In this article we show you how to build the D minor chord, starting with a simple D root note and adding one interval at a time, giving us both the easiest and more complex D minor chord voicings.
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In this primer lesson we're going to look at the D minor chord, starting with the root D positions on the fretboard and building all the way up to the chord's fullest forms. We structure chord primer lessons by building one interval at a time, meaning the chords can be as difficult or as stone cold simple as you want them to be. If you want just the root D, we'll show you where they are.
If you want the full form D minor chord, we'll cover those as well and everything in between.
The approach requires a little more patience and some music theory, but will give you a ton of different chord shapes and patterns to work with. Instead of memorizing a single chord diagram, we'll use incremental steps and guitar tabs to build our understanding of the theory and construction of the D minor chord one note at a time.
Just for quick reference, here's how we'll approach the chord in this lesson:
- Positions of the root D note on the fretboard
- Perfect fifth interval positions (D power chords)
- Minor third interval positions at all established fretboard locations
- Additional octaves
- Compound intervals
As you can see, we're covering the three most essential aspects of the D minor chord first. This means we'll show you the notes you need to play first before we get into unnecessary octaves and extensions.
We'll start by finding our D note at root positions on the fretboard.
Then, we'll build out to our full D minor chord, step by step, at each of those positions.
The D minor chord can be as difficult or as stone cold simple as you want it to be.
Finding D Root Positions on the Fretboard
All chords are built from a single root note. Since we're focusing on the D minor chord we'll first need to identify all the places on the fretboard that have a root D. We'll also want to focus on the lower three strings - the sixth, fifth and fourth - since we're going to be building chords out from these positions and we'll need room for additional intervals.
You can brush up on your guitar fretboard notes if need be, otherwise, I'll just give you the root D locations in the following tab.
Here are the most common starting points:
D root note locations on the fretboard give us four of the most optimal places to begin building our D minor chord. (View Larger Image)
While there are other spots on the fretboard where D notes naturally occur, these four are the easiest and most common places from which you can build chords. We'll build chords in each spot, giving us the following D minor chord forms:
Take the time to memorize and familiarize yourself with the notes at these locations. Whenever you need to play a D chord - minor or otherwise - these four spots should jump out in your mind as viable positions from which to play that chord. Understanding where these roots are located will help you a lot when it comes to improvising, playing in a key and understanding the music theory behind your fretboard.
We'll use some of that music theory in this lesson to build up our D minor chords one note at a time.
Now that we have our root notes, let's add a perfect fifth to all four positions.
Adding a Fifth to the D Root Note
The perfect fifth is considered to be perfectly consonant with its root, thereby often referred to as the "consonant interval." Since it's so common, we can use it as a starting point for building our D minor chord.
The fifth of a root is seven semitones (frets in this case) from that root, which means we'll go seven semitones up the fretboard from the D note position. Since this semitone pattern can continue on the next string up, the perfect fifth of a root on the guitar occurs one string and two frets higher than the original root, giving us our typical power chord shape.
If we add the consonant interval to all four positions, we get the following tab sheet:
We add a perfect fifth or consonant interval to each root note at all four fret positions. These shapes serve as the base for all four chords and form a typical power chord shape. (View Larger Image)
At this point, we have a "dyad" for each chord, which is just two notes that form the base of your chord as a chord themselves. We don't actually have a D minor chord yet because there's no minor interval in any of these shapes. However, that does not mean that you can't play these shapes in place of a D minor chord.
They're agnostic of the major or minor voicings and can be used in either a minor or major scale. On proper music notation it might be written as D5.
To get a true D minor chord, we need to add the minor third interval.
Before I get to that, here's a chord diagram graphic for all four of the above shapes.
Diagrams of all four D chord dyads positioned at root D fretboard locations. (View Larger Image)
Creating a D Minor Chord with Thirds
To this point we've been working with roots and dyadic D chords made up of only two notes. To get that dark minor-sounding D chord, you've got to add minor third intervals, which are three semitones above the root.
It might sound a bit complex at first, but the two intervals that distinguish a major or minor D chord are only one semitone apart.
Since a major third is always four semitones above the root, just drop the third of a major chord one half step to get your minor chord, per the following diagram:
Any time you have a major chord, you can simply drop the third of that chord one semitone to get the minor version. (View Larger Image)
Root, Fifth and Minor Third
To get our minor D chords, we add the minor third interval to each shape. In so doing, we've got chord shapes that are truly minor in a music theory sense. These shapes are far simpler and easier to play than many full form D minor chords (which we'll get to shortly).
