The Woodshed

Barre Chords

1

I’m really struggling trying to form barre chords. Does anyone have any tips?

2

Yep. Don't. Focus on triads instead. You'll be a better player for it.

3

If you need to build up finger strength, get an old school rubber ball and squeeze it as much and often as you can. Always have your thumb on the back of the neck instead of wrapping it around. Strummerson's advice is good as well. Triads are really versatile.

4

The need to play full barre chords is rare, but there are a couple techniques that can help.

[1] Keep the barre finger (index) as straight as possible. The tendency is to allow it to curve slightly and we compensate by using more force. A straight finger will allow more contact across the strings.

[2] If necessary, roll the barre finger slightly to the side, again creating a straighter barre.

[3] This might sound a little strange, but it comes from classical guitar pedagogy. Form the chord with a straight barre, and instead of squeezing or tensing the hand to bring the strings into contact with the frets, relax the arm and wrist and allow the weight of the arm to help fret the strings. Some tension in the hand is necessary, but less than we might think. This sounds questionable at first, as the weight would appear to be moving downward across the strings and not into the fingerboard, but with small adjustments in form, and practice, it is possible to redirect some of the weight into the fingerboard. It's crucial that the barre is straight.

Once you find the right positioning and proper amount to tension for your body, develop an awareness of how that looks and feels, then practice playing barre chords with the new body mechanics until the process becomes habitualized. Short periods of time (a few minutes) on a daily basis for a couple of months should do it. As far as pure technique goes, in general, good results come from treating these types of physical exercises, including scale practice, as warm ups. A few minutes a day, with good form and focus yields better results than longer periods with less focus and 'incorrect' or sloppy practice. Let us know how it goes.

5

Play along with any of the first three Ramones albums. It’ll be fun.

6

Get your fingers as close to the fret as possible.

Have your thumb in the middle of the back of the neck.

Use as light a touch as you can. You only need to make the string ring true.

If it hurts, stop.

7

Have big hands and long skinny fingers.

Barring that (so to speak), what Strum said. Find all the 3- and 4-note chords you can, all over the neck. They’ll not only usually work, but they’ll make your playing more distinctive.

Then, what Journeyman said. Best analysis I’ve read on managing the misery of the barre. Wish I’d had it 50 years ago.

8

I fall into the same camp as Strummerson, mainly due to Arthur (ritis). Once in position, I can make a decent Barre,; when I try to move it to the next position, it feels like someone is ripping my thumb out by the roots. Along with Strummerson and Proteus, I believe you'll be pleasantly surprised at how learning various three and four note chords all over the fret board will expand your musical horizons. Don't misunderstand, Barre chords are also great for that, and Journeyman's advice is spot on.

9

Not sure how long You have been playing the guitar?

I remember many, many years ago struggling to find just the right place for my fingers on the fretboard.

I honestly don’t remember when it happened it but there comes a time when it just all comes together.

I will say just keep plugging away at it.

I can honestly play any bar chord in my sleep now, but that wasn't the case when I started. Just keep at it. There is no magic technique other than practice and muscle memory.

10

I have an old left hand injury, I torn a radial collateral ligament between my ring finger and the pinky. It makes it impossible to tuck my pinky in close under the ring finger. For many years I adapted, by anchoring the 1st, 2nd and 3rd finger, and using leverage to make the pinky tuck in to play 1st position Barre Chords.

I lately often just played the Barre Chords without the pinky. It sounds distinctively good, and is so much easier for my anatomy.

I have been using a hand squeeze exerciser, to keep my hands strong. Learning Barre Chords is evey guitarists first big barrier. Take it slow, but keep at it. Eventually it will be second nature. I know that doesn't help with your frustration now, but it's doable with a lot of practice. When you are feeling frustrated, back off and come back again later. Playing clean and clear Barre Chords doesn't happen overnight.

11

There's a few other things that bear on the ease of playing barre chords. The radius of the neck can work against keeping your index finger straight if it's sharper, ie lower number. Regarding classical guitars, their fretboard is essentially dead flat and the frets aren't high either so it's easier to keep your finger straight.

I rarely have a light touch with my fingerstyle playing but I'm not squeezing the snot out of the neck either. My playing style utilizes a lot of thumb fretting, as my bassline doesn't have to be alternating, but rather just 6-4, 6-4. This may work for you, depending on your style.

The neck's thickness may play a role in the difficulty issue or not, depending on the physics of your hand, your grip and what music style you utilize. Lots of factors to consider, but the bottom line is tailoring you hand and your guitar to the music you want to play.

A classical guitar with a 2" wide fingerboard and neck like a baseball bat is unplayable for me so I don't try! My guitar necks suit my style and my hand/finger size.

