. – Tim Feb 21 at 7:41
  • @Tim - I do that routinely. Some chord sets allow for certain embellishments to be played more easily - such as a walking bass line. Whenever I learn a new cover song on guitar, I will try several different chord sets just to see which lends itself to adding fills or runs that fit with the song. – Rockin Cowboy Feb 23 at 1:14

Guitar is entirely relative, assuming you're keeping the tuning the same but dropping all the pitches. If you do this, the guitar will "play" the same way no matter how low or high you go. The important part to remember here is the relativity of tuning. If you're comparing the tuning to standard E (EADGBE) and tuning a whole step down to D (DGCFAD), then all your fingerings and chords will transpose a whole step down. If you play a C major chord in standard E tuning, it will turn into a Bb automatically if you tune everything down a whole step.

If you're playing a guitar that's down tuned a whole step to D and someone asked you to play a C major, you would really be playing a Bb major, so you would need to transpose that C major to your guitar and play a Dmajor shape.

Check out this resource for a more traditional explanation and how it relates to concert (orchestra) instruments.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.