Building Clean and Dark Guitar Melody with the D Minor Scale

Guitar improvisers often start their ideas in the key of D because it’s so accessible. When I want to create an addictive melody, I like to use it in combination with a heavier clean signal and a subtle layer of delay. In this article, I will walk you through some frameworks and methods that you can use to build a gloomy, foreboding melody with a clean signal in the key of D minor.

In order to get a better understanding of the structure, we are going to look at D minor triadic chords, also known as “triads,” as well as the D minor scale. In order to ensure that everyone is starting on an even playing field, let’s go over the definition of a triad before we get started digging in the dirt.


Chords known as triads are constructed using three distinct notes.

  • The Third Root (minor or major)
  • Fifth in perfect form

There is a requirement that every triad contain these three intervals, which provides us with an extremely simple framework that can be utilized to generate – in this case – a minor melody over a specific key. If our root is D, a simple way to improvise is to start with a minor third and (or) a perfect fifth. Doing so is a straightforward method. You could also include the octaves in the key of D if you wanted to.

You would then begin with the following notes as a starting point:

  • Root D
  • It’s a minor third (F)
  • Fifth in perfect form (A)
  • The Octave (high D)

We won’t use them as chords, but we will use them as a note structure to help give us some direction regarding how to begin constructing our melodies. This will help us get started. Now that we have a key and a grid, we are able to begin applying the limited knowledge of music theory that we possess.


If you don’t want to rely solely on triads or if you’d rather think in terms of scales and scale degrees, you can also default to the notes of the D minor scale and simply draw your melody from there. This is another option for those who prefer not to think in terms of scales and scale degrees. In the end, I will demonstrate this technique as my concluding example for this unit (the last audio sample). The scale goes from D to E to F to G to A to B to C.

As a structural reference for the improvised melodies that I’ll be playing throughout this lesson, I’ll be using the D minor scale as well as the D minor triad. This is helpful given that we are striving to adhere to a different key, and it is in our best interest to avoid approaching that task without a structural strategy in mind.

To begin, let’s look at some Minor Triads in the Key of D.

To get things started, let’s take some time to listen to some arpeggiated sequences that correspond to the D minor triad that was previously mentioned. We’ll begin by establishing some arpeggios with a root D. These arpeggios will cover the root, minor third, fifth, and Octave (in some cases), resulting in a melodic arpeggio with a gloomy and ominous tone.

I am configuring the tones and audio with Guitar Pro 7 at the moment. You can follow along with this guide if you want to download the software. First things first, I’ll adjust the tuning using the menu on the right sidebar. The timing is straightforward, with only four quarter notes occurring within each bar of a 4/4 measure. Nevertheless, there are a significant number of variables involved in reaching the audio samples presented above. The following items in a bulleted list provide a general outline of the formula:

  • Minor triad
  • a more leisurely pace (80 BPM)
  • Drop D tuning
  • Low EQ and delay settings that are bass-friendly.

These features put the guitar tab that we provide into context. They not only do a nice job of framing this particular arpeggio, but they also provide us with a template that we can reuse with an entirely different tab in the key of D or even in another key if we get tired of playing in the key of D minor. This same note grouping of D, F, and A, also known as the first, third, and fifth notes of the D minor scale, could have been obtained by referring to the D minor scale as an alternative.

The notes at the 11th and 10th frets, which descend from B to A before returning to the root note of D, are responsible for the minor drop. This causes a break in the ranks of the D minor triad that we used in the previous shape. The B is actually a minor sixth (eight semitones above the root D) and not a minor third, as one might expect from its name. However, the D minor scale can be used to find the origin of all of the notes, including the B flat.

Although it is played in a lower tuning, this is the same melody that appears in the Apocalypse remix of “The Outsider” by A Perfect Circle. It is likely that Billy Howerdel’s guitar was responsible for the melody that can be heard at the beginning of the track.

The minor sixth drop is heard again in the second bar, but this time it is played lower in the register. This helps to highlight its role as a distinct component of the melody. Again, there is not much variation in terms of timing, but this is something that can be easily added or felt as you play the melody and experiment with various tempos and timings. The most difficult part is going to be getting the notes down, so once you have a grouping of notes that you like, the following variables are all going to come into play:

  • The rate or the tempo
  • Timing (quarter notes, eighth notes, etc.)
  • Color and its effects and tones
  • Extensions of the intervals (additional notes)

We are now able to jump into a studio tool and create a track that uses an improvised melody in D minor, with or without the use of external instruments, because we have some theoretical understanding of our scale and a handful of ways to add colorful melody. Soundtrap is the name of the web application that we will use for these demonstrations.

