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Barre Chords for Beginners and Beyond

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solidwalnut    5

Barre Chords for Beginners and Beyond

This lesson concentrates on the two most important (arguably) and basic barre chord formations, the E form and A form.

The barre chord is such a dirty word at times and hard work for those who are starting out. But fear not! There are plenty of people around here that will help! We're glad to be here for you. Here ya go.

What are Barre Chords?

They are chord formations that can move up and down the fretboard. Stop here and open this lesson to check out the basics of them.

Keep that lesson open so we can take advantage of the great graphics that Kirk has on his lessons. Notice the first graphic you see: The E chord form moving up the neck two frets. This is what it's all about. At this point, we're only going to concentrate on two forms: The E major and the A major forms. The variations follow these easily but we need to get a grip on the basic principles first. We need visual anchors.

Let's use the fretboard map for both anchors. Keep this fretboard page open for reference, but for simplicity sake I'll repeat the E and A strings here.

0........1...........2..........3..........4..........5..........6..........7...........8...........9..........10.........11........12.........13........14.........

A ||-A#/Bb-|---B---|---C---|-C#/Db-|---D---|-D#/Eb-|---E---|---F---|-F#/Gb-|---G---|-G#/Ab-|---A---|-A#/Bb-|---B---|--

E ||---F----|F#/Gb-|---G---|-G#/Ab-|---A---|-A#/Bb-|---B---|---C---|-C#/Db-|---D---|-D#/Eb-|---E---|---F----|-F#/Gb|--

If this doesn't translate well for you in your monitor, just refer to the E and A strings on the fretboard map page.

The E form Barre

Starting with the top string or the low E, the open string is of course an E note. This is the bass note of the open E chord and the visual anchor for the E form barre chord. When you first learn to play the open E chord, you usually learn it by using the index, middle and ring fingers and it looks like this:

eform1at25.jpg

022100

Now play the same chord using the middle, ring and pinky fingers.

eform2at25.jpg

022100

What happens if you slide this formation up one fret and barre your index finger across all of the strings? Well, what's the first fretted note of the E string? An F of course, so it's the F major chord. And so on up the neck.

eformbarreat25.jpg

133211

Now open up the E Form Major page and check out how the rest of the E form barre chords work up the fingerboard.

The A form Barre

Starting with the next string, the A is of course an A note. This is the bass note of the open A chord and the visual anchor for the A form barre chord. When you first learn to play the open A chord, you often learn it by using the index, middle and ring fingers.

aform1at25.jpg

x02220

This isn't always so, but go with me on this one for now.

Now play the same chord using the middle, ring and pinky fingers.

aform2at25.jpg

x02220

What happens if you slide this formation up one fret and barre your index finger across all of the strings to the A string? Well, what's the first fretted note of the A string? A Bb of course. So it's a Bb chord. And so on up the neck.

aformbarre1at25.jpg

x13331

Now open up the A Form Major page and check out how the rest of the A form barre chords work up the fingerboard.

Ok, ok, there are variances on how the A and the A form barre chords are formed. Notice in the variations on the A form barre pictures below that I'm really only reaching over to the fret the A string and not barreing the rest. Work smarter, not harder! Sometimes your fingers just can't do any of these things. Here's another variation on the open A, and this is often used when playing electric.

aform3at25.jpg

And here's a couple of those variations on the A form barre.

aformbarre2at25.jpgaformbarre3at25.jpg

"A form barre 2" comes in handy when you want to learn that rock and roll move.

aformrocknrollat25.jpg

To Sum it Up, There's More to It...

Take a look at the photos...notice that I'm only barreing the strings that aren't covered by the other fingers. Take the E form barre for example, for a G chord: 355433. I only need to barre the 3's!! The middle, ring and pinky fingers are taking care of frets 5 and 4! This could make a difference in how you approach the form. For my hand specifically: as I barre across with the index finger, I go across as far as I can (see the third pic) so the B and bottom E strings are near the crease of the finger and hand. That way, I use the fleshy part of the finger to barre those strings. This leaves the fleshy part of finger near the tip to barre the top E.

Be sure to check out all the links under Chords and check out the chord pictorials and chord finders here at this site.

There's much to talk about as far as playing barre chords. One area you can work with is discovering that it's ok to play partial barre chords. There are many players who can't play full barre chords, and so they stick with partials. No problem. Often times partials are desirable.

There are plenty of questions raised about the different ways that the A form is played. Again, there are no rules. Just keep in mind that the more versatile you are about learning to play the same chord in different ways, the more options you'll have.

Look for discussions in the forum for topics such as, "Where should my thumb be?" and "What happens when my hand starts cramping?"

I'll answer that last one. Shake out your hand on a regular basis for longer wrist and general hand muscle/tendon health.

 

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allthumbs    8

Nice one. Notice how SWs thumb disappears under the neck, in the pics, when he does a barre chord. Thumb placement in crucial. It needs to be under the middle of the neck. There are two lines of thought about thumb placement in relation to the index finger on the fret board. One is to place the thumb directly under the index finger like you were pinching your finger and thumb together. The second is that the thumb is under the second finger. See which feels best to you.

