As you start to dedicate yourself to learning any musical instrument, you will most likely come across a number of different scales, which are essentially the foundation for many of the most important music theory concepts, melodies, improvisation, and much more.
This obviously means that you should strive to master as many scales as you can in order to be musically fluent and be aware of the options that you have in any given context, so you can play with variety and a sense of direction.
While mastering scales is a task that requires a lot of time, focus and dedication, with a well-structured plan and motivation, you will start to notice improvements in your playing. Practicing scales can develop your sense of time, finger dexterity, and ability to write more creative melodies.
This KillerGuitarRigs Guide is focused on the D Major scale played on the guitar.
It will explain the theory behind this scale, and provide useful materials to help you study it and memorize how to play it in every region of the guitar’s fretboard
- The D Major Scale: Notes and its Relative Minor Scale
- D Major Fretboard Diagram
- CAGED System and 5 D Major “Scale Enclosures”
- Connecting the 5 D Major CAGED System Enclosures
- The D Major Scale in Notation and Guitar Tab
- Chords in the key of D Major
- Final Thoughts on the D Major Scale
The D Major Scale: Notes and its Relative Minor Scale
All major scales follow a “formula” that dictates the intervals between each of its notes. Some notes will be separated by a semitone and others by a whole tone.
This formula can be represented like this:
• W; W; H; W; W; W; H.
The letter “W” means whole tone, and the letter “H” means semitone.
The major scale can also be represented numerically, which comes in very useful when you want to compare it to other scales, such as the natural minor or any of the Greek modes.
The major scale looks like this when represented by numbers: “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7”.
D Major has two accidentals (sharps or flats).
You can reach this conclusion by respecting the formula above and placing the necessary sharps to respect the interval sequence, or by checking the Circle of Fifths, which might be more convenient.
The Circle of Fifths tells us that D Major has two sharps: F and C.
This gives us the following scale:
- D (Root)
- E (Major Second)
- F# (Major Third)
- G (Perfect Fourth)
- A (Perfect Fifth)
- B (Major Sixth)
- C# (Major Seventh)
Here is how this scale looks like when you write on the staff:
If you look closely, you can notice that this scale follows the major scale formula since F#/G and C#/D are both a semitone apart. Major scale notes are all separated by a whole tone except for the 3rd/4th and 7th/1st degrees.
Check below for an example of a Circle of Fifths, a tool of huge importance when studying harmony.
The Circle of Fifths is an amazing tool that tells us a lot of important information about every key, major or minor.
Start with C Major at the top, which does not have any accidentals. Each time you move clockwise, you move up a perfect fifth and add a sharp.
Sharps are added in this order: F; C; G; D; A; E; B.
This is also why you have F# and C# in the key of D Major – you have to move twice from C Major to get there, so you add those two sharps.
The Circle of Fifths also informs us of every major key’s relative minor key.
This is another key or scale that shares the same notes as its relative major, but is centered around a different root note.
The keys on the inner side of the circle are the relative minor keys, so we can see that the relative minor key of D Major is B minor.
This means that B minor has the same notes as D Major, but in this sequence instead:
- B (Root)
- C# (Major Second)
- D (Minor Third)
- E (Perfect Fourth)
- F# (Perfect Fifth)
- G (Minor Sixth)
- A (Minor Seventh)
Here is the same scale written on a staff. Notice how it uses the same notes as the D Major scale, but with a different root note:
You should always keep this concept in mind, as it will save you a lot of time in the future. By being able to quickly identify relative scales, you can learn new scales without having to memorize a bunch of new patterns, since they might be the same as a scale you’ve studied before.
After studying D Major, you will also know where every note that belongs to B minor is located on the fretboard.
D Major Fretboard Diagram
If you wish to master a scale, you must know where each and every one of its notes is located on the fretboard, so you can avoid playing any notes that don’t fit into the key you’re playing in.
The diagram below shows you where every note in D Major is on the fretboard of a guitar tuned in standard tuning.
