I get it. Barre chords suck. I won’t mince words about it. There comes the point in every guitar player’s journey when they can’t ignore barre chords anymore, and they tackle it only to get frustrated. Many guitarists give up here and never learn them. This keeps them in the intermediate stage of playing forever.
In fact, I’m asked about barre chords by self-taught guitarists more often than any other topic. It’s just tough. But I’m here to help a little today.
What Are Barre Chords?
Barre chords are basically when you use your finger like a capo. You use the length of your finger to press down all the strings at a specific fret, raising the pitch to that fret. It’s very common at high levels of playing and frequent at most lower levels too.
Why Are Barre Chords So Hard?
It boils down to coordination and finger strength. Barre chords often require your index finger to hold down all the strings while also fingering chord shapes with your other fingers.
Your index finger isn’t used to pressing down things from the side like it will with barre chords, so you don’t have the muscles developed enough. Your other fingers may be used to letting the index finger do much of the flexible work, but now they need to step up.
This combination makes it tough enough, but on top of this, you probably, at this point, are successful with many chords and can play quite a few songs. Now, with barre chords, you’ll feel like you’re back at square one.
You’re not! Be patient. It’ll come.
Helpful Tips For Barre Chords
Here are my go-to tips for anyone looking to play barre chords.
- Start with chords higher up the fretboard; they’re easier to press down.
- Yes, the F major barre chord is the most common with early players, but it’s also quite hard; do an F7 chord to start.
- Check the action on your guitar; keep your string height a little low (you may need to take your guitar into a store if you don’t know how to adjust this).
- Check your thumb position; make sure it’s about halfway on the back of the neck, not wrapped around.
- Use your thumb and finger in a pinching/pressing motion.
- Keep your index finger straight and not bent; this makes it stronger.
- The side of your index finger is less sensitive and closer to your bone; use the side of your finger, not the underside.
- Make sure you press down close to the fret; you’ll have less to press that way.
- Avoid a position where the crease of your knuckles lines up with a string; this will mute the string instead.
- Don’t collapse your wrist! Keep a solid line from your shoulder to your fingers as much as possible.
- Don’t give up! It takes time and practice to develop muscle memory and strength for these chords.
This should be enough to help you, but what you really need is some serious training over time. To this end, I recommend taking lessons or going through some online courses. Of all of the courses out there, I think Jam Play does the best job with barre chords.