Scales

D Major Guitar Scale | How To Play, Notes, Positions, Chords & Exercises

18 Mins read

The D major guitar scale is a great way of understanding all fundamental and most important concepts of not only the guitar but of music in general.

Its key signature has two sharps, F#, and C#, its relative minor is B minor, and its parallel minor is D minor.

In the Baroque era, D major was considered and known as “the key of glory,” hence why so many songs and symphonies were written it.

Also, the triads in this key are D major, E minor, F# minor, G major, A major, B minor, and C# diminished.

Two great examples of songs written in D Major are “The Thrill Is Gone” by B.B. King and “Canon in D” by Johann Pachelbel.

Notes in the D Major scale

Most scales are made up of seven notes, and the D major scale is no different.

The notes in the D major scale are: D E F# G A B C#

Altering one or two notes will change the entire key of the musical structure you’re working within, for instance:

  • If you change the G to G# and keep the rest of the notes of the D major scale, then you get the A major scale.
  • If you change F# to F, C# to C, and B to Bb, then you get the notes of D minor.

To play these notes in this exact order without alternating between your guitar strings, you can use your guitar’s 2nd string (B string) starting on fret 3:

notes in the D major scale

This won’t make too much sense if this is the first scale that you learn, but if you already know other major scales, then you might be able to recognize something.

There is sort of a formula or sequence that these notes follow on your guitar fretboard, that is:

  • D Major Scale = D (W) E (W) F# (H) G (W) A (W) B (W) C# (H)

Intervals of the D major scale

The intervals of the D major scale are:

  • Tonic: D
  • Major 2nd: E
  • Major 3rd: F#
  • Perfect 4th: G
  • Perfect 5th: A
  • Major 6th: B
  • Major 7th: C#
  • Perfect 8th: D

In the formula that we saw in the previous section, the parentheses were the distance between the notes of the major scale, which would essentially be:

whole, whole, half, whole, whole, whole, half

For those of you that don’t know, the term “whole” implies a whole tone, and “half” indicates one semitone.

In guitar terms, we can comprehend this better by relating the concept of a “whole-tone” distance to being equal to 2 frets, and a semitone to being the same as 1 fret.

This means that every fret on your guitar is a half step apart!

So from that same formula above we can say that for example, the E note is a whole-tone away from the F# note, or in guitar simple terms, they are 2 frets away from each other.

An interval in music is defined as a distance in pitch between any two notes.

Intervals are also named by size and quality, and they are many different ways that you can measure the intervals of a scale, for example, in half-steps, semitones, or frets.

The possible qualities are major, minor, perfect, diminished, and augmented.

Obviously, there are years and years of music theory knowledge out there, which honestly also brings just as many confusing and different terms for these concepts.

As long as you learn that an interval is just the gap between two different notes and that there are many ways of referring to them, you should be on the right track for now.

Relative Minor Of The D Major Scale

Just like we said at the beginning of this article, the relative minor scale of the D major scale is the B minor scale and its parallel minor scale is the D minor scale.

The notes in the D major scale are identical to the ones in the B minor scale but rather, the B minor scale uses the B note as its starting point (B, C♯, D, E, F♯, G, and A ).

Such idea can be easily explained and illustrated through the Circle Of Fifths:

Circle of fifths showing major and minor keys

The Circle Of Fifths is a way of organizing the 12 chromatic pitches as a sequence of perfect fifths.

Regarding the question of whether these two scales are the same even though one is major and the other one is minor…

A fundamental difference between the D major and B minor scales is that the tonal center and focus of the D major scale is the note D and the tonal center and focus of the B minor scale is B.

In other words, most chords and melodies will naturally return and rest on the D note when we’re using the D major scale, but in B minor they will eventually settle on the B notes.

Relative keys are the major and minor scales that have the same notes but are arranged in a different order.

Most songs created using the D major scale tend to sound joyful, positive, optimistic, and somewhat cheerful, whereas songs created using the B minor scale sound more serious, deep, and sad.

D Major Scale Guitar Fretboard Positions

In standard tuning, the D major guitar scale can be played at many different fretboard positions.

Take a look at the guitar fretboard screenshot below to see what I’m talking about:

D major scale notes across the fretboard

In yellow, you’ll find all the root notes across the entire guitar and you’ll notice that notes repeat themselves all over the fretboard.

There are many scale systems that you can use to play the D major guitar scale, the 3 most popular ones are:

  • The CAGED Scale System
  • 3 Notes Per String Scale System
  • 7 Position Scale System

Each one of them has its own benefits and drawbacks, for example, the CAGED scale system is the more suitable choice for beginners as it doesn’t require a lot of finger stretching.

