The D chord, or D major, is one of those fundamental chords you must learn to play the guitar effectively. This popular chord shows up in songs in every genre. Master the shape of D in the beginning so that you can start strumming your favorite tunes in no time. For starters, the happy birthday guitar chords include D, so try that easy song out first!
Executing the D Chord
Now let’s get into how to play an open D major chord.
Step by Step Breakdown:
- Place your index finger on the second fret of the third string.
- Place your middle finger on the second fret of the first string.
- Place your ring finger on the third fret of the second string.
- Strum the highest four strings.
Do your best to place your fingers as outlined. You may find getting the correct fingering more challenging at first, but the more you practice finding the shape, the easier it gets. It may help you to arrange your fingers in number order. Start with your first finger (index) on the third string, second finger (middle) on the first string, and third finger (ring) on the second string. Try this method and see if it works for you.
D Major Chord Theory
Before we learn how to play the D chord, let’s talk about basic music theory and building chords.
We can sum up the basic formula for building major chords like D in three ways. All of these describe the same thing, but use slightly different language.
- Root note + Major third above the Root + Perfect fifth above the Root
- Root note + Major third above the Root + Minor third above the Major third
- A one, three, five pattern
Using this information, we can build a D major chord by starting with the D note (the Root), then stacking on the major third (F#) and the perfect fifth (A).
So D + F# + A = D chord.
Now let’s take the one, three, five pattern from above and see how it relates to the D chord. In the D major scale:
D = first note
F# = third note
A = fifth note
And the D major scale is made up of these notes: D – E – F# – G – A – B – C# – D.
When you look at the fretboard with only D, F#, and A labeled, you’ll see that they’re all over the place. That means you can make all kinds of D major chords. In fact, you can play D chords in many different ways. In this article, you’ll learn the traditional way, as well as a few other variations.
Another chord to try: F#m guitar chord
A Quick Music History Lesson
D major is one of the most popular chords used in songs across the board (including Billboard). Why is this? The D chord has a long history. We see it come alive during the Baroque period (17th-18th centuries), when it was referred to as the “key of glory.” Most of Mozart’s unnumbered symphonies are in D major, and 23 of Haydn’s 104 symphonies also use the D chord.
It’s popularity continued into the Romantic period and beyond, most likely because the violin’s strings are tuned to G – D – A – E, making composers a bit more sympathetic to D major.
Another reason for its popularity may stem back to when people played tin whistles. Most of the whistles could only be played in D, so if someone wanted to strum their guitar along with the town whistler, they had to play in D major.
Notes on Placement
Place your fingers behind the fret. If any one of your fingers touches the fret, the note will fall flat or sound muted. If your fingers are too far back from the strings, the chord will buzz.
If you find it difficult to stretch your fingers across the strings, don’t worry. Most beginner guitar players find this new way of moving their hands challenging. It won’t take long before your fingers get used to creating chord shapes.
You should also pay attention to how you angle your fingers. They should all point upward, not in a horizontal line. They should also round over the fret, as if you were cupping your hand. Each finger should bend just a little.
Baby Steps to D Chord
I get it. D major isn’t the easiest chord to learn as a beginner to guitar. Not only are your fingers trying to do gymnastics to get the placement, but you must also avoid playing two strings. Fortunately, there are simpler versions of D that you can learn to help you work up the muscle memory and hand dexterity it takes to master the full chord.
One stepping stone version of D is called Dsus2 (suspended). Learning this variation will help you get comfortable creating the hand shape needed to play a full D chord.
So how do you play Dsus2? Remove your middle finger. Keep the first and third fingers in place, as if you were playing D chord, and keep the second finger “on stand-by.” You may feel tempted to use your first and second fingers only, totally skipping the correct placement, but this will only lead to disappointment later.
I understand that it’s easier to control the first and second fingers, but real progress comes from doing the work. If you only use the first and second fingers to play Dsus2, you’ll cheat yourself out of learning the full D shape.
