Depending on where you’re at in your guitar journey, you may have a love-hate relationship with barre chords. I used to teach a beginner lesson class where we had awesome players all in the advanced-beginner level. As we would work through songs, things would be going well until a dreaded B chord (in the barre chord shape) would pop up on the chord chart. Then things took a turn for the worse.
Right at that point, their timing would get off, some people’s chords would not sound like a B chord, and others would just opt to play an alternative substitute for the chord. One thing that everyone had in common was their struggle with the barre chord.
Whether you hate barre chords or love them, they’re essential to feeling comfortable as a guitarist. Your Orangewood already comes set up with the ideal string gauge for barre chord success, so all you need to do is start practicing. In this blog, I’m going to cover barre chord basics and my top tips for effortlessly creating them.
What’s a Barre Chord?
A barre chord is a chord in which you keep your finger position in the same chord shape. By not changing your finger position at all, you can move this chord all around the neck to create different chords. Imagine playing an E chord and then moving your E chord up 5 frets, creating an A chord without having to learn anything new. Sounds pretty great, right? If you were thinking that sounds too good to be true, sadly you are right (ugh!).
Here’s the catch — when you’re playing with open chords, the open strings are part of what makes up the note in the chords. When you scoot the chord shape up the neck, those open strings no longer fit with the chord. You have to place your index finger over the entire fret behind the chord, and then make the chord shape with your other fingers. Essentially, we’re creating the end of the guitar neck by using an index finger.
Proper Barre Chord Technique
The most common barre chord shapes are E (where the root note is on the E string) and A (where the root is on the A string). On the acoustic, pressing down all the strings and making a chord without muting any strings is not easy, so here are some pointers for your pointer finger form (oh, yikes, bad dad joke…).
Barre Chord Form
If you’re just starting to do barre chords, it can be tempting to do whatever you can to make your barre chord sound, even if it means forfeiting form. I completely get that, because playing muted chords that you can’t hear is frustrating. But I encourage you to make a habit of having good form because it builds future muscle memory and prevents wrist pain while playing. Here are the most important parts of barre chord form:
Straighten Your Wrist
Rather than pushing your wrist out when creating your barre chord, try to keep it as straight and neutral as possible. When I make mine, there is a very slight curve in my wrist, but not much. Playing with a straight wrist from the beginning will help your wrist not to hurt down the road.
Pointer Finger Position
When you’re pressing your pointer finger down, you want it right in the middle of the fret or a little up the fret. Think about pressing with the back side of your finger and trying to get the pressure as even as possible on the strings to create the barre.
Playing with Your Finger Tips
Pressing the chord shape down with your fingertips rather than the side of your finger will help the chord to sound cleaner and you can avoid accidentally muting strings. You can do this by curling your fingers and making sure not to lock out the joints in your finger. You want the pad of your fingertip to be going straight down on the string.
These techniques are the biggest things to consider with creating beautiful barre chords. Some of the little things will work themselves out over time as you continue to practice.
Barre Chords Variations
If you’re in the process of perfecting your barre chords but don’t quite have them down, don’t worry! There are a lot of workarounds for barre chords and ways to ease yourself into them. Here are a few options:
Half Barre Chords (“Jimi Hendrix Chords”)
Half barre chords are *magical*, and you’ll quickly become obsessed once you learn them. I love this video by Marty Music showing how to do these (and all his Jimi Hendrix tutorials for that matter!).
Basically, for a half barre chord, you simply strum the highest strings of the guitar and rework your fingers on your fretting hand so you aren’t actually barring anything — you’re instead putting your fingers down on the notes that you’re picking. They’re still movable shapes based around barre chords, but you don’t have to worry about pressing your index finger down over all the strings.
On the other end, for power chords, you only strum the lowest strings on the guitar. You can make these by only putting your fretting fingers down on the lowest part of the chord. These have a reputation of being used in rock songs but can be swapped out with barre chords in most situations. I liked this tutorial here by Andy Music showing how to do power chords.
Open “Barre” Chords
Lastly, we have open “barre” chords. If you play in the key of E, you can get away with playing barre chords and leaving the high strings open. Open voicings like this are great because you get to practice playing barre chord shapes and moving around the neck, but you don’t have to press your finger across the strings the whole time.
Final Barre Chord Tips
One of the most helpful tips for creating barre chords is to have control with your rhythm hand. For example, if I’m focusing on playing my lower strings, I’ll make sure I’m pressing down strongly on my lower strings. The same goes for my high strings. With guitar, the easiest way to play things is usually the best way (ah, don’t you wish everything in life were like that?) because it saves you energy and allows you to play faster and more efficiently.
To start becoming a barre chord pro, I recommend mixing just one or two in a song to start (look for songs that have B, C#m, or F# in them). You should practice quickly putting your fingers in the barre chord position and getting the form down. Overall, the biggest thing to remember is to not beat yourself up for not getting the chords down as fast as you think you “should” because they really do take time to perfect. The more you play though, the easier they will seem.
To get more help on your barre chords, make sure you check out my Barre Chord Basics course where you’re guaranteed to become a barre chord pro by the time you’re finished!
Haley is a guitar player, blogger, and guitar teacher based out of Nashville, TN. When she's not playing or writing, you can find her in line at her favorite breakfast taco shop, taking her dog hiking at the nearest waterfall, or binging Outer Banks with her hubby.