The ‘3 Notes Per String’ and the ‘7 Position Scale’ systems can be helpful in many circumstances as they allow you to stay in one position for more extended periods while moving quickly around the fretboard.

I encourage you to think about scale systems as simply different ways of playing notes on a certain scale in various patterns.

Personally, I love the CAGED system since I think is the most practical one for learning chord shapes, arpeggios, and scales up and down the neck of the guitar.

See, the notes of the D major guitar scale that we showed in the fretboard screenshot above, actually overlap with the notes of the D major chord in all of its many chord shapes in the fretboard.

Just so that you can clearly visualize this idea, take a glance at all the possible D major chords that you can play on a guitar:

D major chord shapes across the fretboard

CAGED patterns are based on the open chord shapes of C, A, G, E, and D chords.

These are “moveable” scale shapes that you can use to play any other major scale by simply playing the same scale pattern starting from a different root note.

If you know how to play all these chord shapes and master a particular scale, then you pretty much will know all of the other major scales as well.

You will get extremely better at remembering solos and chords and improvising in any key the more you can see chords and scales together in your guitar fretboard.

Position 1: CAGED “E” Shape

The first position that we’ll learn is the “E” shape, which you can easily find by locating the D scale root note on the 6th string of your guitar.

In this case, that will be on the 10th fret although this position starts on the 9th fret; it would look something like this:

D major scale CAGED system E shape

Now, for any scale, you’d typically want to begin playing from the lowest root note, and then play up to the highest note available.

Just so that you’re aware, the highest note available doesn’t necessarily have to be a root note.

In this case, the highest note available in the position is on the 12th fret of the 1st string and not actually on the root note in the 10th fret.

Now, after we played down to the lowest note available, we’d simply play our way back to the starting root note (if the lowest note in the diagram is not the root note, then we’d go to that one instead).

In other words, remember that when we started we technically skipped the first note, well, now we’re playing that note, and then we’re going to end in the same root note that we started.

If that’s a little confusing, then in tablature form is way better to understand it:

D Major Scale CAGED E Shape Tabs

If you’re just starting to learn how to play scales, play this as slow as possible and work on your accuracy rather than speed.

As you feel more comfortable, then start to speed up; using a metronome would be ideal.

Position 2: CAGED “D” Shape

For the second position, we’ll be playing the “D” shape pattern of the CAGED system.

To find this pattern on your guitar fretboard, you can look for the D scale root note on the 4th string of your guitar.

D major scale CAGED system D shape

The same ideas are occurring here, the shape closely follows a D open chord shape with all the other notes from the D major scale side by side.

In tablature form this would give us something like this:

D Major Scale CAGED D Shape Tabs

Just like in the previous position, we’re going to start from the lowest root note of the position, and then play up to the highest note available.

That would be on the 12th fret, 4th string, up until the 15th fret, 1st string, which again is also not a root note and it doesn’t actually have to be.

Once we reach the last note, we’d start to go back to the lowest note available, which for this position is on the 12th fret, 6th string.

After that, we’d play our way back to the starting root note if the lowest note in the position was not the root note, which if it was, we would be done right there.

Position 3: CAGED “C” Shape

We’ll now get to see the “C” shape pattern, which for the D major scale it would be position 3.

The two root notes in this position are located in the 5th fret, 5th string, and on the 3rd fret, 2nd string of your guitar fretboard.

D major scale CAGED system C shape

As a side note, it’s confusing why the CAGED “C” shape is referred to as position 3 instead of position 1 (since the “C” is the first letter in “CAGED”) then let me tell you why that is.

We generally number and name scale patterns based on which one has the lowest root notes.

In other words, out of all the patterns in a particular scale, the one that has a root note on the 6th string or the lowest root note of all, will be pattern 1.

Putting this scale into tabs form, we’d have something like this:

D Major Scale CAGED C Shape Tabs

Take a closer look and you’ll see that this position fits very nicely under your fret hand.

If you’re a beginner and feel some discomfort when stretching your hand too much, then I’d recommend starting with and learning this shape first.

Position 4: CAGED “A” Shape

The CAGED “A” shape position is the most challenging one because it spans 6 frets.

Not only that, but it plays 3 consecutive notes that are 1 whole step apart from each other, that is on the 6th string:

D major scale CAGED system A shape

Now, this shape is also the only one out of all that people tend to play differently every time.

Some guitar players ignore the note on the 3rd fret, 6th string, and replace it with a new one at the end of the scale pattern on the 9th fret, 1st string.

