Dropped-D Jazz

THIS LESSON DEALS WITH dropped-D tuning in jazz guitar.
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THIS LESSON DEALS WITH dropped-D tuning in jazz guitar.


THIS LESSON DEALS WITH dropped-D tuning in jazz guitar. Dropped-D has been used effectively by such diverse players as Johnny Smith, Lenny Breau, John McLaughlin, and John Scofield and can allow guitarists to incorporate a range of sounds not available in standard tuning. So let’s dive in and go for it.

Ex. 1 illustrates comping with some hip descending 11th chord voicings in measure 1 that would be quite difficult in standard tuning. The tuning also allows for some interesting chromatic walking bass motion that embellishes the II-V progressions around the D7b9b5 and C7b9b5 in measures 2 and 3. The I chord in the last measure is very modern, physically easy to grab, and sounds warm and fat due to the lowered sixth string.

Ex. 2 shows a few of the novel harmonic possibilities within a chord/melody scenario. There are big, luxurious voicings possible in dropped-D and since this ending of an arrangement style example is in D major, we can really use the lowered sixth string to our advantage employing such devices as full resonant block chords in measures 1 and 3, arpeggios with melody notes in measure 2 and 3, and bass pedal tones with triads and impressionistic open-string voicings in measures 4 and 6, respectively. Have fun with the Johnny Smith approved line in measure 5 based on the D diminished scale (D, E, F, G, Ab, Bb, B, C#, D), which colors the preceding C# triad over a D natural bass note quite nicely. I hope these dropped-D examples give you fresh ideas for your own arrangements. Have fun!

Scott McGill is an instructor and BA Course Leader at the Brighton Institute of Modern Music in England.