It might look overwhelming at first, but there are a number of ways to make it a much more manageable challenge.
Use this diagram for future reference if you have any doubts about any region of the neck.
There are various strategies and exercises that help you memorize a scale on the guitar, or maybe just the most important notes, so you can figure the rest out using those as your main references.
You can find a drone in D (infinitely sustained base sound that you can solo over) and explore all of these notes in the context of D Major, which will help you get familiarized with the “color” of each scale degree.
Some other exercises worth trying out are:
- Playing the scale on a single string;
- Memorizing the root note on every string, then moving on to important notes such as the 3rd, 5th and 7th (F#, A and C# in the key of D Major);
- Practice the scale by starting to play it on a note which is not the root;
- Associate scale shapes with their corresponding chord shapes.
CAGED System and 5 D Major “Scale Enclosures”
One of the most useful ways to get acquainted with major scales and their patterns on the guitar is through the CAGED System.
This is an amazing system that divides the guitar’s fretboard into 5 unique and distinct regions. Each of these regions has a specific scale and chord shape of a certain key.
By dividing the whole fretboard into small sections that can be easily memorized individually, we can organize our study sessions and learn the scale much faster and more efficiently.
These 5 regions are typically called “enclosures” or “boxes”, and they are based on 5 basic open chord shapes that you probably already know which are:
- C Major
- A Major
- G Major
- E Major
- D Major
This is also the reason why it is called “CAGED System”, as the initials spell out the chords that are the core of the whole concept.
Let’s take a look at the 5 CAGED System enclosures in the key of D Major.
Our first CAGED enclosure in the key of D Major is represented in the fretboard diagram below. It is one of the 5 regions that we will isolate from the complete diagram shown above.
This one is located between the open strings and the 4th fret.
It is based on the D Major open chord shape.
Notice that even though we’re talking about D Major, the lowest note of this enclosure is an E. This is because the point of these unique regions is to be able to know where all of the notes belonging to the scale are located.
It is obviously important to know how to play the scale from D to D, but you need to be aware of where every note is, both lower and higher in pitch.
In this enclosure you also have the note B showing up twice consecutively, between the 3rd and 2nd strings.
You can choose to play whichever you like, but ignoring the one on the 3rd string and playing the B on the open 2nd string instead avoids having to stretch your fingers excessively.
This enclosure allows you to cover one octave of the D Major scale.
The second enclosure can be found between the 2nd and 5th frets.
It is based on the C Major open chord shape.
You can cover a full octave of the D Major scale without leaving this region of the fretboard.
Also, since it occupies only 4 frets, you barely need to move your hand to play through the whole box. Fingers 1, 2, 3 and 4 of your left hand should cover frets 2, 3, 4 and 5, respectively.
The third CAGED enclosure in D Major can be found between the 4th and 8th frets.
It is based on the A Major open chord shape.
Like the previous examples, this enclosure allows you to cover a full octave of the D Major scale. You should start playing it with your 2nd (middle) finger, since this will position your hand better to play the rest of the scale shape.
The fourth CAGED enclosure in D Major can be found between the 6th and 10th frets.
It is based on the G Major open chord shape.
This shape will actually let you cover two full octaves of the D Major scale.
If you look closely, you’ll notice that starting this enclosure on the lowest note (B) also allows you to play the B minor scale from its root.
Our last CAGED enclosure is found between the 9th and 12th frets.
It is based on the E Major open chord shape.
Just like the previous example, this one also allows you to cover two full octaves of the D Major scale.
It also covers only 4 frets, which means you should apply the same logic of assigning one finger per fret to play it more efficiently.
Connecting the 5 D Major CAGED System Enclosures
The main goal of dividing the fretboard into 5 different enclosures is being able to connect them seamlessly while you’re playing and improvising. This will ensure you feel comfortable playing in every region, avoiding awkward jumps or fishing for notes eventually.
A great way to start connecting these shapes is to look for the places where they share some of their notes. By using these smaller regions as reference points, you can start to navigate the fretboard easily.
