Learning various music keys won’t just help expand your knowledge of music theory. It will also make you a better player. Plus, each scale has its own distinct “mood,” and these can be a lot of fun to discover. Today, we’ll be taking a look at the D major scale.
A Quick Intro to the D Major Scale
Some people call the key of D major the “key or triumph.” So if you want to write a piece of music that’s uplifting and substantial at once (much like a D major chord itself), you might consider this key.
This great scale is definitely one of the first ones beginners should learn. Plenty of classic and modern songs alike are written in D.
This includes a few legendary classical pieces, too. Since this key was typically used for ceremonial music, many of the pieces that use it are celebratory in nature. Mozart’s “Prague Symphony” is a great example. So is Tchaikovsky’s “Violin Concerto in D Major.”
Scale Structure of the D Major Scale
If you have trouble remembering your scales, you can construct any scale if you remember its formula. To get a major scale, you start with its first note and then add more notes according to this scale formula: whole step-whole step-half step-whole step-whole step-whole step-half step. So starting with D, we follow that formula to get this:
D E F# G A B C# D
If you’re new to piano, you might find this scale a little more challenging than the C major scale. That’s because, as you can see, the major scale notes contain two sharps: F# and C#. That means that the key signature for a piece in D major will have a sharp located next to the treble clef where both F# and C# are.
How to Play and Learn This Scale
One of the challenges of learning to play a scale correctly is learning which fingers to use on which keys. Here’s a guide to playing the D major scale with your right hand and your left hand.
- Start by playing D (the white key to the right of middle C) with your thumb.
- Then play E (the white key to the right of D) with your index finger.
- Then play F# (the black key to the right of F, which is the white key to the right of E) with your middle finger.
- Next, play G (the white key to the right of F#) with your thumb. To do this, cross your thumb under your middle finger.
- Then play A (the white key to the right of G) with your index finger.
- Next, play B (the white key to the right of A) with your middle finger.
- Now play C# (the black key to the right of C, which is the white key to the right of B) with your ring finger.
- Lastly, play D (the white key to the right of C#) with your pinky finger.
Use the same fingerings when going back down the scale. The only difference is that your middle finger will pass over your thumb on the way back down.
Of course, it’s best to learn to play the D major scale with your left hand, too. The process is quite similar. However, instead of having the thumb pass over the middle finger going up, the middle finger will pass over the thumb. On the way back down, your middle finger will pass under your thumb.
Many piano guides refer to fingers by number rather than by name. Here’s a quick guide to finger numbers:
- Thumb – 1
- Index finger – 2
- Middle finger – 3
- Ring finger – 4
- Pinky – 5
Start playing one octave at a time. As you get more confident, try playing the scale an octave higher! If you’d prefer a visual guide to all this, check out this helpful video lesson!
Relative and Parallel Scales
If you don’t yet know a whole lot of music theory, you may not be familiar with relative and parallel scales. However, the concepts behind relative and parallel scales are pretty simple.
Relative scales are made up of the same notes, but the root notes are different (and the rest of the notes are in a different order). The D major scale and the B minor scale have the same notes, so the B minor scale is the relative scale of the D major scale. All major scales have relative minor scales!
Parallel scales, on the other hand, simply have the same root note. The D major scale and the D minor scale have the same root note, so they would be considered parallel scales.
Chords of the Scale & Their Scale Degrees
If you want to play rhythm guitar in the key of D (using more than just the D major chord), it’s important to be familiar with at least some of the chords in the key. Here’s a quick rundown of the chords and their scale degrees:
- I – D major
- ii – E minor
- iii – F# minor
- IV – G major
- V – A major
- vi – B minor
- vii – C# diminished
If you’re wondering how to figure out the chords for any major key, the chords will always follow the same pattern of scale degrees: I (major), ii (minor), iii (minor), IV (major), V (major), vi (minor), vii (diminished).
Songs in The Key of D Major
Want to get a feel for how songs in this key sound? Check out this list of well-known songs in D:
- “Twist and Shout” by the Beatles
- “One More Time” by Daft Punk
- “Sad But True” by Metallica
- “The Chauffeur” by Duran Duran
- “Hotel California” by The Eagles
- “Mamma Mia” by ABBA
- “Love Story” by Taylor Swift
- “Proud Mary” by Ike & Tina Turner
Common Chord Progressions
There’s really no right or wrong way to construct a chord progression. But if you’re hoping to start writing in the key of D, it can be useful to know a few progressions that have been successful over the years:
- I – IV -V
- I – vi – IV – V
- ii – V – I
Keep in mind that you can use seventh, suspended, and other forms of the chords; you aren’t limited to triad chords. For example, the last progression on the list (ii – V – I) is often played as Em7 – A7 – Dmaj7.
You can also listen to the songs above for some examples. Here are a couple of good ones. “Twist and Shout” by the Beatles uses an I-IV-V major chord progression, which makes sense given its simple and upbeat melody. “Hotel California” by the Eagles has an intricately beautiful progression: vi – III – V – ii – IV – I – ii – III for the verse and IV – I – III – vi – IV – I – ii – III for the chorus. If you want to hear about more piano-specific chord progressions in the key of D major, check out this video!
Hopefully, you now have an idea of what the D major key sounds like and how it works. What do you think? Did our list help you learn to play the scale? Let us know in the comments (and please like and share if you learned something!).