In this lesson, you will learn about D major. You will also explore the D major scale, the triads that occur in D major and some common chord progressions in that key. You’ll be able to test your learning with a short quiz.
About D Major
When a piece of music is in D major, that tells us several things. First, the tonal center of the piece will be the pitch ‘D.’ That means that the melody and harmonies will usually return to D as a kind of ‘home base’ at the end of the piece and at several points during the music. Think of a baseball batter who begins at home plate. They might hit the ball and run around the bases, but the goal will be to eventually return to home base. Similarly, in D major, there will be other notes played in the piece, but the melody and harmonies want to return ‘home’ to D.
Second, we know that D major is in a major key, as opposed to a minor key. Major keys generally tend to sound bright, happy and uplifting, while minor keys tend to sound more dark, gloomy or somber.
Scale and Key Signature
The D major scale, like all major scales, is built from seven different pitches with the eighth note of the scale repeated at the end. The D major scale begins on D and moves up by step, returning eventually back to D. The key signature (highlighted in yellow below) for D major has two sharps: F-sharp (F#) and C-sharp (C#). This means that all Fs and Cs will be played a half-step higher in pitch as F-sharps and C-sharps. The notes of the scale are: D, E, F#, G, A, B, C#.
Chords in D Major
There are seven triads that occur naturally in D major. Triads are chords with three notes that are built in thirds, which is every other note of the D major scale. The quality of the chord for each scale degree is the same as any other major key. The specific triads that occur in D-major are:
The Roman numerals below the chords indicate what scale degree the triad is built on. For example, the ‘I’ indicates that the triad is built on the first scale degree (the note in the scale) which is D. Also, because the Roman numeral uses uppercase letters, it indicates that the quality of the chord is a major. Lowercase numerals, in contrast, point to minor chords. So, the Roman numeral ‘ii’ indicates that the chord is built on the second scale degree ‘E’ and is a minor chord. The numeral ‘vii’ has a small circle next to it, indicating that it is a diminished chord which is a chord built similarly to a minor chord but producing a slightly off sound.
D Major Chord Progressions
Using the chords that are established in D major, we can come up with a chord progression. A chord progression is a sequence of chords played one after the other. While any chords can make a progression, some chord progressions are more common than others because of their generally pleasing sound. Often, in the key of D major, the chords will progress back to the ‘home chord’ of a D major triad.
Musicians often use Roman numerals to indicate what chord to play. This way they can translate the most common progressions into any key. Here are some common chord progressions and how they would be translated into D major:
I-IV-V-I becomes D major – G major – A major – D major
I-vi-ii-V-I becomes D major – B minor – E minor – A major – D major
I-V-vi-IV-I becomes D major – A major – B minor – G major – D major
In the key of D major, we know the tonal center of the music will be the pitch ‘D,’ and melodies and harmonies will generally want to return home to that note. The key signature for D major has two sharps: F-sharp and C-sharp. The D major scale starts on D and moves up step by step, incorporating the sharps in the key signature. A chord progression is a sequence of chords. In D major, chord progressions will often want to return home to a D major triad.