After trying Dsus2, place your fourth finger on the first string third fret. Now you’re playing the Dsus4 chord. Next, pick up your fourth and second finger and play a D5.
Another D Version
Another alternative to playing D major is to learn the barre chord version. Barre chords only use one finger to fret several strings. This alternative version probably won’t be easy to achieve if you’re a beginner, but it’s worth learning while you build up finger strength.
Barre chords are moveable, meaning if you master one barre chord shape, you can play a multitude of chords across the fret just by sliding your fingers up and down to change the root note. Work your way up to nailing the D barre chord, and you’ll be on your way to adding E, F, and C chords to your bag of tricks.
Step by Step Breakdown:
- Place your index finger on the fifth fret of the fifth string.
- Place your ring finger on the seventh fret of the fourth string.
- Place your ring finger on the seventh fret of the third string.
- Place your ring finger on the seventh fret of the second string.
You can find another D barre chord at the 10th fret. To play this variation, bar all strings with the first finger at the 10th fret. Then, place your third finger on the 12 fret fifth string, fourth finger on the 12th fret fourth string, and second finger on the 11th fret third string.
Try this barre next: The notorious F chord
Notes on String Selection
Whenever you play any variation of the D chord, you should only play strings one through four. Playing the fifth string (A) may not sound terrible, but it won’t sound right. Playing the sixth string (E) results in a muddy discord that no ear wants to hear.
Begin by strumming or picking the fourth string, and do what you can to avoid accidentally hitting those A and E notes. Although, it’s a good action step to go ahead and play all six strings just to hear how it sounds compared to a pure D chord.
Two of the biggest obstacles beginner guitar players face when learning how to play D major is
- Shaping the fingers
- Muting the fifth and sixth strings
I recommend practicing transitioning from G major or A major to D and back again. These chords are typically found next to each other in musical progressions, so it’s a good starting point to learn how to move between them.
Try it by strumming the D chord four beats, move to G or A for four beats, then go back to D and repeat the process.
Another excellent piece of advice is to keep your fingers slightly bent or curled over the strings. Letting your third finger rest on the high E string causes it to mute, meaning you won’t hear any noise from that string.
If your middle finger causes you problems by blocking the high E string, try adjusting your wrist and palm angles. Try pushing your wrist a little forward (away from you). Swivel it around to see how it feels and what helps the most with chord sounds.
Don’t beat yourself up if you accidentally strike the fifth string. A chord is in the same family as a D major, so it won’t sound horrible, but in general, you will need to work on muting the fifth and sixth strings so the D chord clearly sings.
A Visualization Exercise
Sometimes it helps to visualize something when learning how to play D major on the guitar.
For this exercise, think about creating space between your palm and the guitar neck. Cup your hand over a round object, or imagine you’re holding onto a ball. Look at how the ball shapes your hand and how your fingers curl around it. This is how you want your hand resting over the strings. Ideally, you only want your fingertips pressing the strings and not the flat parts of your fingers.
You can also imagine that you’re using your palm to hold the ball against the neck of the guitar. You can’t touch the back with your palm because you’re trying to keep the ball in place.
Playing the D chord accurately takes time and adjustments. It’s all about angles and moving your wrist, palm, and fingers around to see what works best for you. Keep adjusting until the note sounds clean.
Once you’ve got the hang of it, try playing each string in the D chord one at a time to see if any of your fingers are still muting strings. Keep in mind that if you do not hear a string, it may not have anything to do with your fingers getting in the way and everything to do with you not pressing the strings hard enough.
What really matters at this point is getting your fingers on the right frets. Placement is everything when it comes to getting that clean chord sound. It won’t happen the first time you try, and that’s okay. Don’t get stressed out about it or feel like you have to get it perfect the first few tries.
If you get frustrated or your fingers burn, take a break. As with most things, it takes practice to improve, so just keep practicing, and you’ll strum with accuracy in time.
More Tips and Tricks for Mastering D Major
The best way to learn how to play the D chord is to actually do it. I know that may seem like common sense, but so many people focus too much on getting it right that their fingers barely strum the guitar.
