Chords in the key of D Major

While studying music theory, you might have come across a concept named the “harmonic field”. This is the designation given to the set of chords that come from the scale of a given key. For instance, the harmonic field of D Major is the set of chords that fit into this key, and they’re built using the D Major scale as a starting point.

To obtain the harmonic field, you must take each note (or degree) of the corresponding scale, and harmonize every one of them by stacking thirds until you have a triad (three note chord) on each degree.

It might sound very tricky if you’ve never seen this before, but it is actually very simple to understand, and even simpler to build once you memorize a few important details about the harmonic field!

For starters, we’ll show you the chords that exist in the key of D Major, and afterwards, you’ll learn the theory behind it, as well as some commonly found chord progressions that you can use in your compositions.

Chords that belong to the key of D Major


Degree

I

ii

iii

IV

V

vi

vii

Chord

D Major

E minor

F# minor

GMajor

A Major

B minor

C# diminished

Chord Diagrams:

How to figure out what chords fit into a certain key

The table above will quickly show you what chords exist in the key of D Major, but how would you reach that conclusion yourself from scratch? The rationale is not complicated at all, and the same formula can be applied to any key that you need.

Building the harmonic field of a given key starts with its corresponding scale. In this case, that would be the D Major scale. 

You can use the circle of fifths (full guide here) to check the accidentals of this key, which are F# and C#. 

This gives us the following notes:

  • D, E, F#, G, A, B, C#.

Write these notes on a staff. That will be your starting point to get to the chords that compose the harmonic field of this key.

Next, you’ll need to build a triad on every degree (each note) of the major scale. 

To do this, you need to stack thirds on each one until you have a triad (a three note chord).

Remember that you need to respect the accidentals! This means that whenever you’re writing an F or C, you need to make them an F# and C#.

Once you’re done, you will have the chords that make up the harmonic field of D Major. Check the image below to see what you should accomplish by the end:

Like everything in music theory, while it is great to know a good “shortcut” to concepts that you may need to apply in a real life scenario, it is also useful to know where things come from, so you can interiorize things better. 

For the harmonic field, there are a few tips and tricks that will allow you to quickly tell which chords are major, minor or diminished in any key. 

For starters, there is a pattern that always repeats itself, and this is what you should start by memorizing. It won’t take a long time and it will pay off big time in the future, whether you are playing or composing.

Here’s what you should start by memorizing:

  • Degrees I, IV and V are MAJOR (root, major 3rd, perfect 5th)
  • Degrees ii, iii and vi are MINOR (root, minor 3rd, perfect 5th)
  • Degree vii is DIMINISHED (root, minor third, diminished 5th

Memorizing the quality of the chords in each degree of a key center is very important for any musician, regardless of the instrument or genre that you play. Also, by knowing this, you will save a lot of time that you’d otherwise spend in calculating everything for each degree. 

The one thing that you must keep in mind at all times, is that every key has its own set of accidentals (sharps and flats), except for C Major and A minor, which only have natural notes.

In order to make sure that you don’t make any mistakes, you can use the circle of fifths to quickly find out what accidentals exist in the key that you are working with.

Another important detail that you should never forget when building the harmonic field of a given key is that all major keys have a semitone between degrees iii – IV and vii – I. 

In D Major, that would be F# – G and C# – D. 

If you’re working with a minor key, these semitone intervals are going to appear between degrees ii – iii and V – vii.

You can practice this by picking out keys randomly and building their harmonic field, or by following the circle of fifths to make sure you cover every option possible. 

After you’ve spent some time on this, you’ll notice that it will become very intuitive, and you’ll start to know some of them by heart pretty quickly. This will be extremely useful for you in the long run, so it is worth the investment!

The seven chords you get from the harmonic field aren’t your only options though – there are other possibilities, such as the ones you get from modal interchange, but that is a different concept for another time.

Since most songs are usually based on common chord progressions that come up very frequently, mastering the harmonic field is crucial so that you can then write music in a way that makes more sense to you and your listeners.

Check the table below for a few examples of common chord progressions found in the key of D Major:

Popular chord progressions in the key of D Major

Progression(Degrees)Chords in the key of D Major

ii – V – I

Em – A – D 

I – vi – ii – V

D – Bm – Em – A 

ii – V – vi 

Em – A – Bm 

I – IV – I – V  

D – G – D – A 

I – vi – IV – V

D – Bm – G – A 

Conclusion

As you can probably tell by now, mastering the harmonic field of any key is a fantastic skill that you can only benefit from as a musician and composer. 

Take the time to know how to figure out the accidentals of each key, the quality of the chords in each degree, and before you know it, you’ll have a much deeper understanding of music in general. 

You will figure out the chords to songs quicker, you will write better chord progressions with more confidence, and this will also be the starting point to using more sophisticated chords and cadences later on!

Andrew Bell

I don't think I'll ever stick to one instrument - but the great thing about life is you don't have to.

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