Remember that your thumb glides around the back of the neck according to how much of a stretch you need to achieve to grab various notes and chords. It is not static. That helps prevent thumb cramps.

Start with the barre chords that SW has shown you but, practice them further up the neck around the 5th fret. Much easier to start with. Work your way down to barre chords closer to the nut which is harder.

Don't practice holding a barre chord for more than a minute at a time. When your thumb starts to hurt, stop and shake your hand out.

You want to hold a clean barre chord with the least amount of pressure so try and avoid crushing the neck. You want as little hand fatigue as possible in your playing.

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Kirk Lorange    128

That's a great lesson, Steve, you put a lot of work into that ... thanks.

Yes, barre chords are the bane of most beginners. They seem impossible at first, but as you say in your lesson, once you realize that partial barre chords are OK, that you don't always need to play the full six string chord, you can start with them and slowly get to the point where you can comfortably play full chords ... even then, you may choose to play smaller, more compact barre chords simply because they sometimes sound better.

The most important lesson to learn here is that ALL shapes, whether chord shapes, or the aggregate 'shape' of a lick or riff or even a full solo, can move up and down the neck and still retain its original sound. That truly is the beauty of the guitar, a trade off against its complicated layout. Keyboards make a big deal out of those sharp/flat notes by making them black and making them seem different. They're not ... the guitar fretboard makes no such distinction and that's a good thing.

Oddly, I was just starting to think about doing a barre chord lesson myself when I saw this!

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Matty22    0

Thats a great lesson SW.

Dunno if this question should go here, or in the workings of music forum, but ill stick it here.

We all know the A Am E Em shapes. And i know the Maj Min and Dom7th shapes are the played in the same way, (slide the chord up and barre it at the root you want)

I think im right here, but just to confirm, the same can be done with D and C shape chords too? Considering you can capo say at 3rd fret, a Dshape will still work, but effectively be an F chord....

So can i play a barre chords based on D and C shapes up the neck the same as E and A shapes?

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allthumbs    8
Thats a great lesson SW.

Dunno if this question should go here, or in the workings of music forum, but ill stick it here.

We all know the A Am E Em shapes. And i know the Maj Min and Dom7th shapes are the played in the same way, (slide the chord up and barre it at the root you want)

I think im right here, but just to confirm, the same can be done with D and C shape chords too? Considering you can capo say at 3rd fret, a Dshape will still work, but effectively be an F chord....

So can i play a barre chords based on D and C shapes up the neck the same as E and A shapes?

Yup. It is called the C.A.G.E.D. system. Each letter stands for a movable chord. The Barre G shape is a painful one.

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tonedeaf    0
Great post, SolidWalnut. Barre chords are a topic that come up often, this should be very helpful for those with questions! :winkthumb:

SolidWalunt, thanks for a great post it's perfect timing for me I just got the hang of making a barre chord last week! The attachments are helpful too. Thanks again. :clap:

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solidwalnut    5
That's a great lesson, Steve, you put a lot of work into that ... thanks.

You're welcome. Fortunately, I had already taken the pictures a couple of years earlier!

Oddly, I was just starting to think about doing a barre chord lesson myself when I saw this!

Well, that wouldn't be a bad thing! Maybe there's some angle I haven't explored with these basics and there's definitely the other moveable chord forms. Or as we've been talking about, partial barre chords is a huge (probably through an expanded CAGED lesson or a complementary lesson stemming from Plane Talk) area that we can explore.

Steve

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thedamon    0

barre chords are also very versatile. Let us look at the different chords you can make by just staying at the third fret.

3

3

4 This would be a G chord

5

5

3

3

3

3 This would make a Gm chord

5

5

3

3

3

4 Here is a G7 chord

3

5

3

3

3

3 And a Gm7 barre chord

3

5

3

3

5

5 Here is a B barre chord

5

3

X

3

4

5 This is one I use often, a Bm chord

5

3

X

3

5

3 Here's a B7 chord

5

3

X

3

4

3 And finally a Bm7 chord

5

3

X

The numbers show which fret to put your fingers on. Notice how the index finger covers the entire third fret on all of the above examples. Slide the hand up or down the neck to get to the chord you want.

I hope this helps those people who are beginning to use Barre chords. This is my first post, so I guess this would be a good time to say, "Love the site."

thedamon

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solidwalnut    5
...

3

4

5 This is one I use often, a Bm chord

5

3

X

3

5

3 Here's a B7 chord

5

3

X

3

4

3 And finally a Bm7 chord

5

3

X

...

I hope this helps those people who are beginning to use Barre chords. This is my first post, so I guess this would be a good time to say, "Love the site."

thedamon

Howdy thedamon. Thanks for jumping in with the input. Minor correction on your last three chords (just an oversite I'm sure). They're C-flavored chords.

Welcome to the site.

