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How to Play the D Chord on Guitar
Posted on April 25, 2023
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One major guitar chord that’s needed in many popular songs regardless of genre and style is the D major chord. Along with a handful of other basic guitar chords, such as the C, A, and G chords, you should also learn how to play the D major as a beginner. We’ll show how to play this essential beginner chord, how to vary it in your playing and songwriting, and list a few great songs that use it.
How to play the D major chord?
The D major chord is fairly simple as you only need three fingers and four strings to play it. However, the main challenge with the D chord is playing only the correct strings and leaving out the unnecessary ones. Some players may also find creating the proper chord shape difficult as the three fingers are grouped together quite tightly.
Here’s how to position your fingers:
- First finger (index finger): Press down the second fret of the G string.
- Second finger (middle finger): Press down the second fret of the high E string.
- Third finger (ring finger): Press down the third fret of the B string.
In addition to the three highest strings that you fret with your index, middle, and ring finger, there is also a single open string. That’s why the D major is known as one of the so-called open chords. These are also referred to as cowboy chords.
To play a clean D chord on the guitar, you need to be able to play the chord without any unwanted strings. If you find it difficult to avoid playing the two lowest strings (i.e., the E and A strings), there are some things you can try. Many guitarists prefer to strum chords with only their fingers. However, you can practice the D chord using a guitar pick. This gives you greater accuracy and control over which strings you play and which aren’t played at all.
It takes many repetitions before you automatically start the D chord from the correct string without playing any of the unwanted ones. If you find yourself accidentally hitting one or both of the lowest strings, you can also try muting these with your thumb. Just wrap your thumb around the neck of the guitar to reach over the low strings. This may require you to reposition your fretting hand.
What is the difference between the D major and minor chords?
One chord that’s very similar is the D minor chord. What’s this then? The difference between minor and major chords is quite easy to notice just by listening to them. Although the D major and minor guitar chord shapes look very similar, they sound strikingly different. The major chord is bright and happy, whereas the minor sounds darker and moodier. To explain this difference in a bit more detail, we’ll have to look into some music theory.
A major chord is built from the major scale and consists of the root note, the major third, and the perfect fifth of the major scale. The root note is what gives the chord its name — in this case, D. A minor chord, on the other hand, is built from the natural minor scale and consists of the root note, the minor third, and the perfect fifth of the minor scale.
Here the main difference between major and minor chords is the third note of the chord. For major chords, this is a major third, and for minor chords, this is a minor third. It’s the difference in the third note that gives major chords their bright and happy sound. On the other hand, we would say that minor chords sound melancholic and sad in comparison.
Playing the D minor chord is somewhat more difficult compared to its major counterpart. Looking at the chord chart, you’ll notice that only the high E string is played at a different position: on the first fret instead of the second fret. However, in order to do this, you need to change the position of both your index and middle finger while your ring finger stays in the same position.
This time your index finger presses down the high E string while the middle finger is on the G string. This may require a bit more finger dexterity compared to the D major chord. If you find this way of playing the D minor chord too challenging, you can try using your pinky finger to fret the B string as well and see if that feels better.
D major chord variations
In addition to the usual way of playing the D major chord, there are some variations that you can use to either simplify the chord or add more nuance to it. One way to vary the major D chord is to play it as a barre chord. As barre chords require finger strength and plenty of practice, many beginners may find this a much more difficult way to play than the basic open D chord.
To play the D major barre chord, you have to hold down all strings apart from the low E with your index finger on the fifth fret. Use the middle, ring, and pinky fingers to fret the D, G, and B strings. The low E string isn’t played at all. Once you’ve mastered this way of playing the D chord, you can easily transition to other similar barre chords, such as the A and B major chords, just by moving up and down the guitar fretboard.
If playing the D major barre chord seems too daunting, don’t worry. You can simplify things a bit when still learning how to play the full D chord shape. One way to do this is by using the Dsus2 guitar chord shape instead (also known as the D suspended second chord). Although this chord doesn’t sound exactly the same as the full D chord, it’s a great alternative as it requires only two fingers to play. Instead of fretting the high E string, leave it open to play Dsus2 on the guitar.
Songs using the D major guitar chord
Many songs you may want to play are going to use the D major guitar chord, in addition to a few other common open chords. Here are just a handful of great songs to learn on the guitar using the basic D major chord.
- “Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynyrd Skynyrd
- “Zombie” by The Cranberries
- “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz
- “Blowin’ in the Wind” by Bob Dylan
- “Hotel California” by Eagles
Learn the D major guitar chord and more with Yousician
Don’t stop at just the D chord. Check out Yousician’s full library of guitar chords. For more helpful information about learning minor and major chords on the guitar, read also our beginner’s guide to guitar chords.
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