Putting together a track using Soundtrap and an additional improvised melody

After opening the URL for Soundtrap, you should have no trouble registering for an account or signing in to an existing one. Launch a brand-new project, and then select “Studio” from the drop-down menu.

It is recommended that you play around with the app for a while in order to familiarize yourself with its features. When you are ready to construct a track, you can begin by selecting either the “Patterns Beatmaker” option (which is displayed in the screenshot located above) or the traditional drum track option. You will be able to construct a drum beat or click track with the help of this, which will allow you to record the rest of your music around it.

Make sure that the tempo you use for your project is the same as the one you were using (or approximating) for the melody played on your guitar and that the key of your project is set to D minor.

Establish the pace.

Choose a key (D minor in my example)

Utilizing the Dub stepper pad instrument, piece together your drum track.

Following all of that, I arrived at the following arrangement for my backing drum track:

Experiment with the different pads and the different functions of the drum machine until you come up with something that you like and want to use.

After you have ensured that your drum kit is in working order, the next step is to incorporate a bass line into the D minor melody. Again, the D minor scale can be used to generate an underlying chord progression for us to work with. Since the melody is the main focus of the track, we should try to keep everything as straightforward as possible. You are free to experiment with your own bass line if you are using Soundtrap; however, you must ensure that you keep the key of D minor throughout.

My progression consists of the letters D, F, G, and A in that order.

Following these steps will allow you to add a new track to your Soundtrap project that features a cubic synth bass. You also have the option of recording your own bass line externally, in addition to using one of the other presets (I personally prefer synth bass sounds).

You are free to experiment with your own bass line if you are using Soundtrap; however, you must ensure that you keep the key of D minor throughout. My progression consists of the letters D, F, G, and A in that order.

Now that the bass and drums have been properly mixed, we are in a position to experiment with some melody. If you’re using Soundtrap, add another track, and then go to the “Jazz” category, where you’ll find the preset called “Delay No Swell” for the guitar.

This tab isn’t completely accurate, but it does cover the fundamentals of the melody and provides a point of reference for when you want to begin improvising a pattern that’s similar to the one it shows. Plugging in the tabs that were used to become familiar with minor melodies in the key of D, which were found at the beginning of this article, can also be an option for us. These tabs can be plugged into our bass and drum track. To this point in time, We have come up with a kind of framework for writing riffs that consists of the following characteristics:

  • A predetermined rate of travel (80 BPM)
  • A reliable master key (D minor)
  • Experience improvising music in this key is required (the first three tabs we covered)
  • A kick or drum track
  • The progression of chords and the bass line is in the key of D minor.

These five components, taken together, give you all of the contexts you require to be able to improvise while keeping a specific objective and path in mind. In the future, you will be able to play more melodic guitar licks by using any of the following strategies:

Change the tune from the previous recording in this article’s series.

You can customize or install the tunes from any of the first three tabs.

Make use of the frameworks that we’ve developed to compose a brand new melody that is completely unique. It would be to your advantage to do all three of these things rather than relying solely on the information that has been presented in this piece so far. Create a melody of your own using your own creativity in combination with the musical theory and the structures that you’ve learned in this lesson. Even if you start from scratch and build your own rhythm track from the ground up, there is value in doing so.

Performing Freely Without Using a Recording Device

If you use the rhythm track that I’ve created, or you’ve come up with your own, it might be easier to use an external guitar (either acoustic or electric) and improvise your minor melodies by simply playing along with the track rather than attempting to record on top of it. This way, you can use an external guitar to play along with the track instead of trying to record on top of it. The primary reason I decided to record the improvisation was so that I could provide a more comprehensive example and provide an illustration of how the final product might sound.

In most situations, I would simply learn the theory, determine the sound I wanted to work with (for example, a minor melody in the key of D), and then create a rhythm track to play along to while experimenting with various melody lines. After that, I would compose the song. You won’t have to commit anything to paper in order to put your thoughts to the test because of this opportunity.


Leave them in the comments section below if you have any questions about the music theory that is involved with this exercise or questions about how to use the Soundtrap software. I would prefer to respond there rather than in an email because that way, others who read our conversation will benefit from it. In addition to straightforward praise or rebuke, we value well-reasoned corrections, additions, and criticisms shared in the comments section.

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