On the other hand, some others just decide to not play these notes at all and simply start the pattern on the 5th fret – 6th string of your guitar.

In tabs, following all the same principles we’ve talked about before, we’d have to play something like this:

D Major Scale CAGED A Shape Tabs

If you choose to play the 3 consecutive notes that are 1 whole step apart from each other and you’re not as comfortable doing so, then once again make sure that you play as slow as possible.

Focus on precision and accuracy first, and with time and patience, start building up your speed when you feel like you can safely do so.

Position 5: CAGED “G” Shape

The last position that we’ll play is going to be the “G” shape pattern.

Out of all shapes, this one, along with position 1, has more than 3 root notes:

D major scale CAGED system G shape

For those of you wanting to improvise solos and be able to create your own riffs from these scales, having a lot of root notes to put emphasis on is a great thing.

This is because it allows you to find a lot more patterns and licks that you can later memorize and play.

This scale would give us something like this in tablature format:

D Major Scale CAGED G Shape Tabs

Chords in the D Major Scale

In this section, we’re going to show you the 7 chords that come from the D major guitar scale.

With the 7 notes (D E F# G A B C#) of the scale, you can get a group of chords built from those same notes.

The 7 chords in the D major scale are:

  • I – D major (D)
  • ii – E minor (Em)
  • iii – F# minor (F#m)
  • IV – G major (G)
  • V – A major (A)
  • vi – B minor (Bm)
  • vii° – C# diminished (C#dim)

The first 6 chords are used all the time in many popular songs we hear every day.

Now, you may be thinking, “How are these chords in specific related to the D major scale?”

This is a great point and many articles that you’ll find online on this topic fail to explain in simple terms.

Take a look at the table below summarizing the chords in the D major scale and their notes:

ChordDEmF#mGABmC#dim
NotesD-F#-AE-G-BF#-A-C#G-B-DA-C#-EB-D-F#C#-E-G

These notes are not random, they are triads, meaning a given note with the third and fifth above it.

So for example, taking the 7 original notes of the D major scale, D E F# G A B C#, if we wanted to assemble our first chord, we’d do the following…

Take the first note (D) in the scale and look for its 3rd (two notes up) and its 5th on the scale (moving up another 2 notes up from the third).

That gives us D, F#, and A, also known as the D major chord (D – E – F# – G – A – B – C#).

For the second, third, and all the other chords, it’ll end up giving you something like this:

  • E minor chord: D – E – F# – G – A – B – C#
  • F# minor chord: D – E – F# – G – A – B – C#
  • G major chord: D – E – F# – G – A – B – C#
  • A major chord: D – E – F# – G – A – B – C#
  • B minor chord: D – E – F# – G – A – B – C#
  • C# diminished: D – E – F# – G – A – B – C#

Once again, if you’re barely learning about scales I don’t recommend you go crazy trying to understand this, but just know that there are reasons why some chords are in one key and some others aren’t.

Now, let’s actually take a closer look at all the chords in the D major scale one by one:

D Major Chord

We’ll start with D major (I) and its several chord shapes up and down the neck:

D major chord diagrams

You should be able to recognize the first chord if you’ve been playing guitar for a while now; it’s almost always one of the first ones we learn.

For those of you that might be more comfortable reading music in another format, this might help:

D major chord shapes

What I want you to notice, though, is the relationship of the scales that we showed earlier to these chords.

Go back to the last section and you’ll see how they fit perfectly with each other and how every note in these chords is in the fretboard diagram at the beginning.

This might be evident to tons of people, but it can be a strong a-ha moment if you’ve struggled to make an understanding of music theory in the past.

E Minor Chord

Let’s go over some more chords in the D Major scale.

This time, let’s take a look at the Em (ii) chord and its most popular chord positions:

E minor chord diagrams

And here is the tabs of each one of these chord shapes side by side:

E minor chord shapes tabs

The first chord is the simple Em open chord that you may have learned already, but the other two shapes are also very important to learn as well.

Knowing them will allow you to play anywhere on your guitar fretboard which can definitely add a lot of variation to your songs.

Also, if you haven’t really mastered playing barre chords at all, this is your chance to give it a try.

F# Minor Chord

If you took the time to play the last chord we discussed, then this one will feel remarkably similar because it’s the same shape just two frets away.

Take a look at these F#m (iii) chord diagrams across the guitar fretboard:

F# minor chord diagrams

Although there are many other shapes aside from these 3, these are among the most used ones.