Here's each chord with its own bar.
We can create D minor chords by adding the minor third interval to wherever we have a root D and perfect fifth of that root. (View Larger Image)
Go through the shapes, strumming and finger picking through the three notes. You can also arpeggiate the chords to more easily target buzzing or missed notes.
Arpeggiate the notes of each chord to improve chord clarity and focus on problem areas where buzzing or missed notes might be occurring. (View Larger Image)
But what about that gap between the fifth and minor third?
You'll notice that in each chord we're jumping over a string to get our minor third interval.
That makes the chord a little more complex, so let's look at a way to play the D minor chord without jumping a string, but still using just three notes. It's an easy fix when you omit the root note and use inversions.
First, here's the chord diagram graphic for the above tab sheet:
Chord diagrams with triads containing the root D, perfect fifth and minor third intervals. (View Larger Image)
Inverted Triad D Minor Chords
In each chord we've omitted the low root D, using the octave of that root instead which puts our perfect fifth in the bass position of each chord. In music theory, this is called an inversion. You have the same three elements - root, fifth and minor third - they're just ordered differently, thereby the root is no longer the lowest note in the chord.
Here's our tab sheet with each inverted D minor shape:
In an inverted chord, the root note is no longer the lowest note in the chord, meaning we've bumped the perfect fifth to the chord's lowest point, removing the need to skip over a string yet still allowing us to play only three notes. (View Larger Image)
They sound the same but, without the skipped string, they're probably easier to play. Both triadic forms we've covered are easier than the traditional full form D minor chords, which we'll finish up with in the next section.
Full Form D Minor Chord
After you have the more crucial elements of a chord, like the fifth and minor third, you can extend chords using several different methods. They include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Seventh extensions
- Ninth extensions
- Compound intervals
We won't worry about seventh and ninth chord extensions, because they would technically change the voicing of a chord. In other words, a D minor chord is not the same as a Dm7 chord.
Compound intervals and octaves are what you're usually seeing when you're playing the full form of any basic chord, including D minor.
For example, with the open D minor chord, you have the following shape.
The traditional form of the open D minor chord. (View Larger Image)
You'll notice that there are four notes present, yet only the root, fifth and minor third are expected. What's the fourth note? The note at the third fret (on the second string) is an octave above the root D.
We find the fourth note of the chord is another D, one octave above the original root note.(View Larger Image)
A compound interval occurs when this happens with an interval, where you use the same interval, but an octave over the original interval closest to the root. Thus, if you have a minor third, which is three semitones above the root, using the note 12 semitones above that minor third (15 semitones total) would be considered a compound interval.
In full form D minor chords, most of the additional notes are some kind of root octave or compound interval.
This also means that they're not crucial to the structure of the chord, which is why I prefer to learn them last as opposed to starting out with them. In the early stages of learning the chords, we simply omit the octaves and extra intervals that don't help shape the chord's core structure.
If you've gone this far and you still want to cover the full form versions, here are all four in the positions we've placed them.
The full form or "conventional" ways to play the D minor chord at all four positions we've established. (View Larger Image)
These shapes take some getting used to and, in most situations, they should not be your go-to D minor chords. First, they have more notes than you need which won't be helpful in certain contexts that call for cleaner or more minimal guitar playing. We would advise being able to play them, but don't rely on them as your primary shape.
The triadic shapes will be far more practical and usable, both from a technical and musical perspective.
Once you're comfortable with all the shapes, settle on the three-note structure and use the inverted patterns to create more variety.
While it requires some music theory, looking at guitar chords in the context of structure and chord building is helpful, far more than memorizing full patterns with a lot of non-critical intervals. You'll have an easier time mastering the D minor chord using this method and starting at the most basic element (the root note) before working your way up from there.
To recap, those elements are the following, in this order:
- Root note (start here)
- Perfect fifth
- Minor third
- Octaves and/or compound intervals
- Full and barre form (end here)
If you're having trouble with any chord, don't start with the full version. Instead, get the root notes down first and build up your knowledge of the chord from there. Not only will you learn the chord in a more functional and usable way, but you'll also learn some valuable theory that you can reuse and apply to other chords and musical challenges.
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