Barre chords are frustrating. They take a long time to master, and even when you’re fully capable of playing them, they still can be really impractical.
There are ways to get around barre chords. I’m not telling you this because I want you to stop learning them. It’s really important that you continue practicing barre chords. But there are moments where it’s a lot more efficient to take an alternate shape.
Just like capos, these alternate chords can be used as a tool. As an efficient method to make your life a little easier. In some cases, these alternate chords sound even better than the original barre chord in the context of the song you’re playing.
So please, don’t use this lesson to cheat your way out of learning barre chords. But if you can use these chords instead of barre chords and they sound good in the context of your song… by all means, use them!
Chords Made Easy – Method 1: Skipping strings
There are four popular barre chord shapes. The E-shape, the Em-shape the A-shape and the Am-shape. In all these chords 5 or 6 strings are being barred by the index finger. If this sounds unfamiliar to you, I recommend you read my blog about barre chords first.
One way to make barre chords easier is to skip some strings, to make the bar smaller. Or even better, to get rid of the bar.
F Major Alternate Chords
Let’s take F as our first example.
If we take away the bottom string (the lowest string), we only need to bar upper two strings, because our middle finger, ring finger and little finger block are on the other strings. We mute the bottom string and we now have a simplified version of the F chord:
We can go one step further and also skip the upper string. We now have two muted strings and no bar at all!
B Major Alternate Chords
This is our regular B major chord:
The B major can be made easier by not playing the upper string:
Another way to play the same chord is by doing this:
In this case, we’re using our ring finger (not our index finger) to bar the three notes we’re otherwise playing with our middle finger, ring finger and little finger. It might seem a bit backward to play a barre chord to avoid playing a barre chord, so if you feel more comfortable using the first option, that’s absolutely fine. The second option is very efficient and quick though.
F Minor Alternate Chords
The F minor is probably the hardest barre shape, and the alternate versions are still pretty hard. In the regular F minor chord you’re barring four strings:
You can make this easier by barring three strings instead:
You can skip even more notes, but I don’t think that’s very useful in this case. If you were to skip the high E string (like we did with the second alternate version of the F major), you’d still need to bar two notes, and the difference between barring two or three notes, in this case, isn’t that big.
B Minor Alternate Chords
The B minor always came the easiest to me.
But we can make it a little more comfortable by skipping the upper string.
We now have a chord without a barre. Skipping more strings would make the chord less musical.
Chords Made Easy – Method 2: Playing Richer Chords
Don’t confuse “richer” with “harder”. I’m going to teach you a few seventh chords. These chords may have a fancier name, but in fact, they’re a lot easier to play. This may seem strange, but in some cases, you will only need to lift a finger to “add” that seventh.
If you’re confused by the term “seventh”, don’t worry. I will post a blog about seventh chords really soon. All you need to know right now is that these chords can be wonderful substitutes for annoying barre chords. At the same time, they can add a little extra flavor to a pretty basic chord progression.
So how do we play these chords?
B Minor Seventh
Let’s go back to our B minor:
A cool way to play a B minor with a seventh is like this:
This is a Bm7. I think it’s a wonderful little chord, with some beautiful open strings ringing out, but also that seventh doing its magic.
B Major Seventh
You what they say. When you play a minor, that major is never far away. I’m not sure if anybody’s ever said that, but in this case, it’s true.
Going from the Bm7 to the Bmaj7 is just an added index finger.
F Major Seventh
This one sounds great if you’re coming from an A minor or a Cmaj, and you already have that high E ringing out.
Instead of barring that high E string or skipping it, as we did earlier, you can now just let it ring.
You can make it a little lighter by skipping the A string as well:
So next time you come across a barre chord, and it just doesn’t feel natural. Try giving these alternative chords a try. Like I said earlier, don’t forget to learn barre chords as well. They are fundamental. But every new chord shape you learn on guitar is a new connection made in your brain. The more chords shapes you learn, the easier it will get to learn another one.
If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them below.