16. Barre (Bar) Chords


Barre chords tend to be despised by beginners, avoided at all costs. But they are really valuable and completely necessary if one is to progress beyond the absolute beginner stage.


Actually, barre chords are not difficult to master with the right kind of practice. Certainly they are preferable to the various simplified chords, derived from them, that are offered as substitutes. Move past them if you can! It’s better to get your hands around the real thing as soon as possible.

To finger a barre chord first means to lay the index finger across all six strings, leaning towards the outer edge of that finger, and as close as possible to the fret without being on top of it. This is called a full barre. Sometimes the finger will cover only some of the strings, which is called a half barre. We will concentrate on the full barre only for now.

With the index finger in place, place the remaining left hand fingers on their respective frets to complete the chord.



Curve the index finger fretting strings 1,2 and 6.


Admittedly, this F major chord, which is almost always the first barre chord learned, is among the most challenging. This is because the resistance between the nut and the first fret is much greater than from one fret to the next. In other words, it is harder to supply sufficient pressure at the first fret.  As you move up the neck it gets easier. This is also because the scale, or distance between frets, becomes shorter as well.

The thing to remember most in learning these chords is their relationship to the “open”  chord shape they are derived from. A close look at F reveals it is actually an E major chord moved up one fret. This is easy to see by refingering the E major chord as follows:

NOTE: This chord remains the same type of chord, in this case major, as you move it up the neck, becoming F major, then F# major, the G major etc. All barre chords are

similar in this way. The A minor chord becomes Bbminor at the 1st fret, then Bminor, etc




In my experience, there is nothing more daunting to the average beginner than the execution of barre chords. Is it any wonder that chord books, songbooks and the like offer simplified substitutions for them?  Yet they do not have to be so defeating. I always recommend 2 main things concerning the barre chord:

1. Perfect placement of the barre, or as close as possible.

2. Practicing them frequently, even if they seem to sound poorly.

The same muscle memory and hand strength needed for your simple beginner chords are used with the barre chord also. It will come! Many beginners’ basic chords sound poor, mostly due to insufficient fretting hand pressure and wrong placement of that hand. The barre chord arrives and only magnifies the existing problem.


Focus on sounding all your basic chords cleanly and you will soon find success with the barre chords also!

© 2012 Jim Greenfield