12

What I need is the wrist and fingers of a gibbon.

More seriously though thanks for all the advice, and thoughts on this. Only been trying to play since last April. I might be trying to do too much too soon.

13

I’m really struggling trying to form barre chords. Does anyone have any tips?

– Sorefingers

Maybe a smaller scale guitar.

14

Maybe a smaller scale guitar.

– ThePolecats

I am not sure that I understand how that would make it easier to play barre chords.

15

Maybe a smaller scale guitar.

– ThePolecats

I’ve got a g5220. That otherwise I’m really happy with, it’s just frustrating cos I want to advance, I want to get better, barres aren’t the be all, but watching my tutor play barres I want to do that too!!! When I’m trying a barre the left hand is so tense. If take away my first finger the other fingers fret the other strings, the moment I try and put the bar across, it goes to hell, and borderline painful in the wrist

16

I am not sure that I understand how that would make it easier to play barre chords.

– Ric12string

Smaller neck like a Fender Mustang should make it easier to wrap one's fingers around the neck and fretboard rather than a larger neck.

17

I hook my thumb around the top string.

It's the lazy man's way but it works for me quite well.

18

I hook my thumb around the top string.

It's the lazy man's way but it works for me quite well.

– crowbone

Then Hendrix must have been lazy but it worked for him!!!

19

Paul Pigat also plays like this frequently. It's not lazy. Just another technique. I think Chet played that way a lot of the time.

20

Get your wrist down, not as easy as It sounds. Lots of players use the thumb for the low E, the barre needs a totally different position.

21

this picture makes me indescribably happy

22

Sorefingers, the rest of your experience is normal for a new player, but this...

borderline painful in the wrist

is a sign of ergonomic problems and possibly incipient physical issues. Wrist pain means either some part of your technique is amiss - or that you aren't meant to play barre chords. If your teacher can't troubleshoot this for you by observation, do some research on the internet and find other suggestions (though Journeyman has about covered it).

Hand size DOES make a difference. I would gladly wrap my thumb around the neck for bass notes if my fingers were long enough or hand big enough for the spread. There's no shame whatever in the thumb wrap. I've used my teeth on occasion - though it's messy, the tone is wrong, and it looks stupid.

I've been playing barres for 50 years, and there's no problem whatever in remembering them, or the muscle memory putting the fingers where they belong. The problem is that it still takes a ridiculous effort to keep the strings covered only by the index finger clean and clear without muting them. Cluster-chords of 3 and 4 notes (and sometimes more, if a left-hand finger can cover two adjacent strings at the same fret) have been my friends. I play modified chords all over the neck with either open or muted strings to avoid barres. The voicings are much more interesting. Few songs really require 6-string barres - and their voicings are boring.

Say, for example, "Proud Mary." It can be really funky when using more open-string chords, with room for embellishment. With lock-step barre chords, it's a brain-dead march. Avoiding barres really opens up more interesting possibilities.

23

I think being barre-dependent from an early age really hampered my development as a player.

24

Paul Pigat also plays like this frequently. It's not lazy. Just another technique. I think Chet played that way a lot of the time.

– Strummerson

Hendrix, Chet, & Pigat.

I'm in good company!

25

Sorefingers, the rest of your experience is normal for a new player, but this...

borderline painful in the wrist

is a sign of ergonomic problems and possibly incipient physical issues. Wrist pain means either some part of your technique is amiss - or that you aren't meant to play barre chords. If your teacher can't troubleshoot this for you by observation, do some research on the internet and find other suggestions (though Journeyman has about covered it).

Hand size DOES make a difference. I would gladly wrap my thumb around the neck for bass notes if my fingers were long enough or hand big enough for the spread. There's no shame whatever in the thumb wrap. I've used my teeth on occasion - though it's messy, the tone is wrong, and it looks stupid.

I've been playing barres for 50 years, and there's no problem whatever in remembering them, or the muscle memory putting the fingers where they belong. The problem is that it still takes a ridiculous effort to keep the strings covered only by the index finger clean and clear without muting them. Cluster-chords of 3 and 4 notes (and sometimes more, if a left-hand finger can cover two adjacent strings at the same fret) have been my friends. I play modified chords all over the neck with either open or muted strings to avoid barres. The voicings are much more interesting. Few songs really require 6-string barres - and their voicings are boring.

Say, for example, "Proud Mary." It can be really funky when using more open-string chords, with room for embellishment. With lock-step barre chords, it's a brain-dead march. Avoiding barres really opens up more interesting possibilities.

– Proteus

I think it is an an ergonomic issue. I was having similar issues when first picked up my guitar, that sorted itself out - keep preserving I guess


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