One of the best things about learning piano is discovering the various musical keys. Each one has its own mood and can add distinctive color to your music. But scales are the backbones of keys, and learning your scales will give you a pathway to musical success. Today we’ll be looking at the D minor scale (for the sake of clarity, we’re looking at the D natural minor scale).
Getting To Know the D Minor Scale
The D natural minor scale is the baseline of the key of D minor, the fourth most popular minor key, and the 10th most popular key overall. Poet and composer Christian Schubart wrote in 1806 that this is a key of “melancholy womanliness.” It does have a certain melancholy to it, making it ideal for bringing out the feelings of listeners.
Even though D minor isn’t the most common musical key, several famous classical pieces are in D minor. Bach’s The Art of Fugue, most of Mozart’s Requiem, and Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 17 are all in D minor.
Structure and Formula of the D Minor Scale
You might already know the scale formula you can use to figure out any minor scale. Starting with the first note (D), you follow this pattern of whole steps and half steps: W-H-W-W-H-W-W. When we start with D and use the formula, we get the D natural minor scale:
D E F G A B♭ C
As you can see, this scale only has one flat. That means that if you look at a key signature and see only one flat symbol where B is located on the staff, the piece is in the key of D minor.
Each of the notes on the scale has its own name, called a scale degree. Each one also has an interval that describes where it falls in relation to the first note. Here are the note names, scale degrees, and intervals for the D natural minor scale:
- D – tonic (the root note) – tonic
- E – supertonic – major 2nd
- F – mediant – minor 3rd
- G – subdominant – perfect 4th
- A – dominant – perfect 5th
- B♭ – submediant – minor 6th
- C – subtonic – minor 7th
- D (one octave higher) – octave – perfect 8th
How to Play and Learn the D Minor Scale on Piano (With Fingerings)
If you’ve ever taken piano lessons, your teacher probably stressed the importance of learning the fingerings for any scale right the first time! Below, we go through how to play the D natural minor scale with each hand on the piano keyboard. We’ve also included the number of each finger: thumb (1), index finger (2), middle finger (3), ring finger (4), and pinky (5).
How to play the D minor scale with your right hand:
- Start with D; this is the white key to the right of C. Play it with your thumb (1).
- Next, play E (one white key to the right) with your index finger (2).
- Now play F (another white key to the right) with your middle finger (3).
- Cross your thumb (1) under your fingers and use it to play G (one white key to the right).
- Now play A (the next white key to the right) with your index finger (2).
- Then play B♭ (the black key to the right of A) with your middle finger (3).
- Now play C (two white keys to the right of B♭) with your ring finger (4).
- Finally, play D (one white key to the right of C) with your pinky (5). This D is an octave higher than the one you started with.
How to play the D minor scale with your left hand:
- Start by playing D with your pinky (5).
- Then play E with your ring finger (4).
- Next, play F with your middle finger (3).
- Now play G with your index finger (2).
- Then play A with your thumb (1).
- Now, cross your fingers over your thumb and play B♭ with your middle finger (3).
- Now play C with your index finger (2).
- Finally, play D with your thumb (1).
Since the D natural minor scale only has one flat, it isn’t as hard to master as some other scales. This video will show you how to play it using each hand.
Relative and Parallel Scales
As you learn scales, it’s a good idea to get a general sense of how piano scales relate to each other. Each major scale has a relative minor scale and vice versa. Relative scales contain the same seven notes (but in a different order). F major (F G A B♭ C D E) is the relative major scale of D minor.
Parallel scales simply share the same root note or starting note. So the D natural minor scale and the D major scale are relative scales.
Chords of the Scale and Their Scale Degrees
Want to know which chords fall into the key of D minor? All you need to do is take the scale and apply this formula: i-ii°-III-iv-v-VI-VII. Lowercase numerals indicate a minor chord, the degree symbol indicates a diminished chord, and uppercase numerals indicate a major chord. When we do that, we can see each chord and its corresponding scale degree:
- i. D minor (Dm)
- ii°. E diminished (Edim)
- III. F major (F)
- iv. G minor (Gm)
- v. A minor (Am)
- VI. B♭ major (B♭)
- VII. C major (C)
Extended versions of these chords (like major sevenths and minor sevenths) also fall into the key.
Songs in the Key of D Minor
If you really want to get a sense of the mood of a musical key, sometimes it helps to just listen to a few songs in the key:
- “Careless Whisper” by George Michael
- “21 Guns” by Green Day
- “Breezeblocks” by Alt-J
- “Unbreak My Heart” by Toni Braxton
- “Come Together” by the Beatles
- “Somebody That I Used to Know” by Gotye
- “Set Fire to the Rain” by Adele
- “Grenade” by Bruno Mars
- “Paradise” by Coldplay
- “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” by Kylie Minogue
Common Chord Progressions
Making up your own chord progressions while writing music is a lot of fun. But when you’re just getting a feel for a new key, it’s helpful to know some common ones:
- i-iv-v (Dm-Gm-Am)
- i-VI-VII (Dm-B♭-C)
- ii-v-i (Em7♭5-Am-Dm)
- i-VI-III-VII (Dm-B♭-F-C)
Some of the above songs use interesting D minor progressions, too. The chorus of “Careless Whisper” by George Michael uses an i-i-iv-v-VI-v progression, but nearly all the chords are some type of seventh chords. The progression is Dm-Dm7-Gm7-Am7-B♭maj7-Am7. The chorus of the Bruno Mars hit “Grenade” has an i-VI-III-VII (Dm-B♭-F-C) progression. And the chorus of “Come Together” by the Beatles has a vi-V-IV-V (Bm-A-G-A) progression.
Whether you’re just learning the D minor scale for the first time or are brushing up on your piano skills, we hope you now have a better understanding of both the D minor scale and the key of D minor. Do you have any tips for beginner pianists just learning their scales? Let us know in the comments, and please like and share if you found the list helpful!