When you’re first learning, it’s more about getting comfortable with the guitar and having fun. Progress over perfection. Yes, there are quite a few moving parts and things to think about when playing the guitar, but you should steer clear of analyzing every little thing in the early stages.
Another quick tip to help you ace the D chord is to start strumming from a lower position. Hold the pick near the pointed end, so there’s not as much pick between your finger and the guitar. This technique should give you more accuracy and control.
Master Next: The Easy E Major Chord
Practice Makes Perfect
Practicing getting your chords clear is one of the most important things you can do as a beginner guitar player. One of the best ways to check your chords is to strum, pick out, and strum again.
Try it by strumming the D chord, then play each note separately, beginning with the thickest string. Make adjustments as you go along, then strum the chord until it sounds clear. Repeat the process as many times as you like.
You may notice that what sounded like a clean chord had notes missing when you go to pick them one at a time. This is where practice comes in and getting the notes clear as you pick them individually.
As you continue the process, you’ll eventually produce a clean sounding note. When that happens, tell yourself that is how you want the chord to sound. Eventually, it will!
But My Fingers Hurt!
Playing chords is going to hurt. Sore fingers are part of the territory of learning guitar. When you press soft skin onto metal strings, the skin tends to get raw after awhile. But you keep going and build strength and calluses to ease the pain.
That doesn’t mean you should play until your fingertips bleed. In fact, you shouldn’t wear out your skin by playing too much, or you’ll get blisters and have to take time off from practicing while they heal. Play, rest, repeat.
You can expect less pain after a couple of weeks, and after a month, you won’t even remember ever having sore fingers.
Commit to Memory
Learning how to hold you guitar and control your hands/fingers isn’t the only thing you should do when playing the D chord or any chord in the future. You must memorize the chords as you learn them and not rely on looking at the page (or screen). Push yourself to commit them to memory in five minutes or less so you won’t constantly be referring to the guides.
You’ll probably want to look at your hand while playing anyway, so it’s essential to learn the chords by heart in order to play effortlessly.
Start with learning the notes, then move to the basics of chord building. Memorization will become second nature at some point, and you’ll easily find your way around the guitar. Soon after that you can start with learning barre chords such as cm to really get going with your development!
Beginner Guitar Songs in D
You’re probably eager to start playing some actual songs using D chord. Fortunately, there are many to choose from to help you practice. The songs listed below use the A – D – E chord progression you learned at the beginning of this article.
- “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond
- “Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley
- “Here Comes the Sun” by George Harrison
- “Lazy Song” by Bruno Mars
- “Blue Suede Shoes” by Elvis Presley
- “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley
- “Lighting Crashes” by Live
- “I Have a Dream” by ABBA
- “Copperhead Road” by Steve Earle
Obviously, you can’t start playing D chords and expect anything to sound like a complete song. That’s because most of the songs you listen to are made up of combinations of D and other chord progressions.
Here are 10 of the most common chord progressions in D. It’s important to note that while common, some of these are a bit more advanced such as the B minor and F# minor
- D – G – A7 – D
- D – A7 – B minor – G
- D – B minor – G – A7
- D – A7 – B minor – F# minor – G – D – G – A7
- D – D – D – D – G – G – D – D – A7 – A7 – D – D
- E minor – G – A7
- D – G – A7- G
- A7 – G – D
- B minor – G – D – A7
- B minor – A7 – B minor – A7
Give them a try, and as you play, you’ll probably recognize the sounds of these variations.
Try these chords next:
As the Head Editor and Writer at Music Grotto, Liam helps write and edit content produced from professional music/media journalists and other contributing writers. He works closely with journalists and other staff to format and publish music content for the Music Grotto website. Liam is also the founding member of Music Grotto and is passionate in disseminating editorial content to its readers.
Liam’s lifelong love for music makes his role at Music Grotto such a rewarding one. He loves researching, writing and editing music content for Music Grotto.