F sharp minor chord shapes

Going back to the idea of learning and memorizing all these chords, you start to realize that the easiest way of doing so is to pretty much learn the shapes rather than remembering all the positions.

Once you understand that you can find the root note of a chord in the 6th string and play a barre chord with an E minor chord shape, you’ve already learned all the possible minor chords.

G Major Chord

Now let’s move to the next chord that comes from the D major guitar scale, in this case, the G major (IV) chord.

In this case, the first and second diagrams are the most common shapes that you’ll encounter as a guitar player:G major chord diagrams

When it comes to the third and last ones, although people use them less frequently, they are both still popular versions that many guitar players will use when making chord transitions and progressions.

Here are the same 4 chord shapes in tablature form:

G major chord shapes

If you’re a beginner, I would discourage you from learning the third shape until you feel more comfortable and gain more experience as a guitarist.

The finger stretching in those types of positions can hurt your hand badly and it’s simply not that worth it.

A Major Chord

The next chord that we’ll talk about is the A major chord (V).

Here are 4 different shapes that you can play across the guitar fretboard:

In tablature form, these 4 chords would look something like this:

A major chord shapes

You know how I just said to you that learning different shapes of the same chord allows you to add variation to your songs, well, this is another one of those cases again.

Although at least for me, the only two shapes I consistently play are the first and second ones.

I can definitely see how the last shape, for example, would be great for a transition between the A to F#m chords in a certain progression on the 9th fret, since all it takes is changing one finger.

B Minor Chord

Let’s now take a look at some B minor (vi) chord diagrams:

B minor chord diagrams

In the key of D major, this chord holds a special place since the relative minor key of the D major key is the B minor key.

You might be able to recognize chord progressions such as D-A-Bm-G and Bm-G-D-A using some of the chords we’ve talked about so far.

The former was used in “With or Without You” by U2, and the latter has been used in songs such as “It’s My Life” by Bon Jovi.

In tablature form, these B minor chord variations can be represented like this:

B minor chord shapes

Once again, knowing the different chord shapes across the fretboard is very practical when memorizing the actual scales as it allows you to see and understand the theory behind them.

C Sharp Diminished Chord

Lastly, we’re going to take a look at some C# diminished chord variations (vii°), here are 3 of the many different shapes that you can play:

C# diminished chord diagrams

The first shape is in my opinion the easiest one to play, although I love how the 2nd and 3rd chord ones sound by far.

Many online articles simply ignore this type of chord when they do a beginner-friendly tutorial about major scales, we believe that you should definitely know about it.

In tablature form, these C# diminished chord variations can be illustrated like this:

C sharp diminished chord shapes

When playing these chords, make sure you pay attention to whenever a string doesn’t have to be played, that is an X for diagrams and an empty string for tabs.

This is very important to make sure you’re not playing notes outside of the D major scale.

You should definitely watch this YouTube video by Worship Tutorials on chord voicings in the key of D major:

Alternate Chord Voicings - Key of D (guitar lesson)

In my opinion, what he teaches in this video is a great step in starting to go from a beginner to an intermediate guitar player when it comes to guitar chords.

Using different chord voicings not only makes your playing unique but also opens the door for very fascinating and beautiful melodies to be discovered and written.

Guitar Exercises In the D Major Scale

Now let’s play some guitar exercises to help you both remember these scales and chords and increase your accuracy when doing so.

For the first two exercises, we’re going to play different chords in the scale of D major, and for the other two, we’re going to come up with our own guitar licks using what we’ve learned so far about the CAGED system scale positions.

Exercise 1

The first exercise is very simple, we’re just going to play all the chords in the D major key one by one.

What I want you to do is play this a couple of times so that you get a sense of what each chord represents when played with all the other ones.

D Major Scale Guitar Exercise 1

After you do so, before jumping into exercise 2, I challenge you to come with your own chord progression just by using your intuition.

Start altering the order in which you play these chords and create progressions of only 4 or 2 chords.

You can go back to the chord diagrams and use different versions across the fretboard.

Exercise 2

Now, for exercise 2, we’re going to go over one of the most popular chord progressions in the key of D major, that is D-Bm-G-A or I-vi-IV-V.

D Major Scale Guitar Exercise 2

Did you by any chance play this on exercise 1?

Nevertheless, you might be able to hear some similarities between these chords and those from the so popular “Stand By Me” by Ben E. King.

Although “Stand By Me” is in the key of A major, it uses the same I-vi-IV-V chords from that key.

Exercise 3

Our third exercise is based on the CAGED “E” shape.