Here is a diagram that highlights these regions when you’re playing in the key of D Major:
There are several ways of transitioning from one scale shape to another. For instance, you can use slides, you can start playing the scale in one of these “transition zones”, use arpeggios, and more.
By learning songs that use this scale, you can also grab lots of ideas and start applying them to your playing.
The D Major Scale in Notation and Guitar Tab
This section will provide you with useful sheet music and guitar tablature that teaches you how to play through every D Major enclosure that we’ve previously seen.
Every example shows you how to play through the full region, both ascending and descending, which is important to practice every time.
To practice these patterns, you should set a metronome to a relatively slow speed (about 60bpm is perfect) and play one note per beat.
Once you are able to play an enclosure flawlessly a few times at that speed, bump up the bpm by 10 and keep practicing. The important thing here is to build muscle memory, not to play it astoundingly fast.
Tab Number 1
The first D Major scale pattern has a few stretches that might feel tricky to play at first.
Since you have the open strings in this region, it isn’t as hard, but when you move this pattern up to the 12th fret, make sure you play those stretches with your 1st, 2nd and 3rd fingers.
Tab Number 2
The second pattern is very intuitive to play since it only covers 4 frets.
Assign one left hand finger per fret and practice it slowly until you build a solid muscle memory of the pattern.
Tab Number 3
You should start to play through this pattern with your middle and pinky fingers in order to better position your hand for the rest of the scale shape.
Notice that if you start on the second lowest note (B on the 6th string) you’ll be playing the B minor scale (D Major’s relative minor key).
Tab Number 4
To play through the 4th scale pattern efficiently, you must pay attention to the transitions between the 4th/3rd strings and the 3rd/2nd strings.
You must shift your hand back one fret and then back up – practice this slowly ascending and descending to build solid muscle memory.
Tab Number 5
Our last pattern is also accessible in the sense that it only covers 4 frets. Once again, assign one finger per fret and you should be able to build up speed and muscle memory effectively.
Chords in the key of D Major
If we take the D Major scale, write on a staff, and then harmonize every scale degree (each note) by stacking two thirds on top of each one, we obtain the seven triads that compose the D Major Harmonic Field.
This is the set of chords that naturally occurs in a key, and you can use them to compose songs in D Major.
The chords that you obtain by doing this are the following:
- I – D Major
- II – E minor
- III – F# minor
- IV – G Major
- V – A Major
- VI – B minor
- VII – C# diminished
Here is how this looks when you write it on a staff:
Here are a few basic chord voicings that you can use to play the chords that belong to D Major’s harmonic field:
You should try to play these 7 chords in their correct sequence, and listen carefully to how they sound in this context. You are playing the D Major scale, but harmonized.
Rearrange these chords to your liking, and you might stumble upon a chord progression that you’d like to use in one of your compositions.
Songs that use the D Major Scale
Naturally, there are a lot of songs that use the D Major scale (or its relative minor scale, B natural minor).
If you want to check out a few examples so you can hear it in a real life situation and maybe jam along with the scale patterns you’ve learned in the last few sections, here’s a short list of songs that feature the D Major scale:
- Ben Howard – All Is Now Harmed
- Ed Sheeran – Even My Dad Does Sometimes
- Paramore – Daydreaming
- Biffy Clyro – Different People
- U2 – Beautiful Day
- The Beatles – Twist and Shout
- Michael Jackson – Human Nature
- John Mayer –Waiting On the World to Change
- The Police – Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic
- David Bowie – Moonage Daydream
Final Thoughts on the D Major Scale
Despite the fact that this can seem quite overwhelming at first, learning and mastering a scale on the guitar is not as difficult as it might first appear. You’ll still need to put in a lot of hours to be able to make music fluently, but it is definitely worth your time!
Identify what you need to improve the most about your playing, plan a practice routine that tackles these issues and stick to it consistently. You are bound to see results appearing soon.
Remember that the patterns you learn while studying the D Major scale can also be applied to other keys after shifting the shapes appropriately in the guitar’s fretboard.