Playing in the key of D minor Banjo Workshop

Banjo lesson on the key of D minor

Common D minor chord Progressions

The most common chords in the key of D minor are D minor, G minor, and A major.  You can also have an A minor sometimes.  However, that is less common in modern music.  So, in summary, both the I and IV are minor, and the V chord is MAJOR.

The song “Minor Swing” written by Django Reinhardt, but covered by David Grisman is a good one to listen to.  You’ll hear the Dmin-Gmin-A progression really clearly in the first part of the tune.  This song was originally in the key of A minor (The Django Reinhardt key).

D minor to C major is another common chord progression in the key of D minor.  An example is the song, “Shady Grove.”  I jokingly refer to this as the pirate chord progression.  You can make a song easily sound like a sea shanty or pirate tune using these two chords.

D minor pentatonic

Your D minor pentatonic scale contains the following notes:


In the video, I go over how to relate this to your D minor chord shapes at the 1st and 5th frets.  Using the chords as a visualization tool will greatly help you remember the patterns.  Remember, the D minor pentatonic scale is just the D minor chord notes plus two more notes (C and G).  These two notes are a fifth apart.

I also encourage you to learn it on one string.  You can start at the 3rd fret of the 2nd string and work your way up to the 15th fret of the same string.  This allows you to practice rolling through the pentatonic scale, so you can use it more freely in improvisation as I demonstrated in the video.

D to F chord exercise

This exercise demonstrated in the video will also help you visualize the D minor pentatonic scale better as well.  The notes in an F major chord (F A C) are all within the D minor pentatonic scale and the notes within a D minor chord (D F A) are within the scale as well.  Some players will hold these shapes down and roll through them to “improvise” in D minor.


Suspended Chords

Suspended chords are quite useful in minor keys.  In the video, I show how you can use a Dsus2 and a Dsus4 in the key of D minor.  This gives the music an ambiguous feeling, very airy.  I encourage you to try using these any time you have a D minor and see how it sounds.  If you aren’t familiar with the theory, suspended chords are the following scale degrees

1 2 5 (Sus 2) or 1 4 5 (Sus4)

So, you are removing the 3rd of the minor chord and replacing it with either the 2nd or 4th.

Jody Written by:

Professional Musician of 27 years. I've played Banjo and Acoustic Guitar on the stages of Carnegie Hall, The Grand Ole Opry, and The Ryman Auditorium. I've also played in six different countries.