Music Theory

Exploring the D Major Scale: Piano Tutorial

By Claire Robertson
Exploring the D Major Scale

Learn all about the D major piano scale, including its notes, diatonic chords, finger positions, and songs in the key of D major.

Let’s take a deep dive into the D major piano scale! In this article, we will explore the correct fingering patterns and how to build chords in the key of D major. We’ve also got some fun facts about the D major scale, and suggestions for songs to play and listen to in this key. 

The key of D major is indicated with two sharps in the key signature and is played using two black keys on the piano. To many people, D major sounds successful or triumphant – perhaps that is why George Fredrick Handel wrote the famous Hallelujah Chorus in D major. 

Want to learn more about major scales and grow your understanding of the basics of piano? Try Hoffman Academy Premium Today!

What are the notes of the D major scale?

The notes of the D major scale are D, E, F, G, A, B, C, and D. This scale begins on D and uses two black keys – F and C, or the third and seventh scale degrees. Let’s begin by reviewing the pattern of half and whole steps that creates a major scale. From the starting note, any major scale is built by going whole step – whole step – half step –  whole step – whole step – whole step – half step. 

What is the D major key signature?

The key of D major has two sharps in its key signature, F and C. Here is the key signature written on the treble staff:

Here’s a useful tip to help you know what key you’re in when a key signature has sharps. Find the last sharp in the key signature, and then go up one half step. That will be the tonic, the first note of the scale, and the name of the key. If you look at the key signature above, the last sharp is C sharp. One half step up from C sharp is D. This is the key of D major.

The relative minor of the D major scale

The relative minor of a major scale is found a minor third (or three half steps) below the tonic note of the major scale. For the D major scale, the relative minor scale is B minor. Both scales share the same key signature of F♯ and C♯. This means that the B minor scale uses the same set of notes as the D major scale but starts and ends on B.

Interesting information about the D major

D major, like all major scales, has its own unique characteristics and applications:

  • This scale has a bright and joyful sound: Like other major scales, the D major scale is often used to evoke happiness, celebration, or other positive emotions in music.
  • It is popular in classical music: Many renowned classical compositions are written in D major, including symphonies, string quartets, and other works by composers such as Ludwig van Beethoven, Johann Sebastian Bach, and Franz Schubert.
  • It’s been used in many genres: Beyond classical music, D major is also frequently used in pop, rock, country, and more. Its bright sound and convenient fingering on many instruments make it a popular choice for many musicians.
  • Pedagogical applications: In music education, the D major scale is often introduced early on due to its relatively simple key signature and the ergonomic hand position it offers on keyboard instruments.

How do you play the D major piano scale?

It will be easiest to practice the finger patterns of the D major piano scale if we keep our thumb on the white keys instead of the black keys. Let your wrist circle gently when the thumb crosses under the hand. If you struggle at first with the full scale, begin with the D major pentascale, which is just the first five notes of the scale, from D to A. If you need to review, you can watch Mr. Hoffman’s video on the D major pentascale.

Watch Mr. Hoffman play the D major piano scale and arpeggios in this video: 

Right hand placement for the D major piano scale:

1 on D
2 on E
3 on F
Pass the thumb under:
1 on G
2 on A
3 on B
4 on C
5 on D

Left hand placement for the D major piano scale:

5 on D
4 on E
3 on F
2 on G
1 on A
Cross the 3rd finger over:
3 on B
2 on C
1 on D

When coming down the D major piano scale, simply reverse the finger order like this:

Right hand:

5 on D
4 on C
3 on B
2 on A
1 on G
Cross the 3rd finger over:
3 on F
2 on E
1 on D

Left hand:

1 on D
2 on C
3 on B
Pass the thumb under:
1 on A
2 on G
3 on F
4 on E
5 on D

Remember to play the scale slowly at first, and as you become comfortable, gradually increase the speed while maintaining even tempo and dynamics. Practice both ascending and descending the scale to become proficient.

Chords in the key of D major: piano tips

With practice, you will find it easy to build diatonic chords in the key of D major. Try to keep your fingers relaxed as you play these chords, being mindful of your posture. All of these chords below are notated in root position, using fingers 1 -3 -5.  In many pieces of music, chords can appear in an “inversion,” which means that the third or fifth of the chord might be the lowest note of the chord.

The chords of D major use the same notes as the scale above. Remember, there are only two black keys in D major – C♯ and F♯. The chords are created by skipping letter names within the scale. Here are the diatonic chords in D major, and their corresponding Roman numerals:

  • D Major (I) – consisting of the notes D, F♯, and A
  • E minor (ii) – consisting of the notes E, G, and B
  • F♯ minor (iii) – consisting of the notes F♯, A, and C♯
  • G Major (IV) – consisting of the notes G, B, and D
  • A Major (V) – consisting of the notes A, C♯, and E
  • B minor (vi) – consisting of the notes B, D, and F♯
  • C♯ diminished (vii°) – consisting of the notes C♯, E, and G

Each of these chords can be extended to include more notes (such as 7th chords, 9th chords, etc.) by continuing to stack thirds on top of the triads mentioned above.

Chords using the D major scale

Remember that these chords can be played in various inversions, which means that the notes may appear in a different order, “flipped over.” Practice playing these chords in every inversion to become more familiar with the diatonic harmonies of the key of D major.

If you’d like some handy reference guides for chords and triads in all keys, download these free resources from the Hoffman Academy Store:

H2: Songs to play on the piano in the key of D major

Bach’s Musette in D Major is a delightful piece for a young pianist in Unit 7, and you can watch this video and learn to play it with Mr. Hoffman. Satie’s Gymnopedie 1 is a beautiful, slow piece in D major appropriate for an early advanced pianist. To find more sheet music in D Major, you can check out our store!

Here are some pop songs and show tunes in the key of D major for you to listen to:

Want to learn all of the major scales on piano? Download our free Guide to All Major Scales.

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