Steve

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Aunt Doty    0

Sorry ya'll I'm a noobie and still need a little info. I understand how to play a barre chord say "G" but can you give a little more detail on the actual finger positions? In "F' position for a G i barre 3rd fret, 4th fret is 3rd string, 5th fret is 4&5 strings. How id this written using your system??????????:confused:

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solidwalnut    5
Aunt Doty said:
Sorry ya'll I'm a noobie and still need a little info. I understand how to play a barre chord say "G" but can you give a little more detail on the actual finger positions? In "F' position for a G i barre 3rd fret, 4th fret is 3rd string, 5th fret is 4&5 strings. How id this written using your system??????????:confused:

Well, the quickest way is to check out the E formation barre page. Hopefully this will answer it all. If not, let us know.

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Chris C    0

Great pics and info. :)

Here's a couple more tips that the Guitar books that I've bought sometimes forgot to mention:


  • 1. Bar chords are not quick to learn. Most beginners take months not minutes to master them. Yes, months. It doesn't take long to understand the idea, but it usually takes a lot of work before the fingers can do them well. You are not alone if you're having difficulty - nearly all of us did.
    2. Bar chords are easier on electric guitar than acoustic.
    3. In many (if not most) situations you don't need all six strings ringing clearly. So try and master the knack of only strumming the strings you need. The minimum number of strings needed to make Major or Minor chords is three, and often that's enough. So look carefully and see which three strings most need to be fretted accurately. With many bar chords the three will be next to each other, so work on getting them clear, and then work outwards from there if you need a fuller sound, or additional notes.
    4. Most guides suggest 'rolling' your barring finger backwards a little, but experiment and see what works for you. Try slightly different amounts of fingertip overhang, slightly different amounts of curl and roll, etc. Also don't be afraid to try parts of the bar finger right on top of the fret wire. The thicker strings in particular can take a bit of overhang. And if you're going to get it wrong a little too much muting generally beats too much buzzing.

Try not to get frustrated if it takes waaay longer than you hope. :reallymad: It takes a lot of small adjustments (many of which are done sub-consciously) before the fingers and the brain get it all sorted and fully planted. I found that if I just did a few minutes of bar chord practice each day, without getting too worried about nailing it all quickly, the skill just sort of snuck up on me.

Good luck,

Chris

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Aunt Doty    0

Chris,

Thanks for the tips and encouragement. I'll keep on working on it! It's easy to just play the things that sound good instead of spending time on the more difficult stuff when you practice!:trying:

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Chris C    0

It's easy to just play the things that sound good instead of spending time on the more difficult stuff when you practice!:trying:

True! :)

But there's an old saying that goes something like "It's OK for practice to sound bad - because you should be working on things you're not perfect at yet!". If that's the case then my practice is just terrific, as it usually sounds more than a bit rough round the edges... (Actually, the purists will probably tell us to take it slow and get it right, but I like to have a little leeway :winkthumb: )

And don't forget Kirk's tip about partial bars. Many players seem to have a repertoire of different 'partial bars' where the barring index finger only presses down small number of necessary strings - not all six. In a great many cases that's all you need anyway. There's not really a reason why you have to go straight to what's probably the hardest one - the full six string number. Many people prefer to work their way up to that one, and learn some of the shorter easier bars first. Indeed, it seems that some players manage to mostly avoid using a full bar.

Cheers,

Chris

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solidwalnut    5
Great pics and info. :)

Thanks Chris.

4. Most guides suggest 'rolling' your barring finger backwards a little, but experiment and see what works for you. Try slightly different amounts of fingertip overhang, slightly different amounts of curl and roll, etc. Also don't be afraid to try parts of the bar finger right on top of the fret wire. The thicker strings in particular can take a bit of overhang. And if you're going to get it wrong a little too much muting generally beats too much buzzing.

Excellent insight! If you notice the pictures of my index finger, you'll see that it's curved. We all have to deal with the 'hand' we've been given (pun intended). Also, my finger is well, not exactly rolled forward but that's just the natural place on the finger where the bar occurs. And I'm always hanging just behind the fret wires. When I was learning I discovered that it just seemed like I needed to apply less pressure being just behind the fret wire. There's probably not alot of science or accuracy to that statement, but I could always guage better the threshold between 'enough pressure' and 'fretbuzz'.

And you're oh so right about the muting vs. buzzing.

Steve

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Wow, what a great thread. I am 3 weeks into my quest to be able to play the guitar. I have been working on open chords so far, but I looked ahead on the instructional DVD I am using and barre chords are not too far away. I saw this thread and read it and I figured rather than complete all the open chord parts of the DVD and then arrive at the barre chords section cold and hence easily frustrated I have been devoting about 10-15 minutes a day trying to form and hold a barre chord.

It is pretty tricky at first but I am pleased to say that today I was able to play a number of very nice sounding G chords (E shape). Changing to it is another matter but it's progress for me and if I keep this up I should be able to handle the barre chords section of my DVD a lot better.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to this thread!

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