The D chord is a challenge for new guitar players. Before diving in, make sure your guitar’s in tune, you’re in a comfortable position, and get ready to learn the D chord!
D Chord Basics
Check out the chord diagram for the D chord. If you aren’t familiar with chord diagrams, check out this lesson here.
Remember, the dots on the chord diagram are where you’re going to put your fingers. Additionally, the numbers represent which fingers go where.
To start, try placing your fingers on the fretboard based on the chord charts. As I talked about the video lesson, it’s helpful to place your fingers one at a time, starting with your index (1st) finger.
While this isn’t crucial for forming the D chord, it works for many students.
- 1st finger (index) on the second fret of the G string.
- 2nd finger (middle) on the second fret of the high E string.
- 3rd finger (ring) on the third fret of the B string.
Don’t forget to place your fingers just behind the fret. Whether you’re playing the D chord or any other chord, if you place your fingers directly on the frets, you’ll have a muted note. If you place your fingers too far back, you won’t be able to apply enough pressure, resulting in a buzzing noise.
The D chord can create discomfort in your fingers when you first play it. Your fingers may not be able to stretch or get them in the place you want them to—and that’s okay for now!
Fortunately, if your fingers will become accustomed to playing the D chord. The important thing is to manage the tension in your fingers and your wrist. Check out my lesson on managing tension here.
Less tension=greater flexibility and execution in your playing.
Another “pain-point” guitarists experience when playing the D chord is the angle of their fingers. You want to make sure you’re fretting on the tips of your fingers rather than the soft pads. This will reduce your fingers accidentally muting another string.
Finally, I want you to check on the joints of your fingers. Make sure each joint is NOT locked out — there should be a bend in each joint of your finger.
Managing Your Thumb
When you first play the D chord, try to keep your thumb on the back of the fretboard. Don’t let your finger creep over to the top of the fretboard!
- Use the pad of your thumb on the neck of the guitar.
- Rest your thumb in-between the middle of the neck and the low E string (the thickest string).
- DO NOT let your palm rest on the neck of the guitar!
For the D chord, you want to make sure there is an arch in your fingers. Because your fingers are crammed into the 4th, 5th, and 6th strings, having a high arch will prevent accidentally muting other strings.
When your palm rests on the neck (which you DO NOT want to do!) you lose the arch in your fingers.
What Strings Do You Play for the D Chord?
The D chord uses the D, G, B, and E strings (4th, 3rd, 2nd, and 1st strings). That means that you don’t want to play the two thickest strings (the A and low E string) for the D chord.
If you’re ever unsure, check back on the chord diagram. Remember, the Xs mean that you don’t play those strings, while the Os mean you play that string open.
Now that you have your fingers placed, try strumming down with your pick or thumb towards the ground. Start with the D string and smoothly strum all the way through the high E string.
As you strum, think about where you are starting the strum. I know I’m packing on the details, but keeping these things in mind will help your playing grow further down the line.
It’s totally fine to “go wild” and strum away on the D chord. Don’t ignore that urge! However, when you’re in practice mode — that is, when you are learning something new and want to improve on it — be cognizant of the strings you plucking.
If you aren’t careful about what strings you play for the D chord, you’ll end up with a muddy, unclear, and dissonant chord.
Does your D Chord Sound like this?
If your D chord doesn’t sound like this, don’t panic! You can make some adjustments that I’ll tell you about in the next section.
How to Play the D Chord with Clear Notes
Here’s a quick D chord checklist to make sure if your fingers are in the right place.
- Are your fingers touching other strings? If so, make sure you’re playing with the tips of your fingers and you have an arch in your fingers.
- Do NOT let your palm rest on the neck of the guitar!
- Start your strum on the D string…do NOT play the A or low E strings.
The most common D chord issue guitarists have lies in the ring finger. Often, the ring finger touches the high E string, which accidentally mutes it. Trust me, you want that high E string to ring out!
To remedy this D chord problem, focus on bringing more arch in your ring finger and ensure you’re playing with the tip of your ring finger.
Another D chord issue is having discomfort in the index finger. It seems like an extreme angle to have your index finger on the second fret of the high E string, but your fingers will get accustomed to it. Additionally, try to allow for a small space between the fingertip of your index finger and the fretboard.
D Chord Exercise #1: The Quick Draw
The D chord can be a difficult chord to remember, especially if you want to use the same fingers on the same frets and strings every time.
To help remember how to play the D chord, I use the quick draw exercise. To help enforce the muscle memory for making the D chord, the quick draw exercise helps tremendously.
The quick draw exercise provides just enough pressure and positive stress to motivate you to focus on getting your fingers in the right place with precision. Furthermore, this exercise can be done as slow or as fast as you want!
To do the quickdraw chord exercise, start with your hand on your leg. Then, count down from five to zero.
In those five seconds, place your fingers in the D chord position. Once you count to zero, strum the chord.
Ideally, you’ll have a full and resonant chord. If you didn’t get it the first time, that’s alright. Learning the guitar takes time. If you get the hang of the five-second intervals, try taking that down to three-second countdowns.
As you continue to play the D chord, you might ask, “Tony, why can’t I use different fingers for the D chord?”
Lucky for you, there are many different ways to play the D chord. While I suggest you start with the prescribed fingering, you may find that other fingerings are more comfortable. Due to mobility issues like arthritis or tendonitis, you may find that it’s easier to use your own fingering.
I use the suggested fingering because it helps in chord transitions and limits confusion during transitions. While it might seem difficult at first, go ahead and try to use the suggested fingering first before branching out into alternate fingerings.
Managing Blisters and Pain for the D Chord
The bad news: I’d be a liar if I told you your fingertips won’t hurt when you start playing the D chord.
Most likely, if you’re new to guitar, your fingertips are going to be soft. When you press them against the metal strings of your guitar, you’re tearing up your fingers a little bit. You might end up with a blister, or, if you’re lucky, your fingers will just feel sore.
The good news: everyone who plays a string instrument goes through this — eventually, you’ll gain callouses and your fingers won’t hurt as bad.
The key is to not push yourself too much when you’re playing the D chord or anything on the guitar. Play until you can feel the soreness in your fingertips, and after that, rest for a bit.
It might take a month or two for your fingers to get used to being pressed against the strings, depending on how often you play. Just remember that it is normal to feel this soreness, and to take breaks if it gets too painful!
D Chord Exercise #2: Strength Exercise
If you’re looking for ways to increase the strength in your fretting hand and wrist, be sure to check out this D chord strength exercise.
This D chord exercise is one of my favorites for two reasons…
- It’s incredibly musical and fun to play.
- This D chord exercise promotes strength and stamina in your fretting hand.
Having strength and agility in your fretting hand is necessary for creating a clean and resonant D chord. If you feel comfortable playing the D chord and are ready for a little more of a challenge, follow along with the exercise in the video below!
Now that you’ve been introduced to the D chord, it’s time to start learning some other chords!
Be sure to check out the Ultimate Guide to Learning Guitar if you’re looking for a fun, free, online introduction to the guitar.
If you need some more guidance, daily exercises, and a robust community of acoustic guitar geeks, check out the 30 Days to Play Challenge here.