D Major Scale on Guitar: Positions & Theory
In this lesson we’re going to take a deeper look at the D major scale, which is another commonly used scale in popular music. We’ll take a look at the notes, intervals, scale positions and chords that make up the key of D major. Let’s get started.
Notes of D Major
D major scale is a 7-note diatonic scale that contains the following notes:
D – E – F# – G – A – B – C#
As you can seen, the D major scale contains two sharps, F# and C#. If you have trouble remembering or figuring out the number of sharps for flats a given scale contains, using the Circle of Fifths can help.
All major scales have the same interval structure, so the D major scale consists of the following intervals:
- Major 2nd
- Major 3rd
- Perfect 4th
- Perfect 5th
- Major 6th
- Major 7th
In the table below, we can see how the notes and scale intervals are related.
|Intervals||Root||Major 2nd||Major 3rd||Perfect 4th||Perfect 5th||Major 6th||Major 7th|
Being a major scale, the D major scale follows the major scale structure of whole and half step intervals:
W W H W W W H
If you recall, a whole step is equal to two frets on the guitar and a half step is equal to one fret. If we map this pattern of whole steps and half steps on the guitar, starting with the D note on the 10th fret of the 6th string, we can build the D major scale.
As you can see in the diagram above, we get the following:
- From D to E is 2 frets (Whole step)
- From E to F# is 2 frets (Whole step)
- From F# to G is 1 fret (Half step)
- From G to A is 2 frets (Whole step)
- From A to B is 2 frets (Whole step)
- From B to C# is 2 frets (Whole step)
- From C# to D is 1 fret (Half step)
Now that we know the notes of the scale, the scale structure, and the intervals that make up the D major scale, we can map the scale to the fretboard and learn the scale positions.
D Major Scale Guitar Positions
Like all major scales, the notes of the D major scale can be grouped to form five distinct patterns that are interconnected up and down the fretboard. These patterns are commonly referred to as CAGED patterns because they correlate with the open chord shapes of C, A, G, E, and D chords.
Let’s take a look at each D major scale position. For each position, I’ve included three fretboard diagrams.
The first diagram contains the scale shape with the notes of the scale on the note markers.
The second diagram shows the intervals of the scale. It’s really important to study the intervals of each scale position closely. The intervals are the same for every major scale, which means these scale shapes can be transposed to other keys and the intervals will be found in the same locations relative to the root.
In other words, these scale shapes are moveable and you can play any other major scale by simply playing the same scale pattern starting from a different root note.
The third diagram indicates the recommended fingering for the position. These fingerings are common, but feel free to adjust them as needed.
Guitar tab and audio is included for each position.
When playing through the scale positions, it’s best to start on the lowest root note and play the scale ascending and descending, making sure to play all of the notes of the position. This will allow you to hear how the scale sounds relative to the key center note, D, and help develop your ear for being able to recognize the major scale by hearing it only.
Position 1 for the D major scale starts with the root note on the 10th fret of the 6th string. This position contains three root notes, found on the 6th string, 4th string, and the 1st string.
The second position starts with the root note on the 12th fret of the 4th string. This position contains two root notes, with the second root note falling on the 15th fret of the 2nd string.
Position three also contains two root notes. The lowest root, and starting point for this position of the scale, is found on the 5th fret of the 5th string. The other root note is found on the 3rd fret of the 2nd string.
The 4th position contains two root notes, the bass which is on fret 5 of the 5th string and the 2nd on the 7th fret of the 3rd string.
This position spans six frets, so it will require some stretching and position shifting to play in full. Feel free to experiment with the suggested fingerings.
Position 5 is the only other position to contain three root notes. The bass root is found on fret 10 of the 6th string while the other two are on the 7th fret of the 3rd string and the 10th fret of the 1st string.
D Major Scale Connected
Below you can see how the positions of the D major scale are connected. Note that the diagrams start at the top of the fretboard with position 3.
In the Major Scale Lesson Pack you learn how to connect these patterns to form major scales that run up and down the neck.
Building the Chords of D Major
Building chords from the D major scale, or harmonizing the D major scale, gives us all the chords in the key of D major. These chords are diatonic to D major and can be used in any D major chord progression.
To build chords from a scale, you simply stack thirds for each note in the scale to build triads. What this means is we take the first note, count three notes to get the second note and count three more to get the third note of the chord.
An easier way to look at it is you’re taking the 1st note (root), the 3rd note, and the 5th note of the scale. Check out How to Build Major Scale Chords for a complete lesson on this process.
Let’s start by writing out each note in the scale, then we’ll go note by note and build the chord for each.
D – E – F# – G – A – B – C#
D Major Chord
Starting with D as the root we get the D major chord:
D – E – F# – G – A – B – C#
- D – F# – A
Starting with E as the root we the E minor chord:
E – F# – G – A – B – C# – D
- E – G – B
Starting with F# as the root we get the F# minor chord:
F# – G – A – B – C# – D – E
- F# – A – C#
G Major Chord
Starting with G as the root we get the G major chord:
G – A – B – C# – D – E – F#
- G – B – D
A Major Chord
Starting with A as the root we get the A major chord:
A – B – C# – D – E – F# – G
- A – C# – E
Starting with B as the root we get the B minor chord:
B – C# – D – E – F# – G – A
- B – D – F#
Starting with C# as the root we get the C# diminished chord:
C# – D – E – F# – G – A – B
- C# – E – G
Relative Minor of D Major
Every major scale has a relative minor, which is the minor scale that shares the same notes and chords as the major. This can be found on the sixth degree of the major scale. So if we take a look another look at the notes of D major, we see the 6th degree is B, which gives us B minor as the relative minor to D major.
Even though the scales share the same notes and chords, the feel is different. This is because you’re changing the key center. For more on the concept, check out the relative minor and relative major scales lesson.
Songs in the Key of D Major
Here are a few songs, including the chord progressions, from the 52 Easy Songs for Guitar lesson that are in the key of D.
- Bad Moon Rising – Credence Clearwater Revival
- Used to Love Her – Guns N’ Roses
- Dead Flowers – The Rolling Stones
- Sweet Jane – The Velvet Underground
It’s good to examine the chord progressions of these songs and play along. It’ll help you develop your ear in order to be able to identify the key center based on hearing the chords alone, valuable skill.
This wraps up the lesson on the D major scale. You now should have a solid understanding the D major scale, having covered the notes and intervals that make up the scale, the chords that are built from the D major scale, and its relative minor scale.
Again, next steps would be to apply this information musically. The major scale lesson pack provides some examples for getting started with playing scales over chords and provides backing tracks for doing so. The lesson pack is based on the G major scale, but the examples are applicable to any major scale, including D major.
Further your knowledge of the major scale with the Major & Minor Scale Lesson Pack, which includes lesson workbooks for both the major and minor scales, practice guides, and more.
Get notified of new lessons!
Get The Book of Scales when you sign up for lesson updates.