Overcoming Barre Chords

Barre Chords

How do I start learning barre chords?

A lot of questions turned into excuses scare us away from learning barre chords. Maybe you’re thinking you’ve got small hands, you can’t stretch your fingers and you don’t have enough strength to fret all notes. You wonder if you can skip this part. Well, don’t turn your back yet, two barre chords will unlock the rest of the 90% chords in the chart.

You don’t have to stress yourself thinking how long or if you can do it because just like everybody else, you can. Be patient and enjoy the process, look forward to the day you can finally ring your first barre chord. It might be difficult but doesn’t have to be complicated, proper technique and finger placement can eliminate unnecessary tensions.

Barre Chords

A barre chord is a chord where the index finger presses down all the strings on a specific fret. This creates a more stable chord and makes it easier to move between chords. Barre chords are important for both rhythm and lead guitar playing, so they are worth learning.

Proper Placement And Techniques

It takes more pressure pushing the strings down on an acoustic guitar due to string height and thickness and pressing harder and squeezing won’t help. You can avoid all extreme pains if you learn to properly position every part of your body needed to play your guitar successfully.

Shoulder down. Try putting your right hand on your left shoulder to make it relaxed. If it rises while you’re fretting the chord then that’s a sign you’re doing it all wrong. You’re probably using too much strength from your fingers and thumb.

Arm, Elbow, Wrist. Pay attention to your elbow, keep it low and close to your body. Make sure you are relaxing your entire arm, and avoid forming a chicken wing. Keeping your arm hanging next to your body makes it more comfortable and easier to move your hand to the fretboard. Your wrist should also be in a nice and relaxed position, in resting state, and slightly bent forward.

Thumb & Palm. Your thumb should be halfway down at the back of the neck, opposite your index finger, or in between your index and ring finger. It’s generally pointed upward, almost perpendicular to the neck of the guitar; don’t stretch it out parallel with the neck. Your palm should be directly underneath the guitar neck, holding the fretboard like holding a hamburger.

Fingers. Curve your fingers; middle, ring and pinkie. Make a fist with your right hand and wrap your left hand around it. When fretting a barre chord, avoid the tendency of flattening the 1st knuckle of your middle finger. For your index finger, it should be parallel to the fret and slightly arched or angled, not diagonal. Fret slightly towards the outer edge of your index, it’s easier to bar with the bonier and harder part of your index finger. Check your G & D strings, the middle strings, to know if your index is fretting it right.

Other Techniques In Playing Barre Chords

  • Angle your guitar’s neck up or tilt your guitar a bit upwards so you can easily fret a barre chord and comfortably move up and down the fretboard.
  • When forming your first barre chord, you will be doing a lot of ring tests, ringing the string individually. Thus, picking is better than strumming for this early stage.
  • Barre higher up the fretboard when forming your first barre chord. The closer to the nut, the harder it gets to fret a barre chord. As you move toward the bridge, your guitar neck gets thinner, the frets get smaller and the string tension gets looser. As soon as you can fret your barre chord well, slowly work your way down the neck (frets closer to the nut). 
  • Lower your guitar action, the distance between your strings and the fretboard.
  • Don’t squeeze the guitar neck with your fingers and thumb like a clamp but pull the strings with the weight of your arm. Squeezing will lead to a sore thumb and constrict your arm and shoulder resulting in unnecessary excess tensions. Simply relax your shoulder and arm, this way it will transfer the weight to the strings.
  • Fret slightly below the fingertip and place your fingers slightly behind the fret wire.

Index Finger Exercise

Since barre chord is all about fretting multiple strings in a single fret, let’s work on your index finger first. Don’t worry about the rest of your fingers because you’ve been practicing fretting it with your open chords early on. The goal of this exercise is to strengthen the index finger and build good string contact that will result in ringing all strings clearly.

Level 1: Ring Test

  • Barre all six strings with your index finger on the 7th fret.
  • Ring the strings individually. 
  • Do this several times taking your index finger on and off the fret.

Level 2: Moving through the neck.

  • Move your index from 5th to 9th fret.
  • Ring the strings individually through picking.
  • Pick the strings all down on the 5th fret and all up on the 6th.
  • Do this alternately until you reach the 9th fret.

Level 3: Moving closer to the nut.

  • Do part 2 starting from the 1st to 9th fret, the fret beside the nut of your guitar.
  • Then move back from 9th to 1st fret.

Do these exercises following the stages accordingly. We want to properly transition your index finger from the easy level to the hardest where you have to go through the most part of the fretboard. The exercises are quite easy but ringing all strings is the challenge. You can’t move to the next level without properly fretting and ringing all strings cleanly. If you hear a buzzing sound then always check the proper placement from your shoulder down to your fingers. Be careful to follow the techniques listed above.

Level Up!

You are one step closer to playing your barre chords. If you get your index finger working well then the rest will not be as hard as you think. Focus on strength building rather than all the pain you will encounter. It is only a temporary condition while you’re gaining muscles and building calluses on your fingers. You are indeed getting stronger!

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