The Art of
Dropped D Guitar
by El McMeen
By Paul Kucharski
One of the benefits I have as the creator of this site is the wonderful opportunity to review new fingerstyle books when they are released. I have yet to see any book from El McMeen or Mel Bay that I didn't like, so I always look forward to the chance to see what they've come up with next. El's latest, "The Art of Dropped D Guitar" covers a tuning that has never gotten the kind of attention it deserves until now. Players who are familiar with El know that he has numerous books and videos out on fingerstyle guitar. Most of his work prior to this has focused on a tuning he adopted and refined more than any other player before him; CGDGAD. Many of his arrangements in that tuning were of Celtic tunes. In fact he had become renowned for such stellar arrangements as "The Star of the County Down." But as El states in the introduction to this book, "many guitarists are reluctant to make radical changes in the tuning of the guitar. They rightly conclude that it can take a significant effort to learn note and chord positions in different tunings." And I would agree that a new tuning does require a certain investment of time just to "learn your way around in it." So El decided to re-arrange many of the tunes he'd done in CGDGAD to Dropped D to make these classic tunes more available to those not ready to venture that far from standard.
If you aren't already aware, the Dropped D tuning is just the low 6th string dropped down one whole step to D so you have DADGBE.
In addition to many Celtic pieces, he also included quite a number of classic American pieces like "America the Beautiful" and popular praise pieces like "Drifting Too Far from the Shore" and "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring." I think he did an exemplary job of giving a new character to many of these tunes in Dropped D. He makes great use of open strings in his arrangements to give them the rich character of a full open tuning.
A book that focuses on one single tuning is an interesting idea but also creates some unique challenges. The challenge in such an endeavor is find a way to present a broad sampling of the possibilities that the tuning can offer. One the interesting things that El did in this set of works was to include a few of the arrangements in more than one key and many of the tunes in keys other than D. Tunes such as "The Star of the County Down" (keys of A minor & C# minor), "Red-Haired Boy" (keys of A & C), and "Bridget Cruise" (keys of A & F) give you a unique opportunity to explore how the character of a tune can be changed by changing the key and what the resultant change in voicing can do for a piece in Dropped D.
The variety of keys he used showcases the versatility of Dropped D since the majority of the strings are still standard tuning. You'll find arrangements in the keys of C, A minor, G, D, A, F, and C# minor. The most common key is the key of A. Another interesting thing about his arrangements is that he sought out the best time signature for each arrangement. You'll find pieces in the common 4/4 time and 3/4 time, but also some in 2/4, 6/8, and 9/8 time. There is no shortage of variety in this book, that's for sure!
The book contains 33 solo guitar pieces (listed below); most of which are played on the CD by acclaimed guitarist Warren S. Haskell. The book is very well laid out with large easy-to-read Tab and standard notation. The front section of the book also contains an introduction and some introductory information on each piece.
All-in-All, I would have to say this book is a sure-fire winner and would be a great addition to any fingerstyle players library. The variety of the arrangements really does showcase the flexibility of the Dropped D tuning and you'll find the music fun and challenging to play. Be sure to try Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring and Greensleeves .... wonderful!