Do you strive for clean, buzz-free barre chords?
This lesson includes solid tips to make your barre chords cleaner, meaner, and just plain better.
Watch until the end as I think one of the tips will surprise you… and it doesn’t even involve your fretting hand.
Originally published on September 12, 2017, this article was republished on June 19th, 2023.
What Are Barre Chords?
A barre chord, also known as a bar chord, is a chord that requires you to press your index finger across multiple strings of a single fret.
The name barre chord comes from the French word “barré”, which means barred. This refers to the act of pressing – or barring – your index finger down across multiple strings.
Think of the role your index finger plays in barre chords as a capo, those small devices you can clamp onto the neck to shorten the length of strings.
Barre chord shapes can be moved up and down the fret of the guitar to play lots of different major and minor chords.
All barre chords are based off of the fingering shapes of four chords: E major, E minor, A major, and A minor. These four shapes are all you need to play any major or minor chord across the fretboard.
An important differentiator is the fact that the E major and E minor shapes require all 6 strings barred, whereas the A major and A minor require the first 5 strings barred.
This technique, although known for being a bit more challenging for beginner players than regular chords, opens up a whole new world of possibilities once mastered.
With a bit of practice, you’ll quickly learn to ace barre chords and use them to the best of your ability!
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The Winning Formula for Playing Barre Chords
One of the great things about barre chords is that they all follow a similar pattern. Let’s have a closer look!
Here are the step-by-step instructions to help you master the barre chord.
Step 1: Barre Your Finger
Place your index finger across all the strings on the same fret and practice holding it down. It’s important here to ensure you’re applying equal amounts of pressure to all strings.
Step 2: Find Your Finger Placement
With your index finger still barred across all strings, place your other fingers in the right chord shape along the fret for the barre chord you want to play. You’ll find that some of these barre chords require you to stretch your fingers quite a bit. The secret is to keep practicing until your fingers get used to it.
Step 3: Start Strumming
Now that your fingers are all in place, start strumming!
Listen for any muted or deadened strings. If you hear something’s off, go back and ensure each of your fingers is placed firmly. Once you’ve double-checked that all is in order, enjoy strumming your barre chord!
Barre Chord Technique Tips
Press Smarter, Not Harder
Many guitar players approach barre chords with a flat index finger, using the meaty part, or the pad, of the index finger.
This actually makes it harder to get a clean sound!
To fret more effectively, rotate your index finger and use the outside, bonier part to press down the strings.
This gives you a much harder fretting surface as well as better contact with the strings, ultimately allowing you to achieve clear notes with less pressure.
Use Your Picking Arm for Cleaner Barre Chords
As any one who has played a few barre chords will tell you, they require a decent amount of grip strength – this can quickly tire out your hands and forearms!
If you’re someone who struggles with this, try this work around:
Instead of making your fretting hand do all the work, use your picking hand and arm to push the guitar closer to you, while pushing the fretboard outwards. At the place where your picking hand wraps around the guitar, pull your arm tight so that the guitar neck gets pushed forward.
Thiswill give you a really solid feel on your fretting hand and way better contact with the fretboard, resulting in a much cleaner execution of the barre chord.
Partial Chords Are Just as Effective as Full Chords
While most barre chords involve all six strings of the guitar, you don’t necessarily have to use all of them.
If you’re finding it a bit too difficult to play a full barre chord, there’s nothing wrong with trimming it down into a chord that’s a bit more manageable.
This isn’t cheating – it’s totally acceptable and I fully endorse it!
Use the Barre Chord Shape to Play Any Chord on the Guitar
You might be thinking – why do I even have to learn barre chords if they’re so difficult?
That’s a valid question. And the answer is because with one barre chord shape you can play any chord on the guitar neck.
That type of versatility is just too important not to be learned!
By learning how to play one closed-off barre chord shape, you suddenly have access to every single chord on the guitar – that’s pretty powerful.
Practice using the barre chords instead of open chords in any song you’re playing – just to build up strength and get more comfortable with the shape!
Barre Chord Exercises
Barre chords require some work before you can play them perfectly. To help you get there, here are a couple of barre chord exercises to run through in your daily guitar playing:
Exercise 1: Strengthening Your Index Finger
This exercise is one of my favorites to teach beginner players how much pressure is necessary to produce a nice-sounding tone.
How to strengthen your index finger:
- Start by barring all the guitar strings with your index finger across the first fret
- Play a downstroke on each string starting with the low E and ending with the high E
- Practice diminishing, or cutting off, the note after you play it
- Next, move up a fret and repeat the exercise, but play the strings in the opposite way, starting with the high E and ending with the low E
If you want to follow along visually, then check out the video tutorial of this exercise on my YouTube channel.
Exercise 2: Chord Progressions
Okay, the first exercise looked at building strength in your fingers – this next one is going to look at speed.
Just as with any other series of chords, moving your fingers quickly from shape to shape is an important part of guitar playing, and will ensure your music is sharp, crisp, and flows well.
Here’s an exercise to get you playing faster:
- Pick four different chords
- Strum down four times before switching to the next chord
- Ensure that you choose a mix of barre chords and normal chords to really challenge your fingers
When you feel comfortable enough with the first chord progression, switch the chords around or choose another four chords and do the exercise again
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