Barre chords were hard for me to master. I don’t know why, because the other chords came relatively quick to me. Was it because I didn’t practice them enough? I always found ways to cheat myself out of playing barre chords, making them easier or not playing them at all.
Here’s the truth: I recently analyzed the charts. In modern pop, six out of seven chords were barre chords. Across all genres, F is one of the three most used chords, with A# being really popular as well.
You can cheat yourself out of playing them as I did. You can use a capo or only play half of the chord. But here’s the deal: There are four types of barre chords. Once you know these, you can play every major and minor chord in existence. Not just the basic open chords. Not just the common ones. Also the fancy ones with # and b behind them. This is a huge advantage.
Not only that, but your fingers will gain a lot of strength from learning how to do these chords.
First things first. What’s a barre chord?
What’s a Barre Chord?
A barre chord is a chord where one or more fingers are being used as a “bar”. Instead of using the tip of our finger, the side of our “bar” finger is being used to press down multiple strings across a single fret.
This is an introduction to barre chords, so we will only use one finger to bar the strings: our index finger. The other fingers will be used to shape the rest of our chord.
A barre looks like this:
In this case, I’m pressing down all the strings of the second fret, like this:
E|--2---- B|--2---- G|--2---- D|--2---- A|--2---- E|--2----
How To Play A Barre Chord?
Now we know what’s a barre chord, we’ll focus on how to play them.
I usually put my finger as close to the metal strip of the fret as possible, and then let it lean back a bit towards the middle of the fret. This way you’re not pushing with the middle of your finger, but you’re also not using the side of your finger. If somebody was sitting in front of you, they would still need to be able to see your fingernail.
The closer you get to the metal strip, the more clear your sound will be. The further away you get from the metal strip, the fuzzier your notes will get. That’s why my beginning position is always as close to the strip as possible. In some of the following pictures you might not even see the strip anymore, but because I’m leaning towards the middle of the fret, the sound that comes out is clear.
Talking about clear sound. It’s important that every note rings out. This will be hard in the beginning. Everybody has different fingers, so don’t be afraid to experiment with moving your finger up or down. Whatever feels natural to you.
Your thumb should be on the back of the neck of your guitar, like this:
Ideally, your thumb should be on the other side of where your bar finger is. Together they’re clamping the neck of the guitar.
There are four types of barre chords. There’s an E-shape, there’s an Em-shape, there an A-shape and there’s an Am-shape.
What does that mean?
Let’s start out with an E-shape.
First, we take our E:
Now we’re going to move up every note of our chord by one fret. Our index moves to the second fret instead of the first fret, our middle finger and our ring finger move to the third fret instead of the second fret.
But what do we do with the open strings? That’s what the bar is for. The bar is our substitution for the open strings. So if all the open strings we’re to move up one fret, this means our bar will be placed on the first fret.
This means the other finger will have to take the E differently than they’re used to. This is extremely awkward at first. Look closely how the fingers are being places:
This is an F major. You’ve just played your first barre chord. Congratulations! Do your fingers hurt? Completely normal.
So if the previous one was an E-shape, and turned out to be an F if we placed it on the first fret, does that mean our Em-shape will become an Fm if we place it on the first fret? Exactly!
Our Fm looks like this:
Do you see how your ring finger and your little finger are positioned like an Em, just one fret higher?
I think this is the hardest shape to master at first. In the exercises below, you’ll see that I don’t focus on this shape yet. The other three shapes should be hard enough for now.
The good thing about this shape is that you only have to bar 5 strings instead of 6 strings. Just like with an A chord, the thickest string of your guitar will not be played.
We’re going to be playing a B chord, and to take a B chord, your bar will be placed on the second fret.
It will look like this:
The good thing about this shape is that the three non-bar fingers are placed exactly like they’re placed in a regular A shape. The top of my index finger is touching the thickest string, but not pressing it.
The E looks like the Am. Exactly the same fingers are being used, only one string lower. The same thing goes for The E-shape and the Am-shape.
The Bm is placed on the second fret and looks like this:
The three non-bar fingers are playing an Am over the bar.
As usual, there’s one backing track without me playing along, and one backing track with me playing along, so you can hear how it should sound:
The first chord is a Bm, the second chord is an F. There’s one simple downward strum every chord change.
This is hard. So please be kind on yourself if it takes some time to master these chords. It might even take some weeks. That’s normal.
This first chord is a B, the second chord is an A. All downward strums on every count (1, 2, 3, 4 = down, down, down, down).
If the rhythm is too hard, you can play along with the backing track and play an easier strumming pattern if that’s easier for you.
Remember, this is one of the biggest barriers (ba-dum-tss) you’ll get to face as a guitarist. This is hard and it will take time. Be patient and don’t focus all your energy on this. Remember to also have fun and learn songs you love. Challenge yourself, but don’t push yourself too far.
If you have any questions or reactions, feel free to leave them below.