Instead of playing the scale like we normally would, this time we’re going to create our own guitar lick with the help of the scale itself.

D Major Scale Guitar Exercise 3

A lot of lead guitar playing is going to involve using the information in chords and scales to create our own melodies.

I advise you to play these as slow as you can with the help of a metronome and start increasing your speed up as you get more comfortable.

We often just focus on playing scales right from a diagram and ignore all the musical information contained therein and how to use it in actual real scenarios.

Hopefully, this exercise shows you how by simply looping a specific pattern over and over, or by changing the order in which you play a scale you can begin to grow your soloing skills.

Exercise 4

Our last exercise is my favorite one out of all the other ones that we’ve played so far.

This exercise is based on the CAGED “E” shape.

D Major Scale Guitar Exercise 4

Before you even attempt to play it, you must know that this is an accuracy exercise, in other words, it’s not meant to be played fast at all.

I advise you to also play it very slowly with the help of a metronome starting at 60-70 bpm and then increase your speed by 5bpm each time.

For low-experienced players, working on accuracy alone will make a huge difference in how much progress is made in their overall mastering of the guitar.

Here’s an awesome backing track in the key of D major that you can use to put together everything you’ve learned so far:

Acoustic Guitar Backing Track In D Major | Blissful (Version 2)

This video will show you the chords that the rhythm guitar is playing and will also provide you with the D major scale notes across the entire fretboard.

You should use that information to alternate between rhythm and lead guitar, and go from playing chords to soloing every so often.

Chord Progressions In The D Major Scale

It’s time to have some fun and talk about chord progressions in the D major scale.

Use these to build your song repertoire and study how other musicians have used the information that we just presented to you in actual songs.

D – G – A

Our first example will be a very beginner-friendly progression of open chords.

These chords, when put together sound naturally joyful, happy, and come full of positive energy.

D G A chord progression

We’ve all seen it happen, again and again, three chords are all it takes to make a hit song, and that’s in any genre ranging from rock, blues, funk, and pop.

To change the feel of the progression and make it sound more interesting while playing, you can alternate between playing the open, barre, and power chords variations.

D – A – Bm – G

This chord progression is one of my personal favorites.

Although, yes, it’s also one of the most used ones ever, it’s still undeniably a beautiful arrangement of chords.

D A Bm G chord progression

Something cool about these chords is that no matter the order in which you play them, they’ll always sound right.

With that being said, you can even play:

  • D-A-G-Bm
  • D-Bm-G-A
  • D-Bm-A-G
  • D-G-Bm-A
  • D-G-A-Bm

Switching around and coming up with your own patterns is a very simple way of making any boring song a little more enjoyable.

D – G – Bm – F#m

Lastly, we’ll play a chord progression that uses the F#m chord in the key of D major.

This one is very similar to the previous one but it goes to show how any combination of chords can be a new idea to implement.

D G Bm F sharp minor chord progression

Once again, I encourage you to change the order of the chords and see what you’re able to come up with.

Since most chords in the key of D major are not necessarily difficult to learn and memorize, they’re very used by both beginners and advanced players whenever they’re writing new music.

Other songs that were written using the D major scale are:

  • “Canon in D” by Johann Pachelbel
  • “Wake Me Up” by Avicii
  • “Comfortably Numb” by Pink Floyd
  • “With or Without You” by U2
  • “Everlong” by Foo Fighters
  • “Thank You” by Led Zeppelin
  • “All Apologies” by Nirvana
  • “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” by The Clash
  • “Kashmir” by Led Zeppelin
  • “Blowin’ in the Wind” by Bob Dylan
  • “Under Pressure” by Queen
  • “Domination” by Pantera
  • Sunshine Of Your Love” by Cream
  • “Soul Love” by David Bowie
  • “Freak on a Leash” by Korn

One more thing

GuitarBased.com is all about showing you a little bit more about guitars each day and discovering ways to innovate and have a good time with this amazing instrument that we love.

That’s why if you feel like you enjoyed this article, then I invite you to go check out our blog!

We’re always sharing a lot of valuable and practical content that both beginners and advanced players can use to further their playing capabilities.

As always, thank you for reading and being here! 🤘

Related posts
Scales

A Major Guitar Scale | How To Play, Notes, Positions, Chords & Exercises

19 Mins read
The A major guitar scale is an excellent way of grasping all of the fundamental and most crucial concepts of not only…
Scales

C Major Guitar Scale | How To Play, Notes, Positions, Chords & Exercises

18 Mins read
The C major guitar scale will teach you many of the most basic, and crucial, concepts of not only the guitar but…