Guitar Barre Chords

Dwight H.
Written by
Dwight H.

Introduction to Barre Chords

Barre chords, also known as Bar Chords, are the bane of many a new guitar player. Which isn't to say they aren't useful, mind you -- bar chords are an important part of every guitarists' arsenal. If you're looking to put a unique sounding twist on some of the open-position chords you know, playing said chords in "bar form" is a useful trick.

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Barre Chord Chart

Guitar barre chords - chart
Guitar barre chords - chart

In addition, learning the basic bar chord "shapes" will allow you to quickly move around between certain chords -- provided you understand the fretboard. We could go on, but the point is that bar chords to your arsenal will provide many benefits for you down the line. The only issue is that they can be tricky to learn.

If you're willing to put in the work and refine your technique, though, we suggest you continue reading. In our guide today, we're going to cover the basics of playing bar chords, and give you a few examples you can use for practice.

Challenges With Bar Chords

The problem most newbies encounter is that they aren't used to holding down all six strings with one finger. This results in muddy, muted chords that don't sound so great. This, in turn, can shatter a novice player's confidence, dissuading them from learning further. To avoid frustration, we suggest starting slow and building strength in your fingers first, then moving on to learning bar chord shapes.

Playing guitar bar chords
Playing guitar bar chords

How to Play Guitar Barre Chords

To begin, let's work out your index finger. This will be the biggest hurdle you must overcome, but once you're capable of holding down all six strings with this one finger, everything else will seem like smooth sailing.

Starting too close to the head of your guitar will prove difficult at first, so to train yourself, let's instead head to the third fret.

  1. Place your index finger across all six strings and hold it down. You've created your "bar."

  2. Now, strum your strings.

  3. Are you getting a clean sound across all six strings? If not, try playing your strings individually to see which ones aren't receiving proper coverage.

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Tips for Playing Barre Chords

Newbies often have a tendency to press down with the meatiest part of their finger. It's a comfortable (and natural) way to start, and it's fine if you have a strong grip and powerful fingers. For those with smaller hands, though, that wee bit of finger flesh might not be enough. In these cases, you should try using the edge of your finger instead, It's often "bonier," and will make for a tighter press on the strings (resulting in a better sounding chord).

  1. When it comes to index finger positioning, you want to aim for the spot close to your fret. Too close to the middle or back of your fret, and you'll get a muddy sound. It will take some work to hit this position every time you go for a bar, but work on it consistently, and your aim will eventually become true.

  2. Be sure not to curve your finger too much. If you apply uneven pressure to the strings, you'll end up muting a few, so watch how you're putting that finger down across the fretboard. Take note of any creases you tend to make, then make a conscious effort to "iron out" those kinks.

  3. Apply a similar logic to your wrist. A poor angle will make it difficult for you to cover the strings well with your index finger. If you're too far in front (or behind) of the guitar's neck, you'll find it near-impossible to get the strong bar you need for clean sounding chords. You'll have to experiment with what position feels most comfortable to you (while still allowing you to cover the strings as needed), but once you have it figured out, you'll find making a proper bar a much easier prospect.

  4. As for your thumb, you'll want to place this behind the neck of the guitar, pushing up to help clamp down on the neck. How much pressure will you need for a great sounding chord? That too is a factor you'll need to play around with. You don't want to press so lightly that you don't clamp the strings hard enough to produce a sound, but at the same time, you don't want to press hard that you're tiring out your fingers and making it difficult to play. Practice, and learn just how much force you'll need to exert to make your bar proficiently.

Developing Strength

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Needless to say, you might not get your bar sounding correct on your first try, but with time and dedication, you can whip your fretting hand into shape. Start by making your bar on that third fret, strumming, then removing your hand from the fretboard. Repeat this process until you start to see improvement in the strength of your bar and how quickly you can get your finger into position.

To supplement your hand strength, you might also try working out with a grip trainer. These are good for challenging your fingers to produce more force, and will also provide a worthwhile bit of forearm exercise to boot. Be patient, though. Strength doesn't come overnight, and you might find it takes you a few weeks in order to develop a good sounding bar. Once you do, however, it'll be time for you to start making bar chords with your other fingers.

Practicing Barre Chords

G Major Barre Chord

At last, the moment of truth is here. It's time to see if you can learn the finger positionings necessary to create a solid bar chord. For this, we'll head back to the third fret and try a G Major bar chord on for size:

g major barre guitar chord
g major barre guitar chord

Here's how it's done:

  • Use your 1st finger to bar the strings on the 3rd fret

  • Place your 2nd finger on the 3rd string/4th fret

  • Place your 3rd finger on the 5th string/5th fret

  • Place your 4th finger on the 4th string/5th fret

A Major Barre Chord

Now, here's the great thing about bar chords. With this arrangements of fingers memorized, you can move that bar chord shape to any other fret on your guitar and play a major chord. We'll head up to the 5th fret, with an A Major chord, to demonstrate:

A major barre guitar chord
A major barre guitar chord

Play the chord like this:

  • Use your 1st finger to bar the strings on the 5th fret

  • Place your 2nd finger on the 3rd string/6th fret

  • Place your 3rd finger on the 5th string/7th fret

  • Place your 4th finger on the 4th string/7th fret

Notice how the relative position of your fingers remains the same? All you've done is change the fret you're barring your index finger with, but you're now playing a whole new chord.

A Major 7 Barre Chord

What happens, though, when you change the position of your other fingers? The answer is simple -- you get another chord. We'll stay on the 5th fret, but instead of playing A Major, we'll play an A Major 7 Chord:

Am7 barre guitar chord
Am7 barre guitar chord

Do it like this:

  • Use your 1st finger to bar the strings on the 5th fret

  • Place your 2nd finger on the 3rd string/6th fret

  • Place your 3rd finger on the 4th string/7th fret

  • Place your 4th finger on the 2nd string/7th fret

As with your Major Bar Chord, you can move this shape up and down the fretboard to achieve different chords. Remember that your root will be the note you're barring on the 6th string, so, for example, if you're barring the 3rd fret, you're playing a G Chord, if you're barring the 5th fret, you're playing an A Chord, etc.

D Major Barre Chord

You can also create barre chords that use the 5th string as your root. This time, we'll use our 10th fret chord, D Major, to demonstrate:

D major barre guitar chord
D major barre guitar chord

You'll play as so:

  • Use your 1st finger to bar the strings on the 10th fret

  • Place your 2nd finger on the 3rd string/11th fret

  • Place your 3rd finger on the 5th string/12th fret

  • Place your 4th finger on the 4th string/12th fret

It sounds a bit different than your open-position D Major Chord, but it's a D Major Chord all the same. Having the ability to play bar chords and use the basic bar shapes all over your guitar is vital to great playing, so be sure to hone this skill to its razor's edge and incorporate bar chords into your playing when you can.