The D chord on guitar crops up a lot (it’s one of the most common chords of all). This is one you’ve simply got to know if you want to play guitar!
In this article you’ll learn:
- How to play the D chord on guitar correctly
- The best D chord for beginner guitarists to use
- A simple 1-finger version of the D chord
- 5 bonus tricks you can use to make your D chords sound better
The correct way to play the D chord on guitar
The full name of D is actually “D Major”, but most people just call it, “D”. It looks like this:
(If you don’t understand this image please read our article “Learn How To Read Chordboxes In 60 Seconds”. It will make everything clear!)
Why is this chord so hard? And how can we make it easy?
The D chord on guitar is very difficult for beginners because you have to use three ‘split’ fingers (they’re not bunched together in an easy or compact group) and secondly you must avoid playing 2 strings. (See those X symbols on the chord box? They mean “don’t play this string”.)
Ouch. This one’s tough!
Now, of course, your overall aim should be to play the full chord correctly, as shown above. For most people it takes around 2-4 weeks of regular practice to be able to nail this chord consistently.
Thankfully there’s a few things you can do to make this difficult process easier and some simpler versions of D that you can play right now.
How to quickly master the D chord on guitar
Step number 1 to master the D chord on guitar is to use an easier version of D first, as a ‘stepping stone’ towards playing the full D chord.
This easier version of the D chord is called “Dsus2″ and it’s incredibly useful. It looks like this:
As you can see, this is a simpler version of the D chord and it only requires 2 fingers to play. This is a fabulous stepping stone chord for beginner guitarists because it’s easier to play than a full D chord and it still sounds great.
The rule is simple: Whenever you see a D chord on guitar, play a Dsus2 instead!
Why bother learning the Dsus2 chord?
Some of my new students occasionally say to me, “Mike I don’t want to learn the ‘baby’ version, I’d rather just learn the full version of D from the outset.”
My answer is always the same: learning Dsus2 first isn’t the ‘easy’ or ‘wimpy’ option. It’s the smart thing to do. Why? Because it’s an accelerator.
Learning Dsus2 before D creates a stepping stone for you. It gets you comfortable applying the hand shape needed to play a D chord, but requires 33% less dexterity than a D chord. (Remember we’re using just 2 fingers, not 3.)
Does this sound like a good plan to you? I hope so, now let’s give it a try!
Important: It’s vital you use the correct fingers to play Dsus2
Let’s have a quick refresher on string numbers:
As you can see from the previous image of Dsus2 it’s best to use fingers 1 and 3. Why? Because we want to keep finger 2 (your middle finger) in reserve, on ‘standby’, so you can add it in a couple of weeks and turn Dsus2 into D.
Don’t be tempted to ignore the correct finger pattern of Dsus2 by using fingers 1 & 2 instead! I know from experience with my students that you will want to do this initially, as you have more control and dexterity in fingers 1 & 2.
But if you do that, then you won’t be making real progress towards learning D; you’ll merely have learnt Dsus2 and the full D shape will keep feeling foreign and difficult when you try to make the jump up.
D chords on guitar – String Selection
Whenever you play a D chord on guitar you should only ever play strings 1-4.
Regardless of whether you’re playing D, Dsus2, Dm, D5 – it doesn’t matter. If the chord begins with the letter D, then you should NOT play strings 5 and 6. Your strumming/picking should begin on the 4th string.
I’m going to repeat that as it’s so important: for any D chord you must only use the first four strings!
If you play the fifth string (the A string) when playing a D chord on guitar it won’t sound too bad. Ideally we don’t want to hear it at all, but if you play it by mistake it’s not the end of the world.
But if you accidentally play the 6th string, the E string, when playing a D chord it will create a very muddy, nasty sounding chord. It’s vital that you don’t play the E string when strumming any type of D chord.
ACTION POINT: Listen to how ‘pure’ a D chord on guitar sounds when you strum it correctly, with 4 strings. Now listen to how terrible a D chord sounds if you strum all six strings.
Try it now, before we move on. There’s a BIG difference, right?
How to strum the guitar while missing strings out
You’ll initially find it very hard to strum just four strings with any fluidity. Don’t worry, this will come in time. To begin with, just focus on missing the E string and don’t worry too much about avoiding the A string.
Avoid “analysis paralysis” and just play
Some people focus so much on playing the correct strings that they hardly strum the guitar at all, they’ll line everything up, their fingers, the pick/plectrum, and faff around for 20-30 seconds before they even start to play the guitar. This should be avoided at all costs.
In the early stages of learning it’s far more important that you get comfortable strumming the guitar and start having fun than it is to PERFECTLY execute every chord.
So don’t overanalyse. At this stage we want progress, not perfection.
Shape the chord and just start strumming with the picture in your mind that you won’t strum the E string. Two quick tips:
- Aim to strum as usual, but from a slightly lower starting position.
- Try holding the pick/plectrum nearer to the pointed end (so there’s a shorter amount of pick between your finger and the body of the guitar). This will give you more control and accuracy. This is the maximum amount of pick that you should be able to see when you look down at your hand (any more than this and you’ll be making life very difficult for yourself):
You’ll be surprised at how quickly you improve at intentionally missing strings while strumming. It’s not as hard as it first seems.
Once you can strum a D chord on guitar while consistently skipping the E string, you can then move on and try to also skip the A string.
A super-easy 1 finger version of D
For children or adults with disabilities that want to play the D chord on guitar there is a decent 1-finger version. It looks like this:
D Major (1-finger version)
This D chord obviously doesn’t sound as good as a full D, but it’s passable, and as a 1-finger version it works well.
Are there any other versions of D?
Yes, there are lots of other ways to play a D chord on guitar but they are too difficult for beginner guitarists to play. The versions of D captured here are the best ones for beginner guitarists to use.
Thanks for reading!
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