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Lesson: Playing the D Minor Scale on Guitar

The D minor scale is perfect for adding emotional contrast to playing major scales. Minor scales are comprised of three scale patterns – the natural minor scale, the harmonic minor scale, and the melodic minor scale. And just like the popularity of most major scales (G major, for instance), D minor is also frequently used in some of the recording industry’s most popular songs, including Beyonce’s “Crazy In Love,” “Set Fire to the Rain” by Adele, and Santana’s classic, “Black Magic Woman.”

The D minor scale is a unique progression because, historically, classical composers have dubbed it as the most melancholy series of notes, which makes it the perfect scale for conveying sadness and grief in a song. The D minor scale’s emotional range and versatility makes it an important scale for new guitarists to learn.

In this lesson, we’ll cover the notes that make up the D minor scale, as well as finger placements you’ll need to know to play this scale in several positions on your guitar.

Notes in the D Minor Scale

There are seven notes in the D minor scale:

  • D

  • E

  • F

  • G

  • A

  • Bb

  • C

If you’ve studied the F major scale, you’ll notice that it’s composed of the same note as the D minor scale, but in a different order. Because of this similarity, F major is known as the relative major of D minor.

Now, let’s cover a couple of the various positions and finger placements you’ll need to learn in order to play the D minor scale on the guitar.

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D Minor Scale Positions

One way to learn the D minor scale is by using guitar scale diagrams. These diagrams represent the fretboard of your guitar. In the diagrams below, each dot shows you which note you’ll play on a specific fret and string. If you see a dot with a note above the string, play the string in an open position. The yellow dots indicate the root note of the scale. In this case, that root note is D.

Since minor scales are made up of three scale patterns – natural, harmonic and melodic – versus just one (usually!) for major scales, we will simplify the lesson by only covering the D minor natural scale.

D Minor Scale - Open Position

To play the D minor scale in the open position properly, use your index finger to play notes on the first fret, your middle finger for notes on the second, and your ring finger for notes on the third fret.

D Minor Scale - 5th Position

To play the D minor scale in fifth position, start with your index finger on the fifth fret, your middle finger on the sixth fret, your ring finger on the seventh fret, and your pinky on the eighth fret.

D Minor Scale Tabs

While guitar scale diagrams are a great way to learn scales, they aren’t the only way. Guitar tablature -- often referred to as “tabs,” for short -- shows you how to play the same scales using a different method. Tabs offer guitarists a different way to learn to visualize playing the scale. Some guitarists find tablature to be easier to learn. Others find diagrams to be easier. There’s no one way or right way to learn to play scales, just the one that works best for you.

However, it’s worth mentioning that it’s worth trying to understand both charts and tabs to help expand your knowledge of the guitar and different approaches to playing.

Now, let’s cover the guitar tabs for each of the scales we just studied.

D Minor Scale - Open Position Tablature

To play the D minor scale in the open position, start by playing an open D string, then placing with your middle finger on the second fret of the string. Follow the tab below.

D Minor Scale - 5th Position Tablature

To play the D minor scale in fifth position, start with your index finger on the fifth fret of the fifth string (A) and follow the tab.

D Minor Scale Exercises

One of the best ways to memorize your scales is to play them over and over. Start slowly, and make sure that you’re cleanly fretting each note and using the correct finger placement. As you build familiarity and develop more strength and dexterity in your fingers, you can begin to play the scales a little faster. To help you keep time while playing, it can be useful to use a metronome when practicing your scales.

You might also like to play some of the D minor scale positions in a row, starting in the open position and then switching to the fifth or any additional positions you may want to learn. (There are quite a few beyond those covered here!) As you play, listen to the differences in pitch as you play the same notes on different spots on the fretboard.

Practicing your scales is also a good time to perfect your picking technique. Use your scale practice to work on your alternate picking technique. Once you master the D minor scale, you’ll be ready to try your hand at new scales. Learn more scales, songs, and chords with a free trial of Fender Play.