When most new guitar players develop their skill, they learn how to hold the instrument, which hand performs what function, and each open string’s note name. Once they understand the basic concept of notes and scales, most guitar students will move on to the next level in guitar playing: chords.
A chord is a combination of multiple notes that creates a pleasing sound. Major chords tend to have a brighter, happier feel, while minor chords are recognizable as sounding sadder and more melancholy.
There is a huge variety of chords that guitarists can learn to play to rock out on their favorite songs or play along with other musicians during a jam session.
However, not all chords are created equal, and there’s a specific reason why new guitar students will learn some chords before others when taking lessons or learning on their own.
Some chords require easier finger shapes to make each note in the chord ring clear, while some involve a level of finger strength and coordination that most guitarists have to work up to over time.
If you’ve already learned some basic guitar chords like E major, G major, and D major, you’re on a great path to becoming an expert guitarist and being able to play some of the world’s most popular and beloved songs.
However, once you’ve mastered some of the easier guitar chords to play, it’s time to move on to the next level: the bar chords guitar players love to use.
What Is a Bar Chord?
A bar chord is a guitar chord that involves the fretting, or “barring,” of multiple strings with one finger. While most basic chords apply only one finger per string and one or more strings left open, bar chords use a single finger to fret multiple strings simultaneously while other fingers fret different strings.
Generally, the finger that’s used is the first finger or the index finger.
For many of the chords that bar chords guitar experts play on the guitar, there are “easier” and “harder” versions that will be more or less appropriate for beginner players.
For example, you can play the G major chord simply by placing the second finger on the third fret of the low E string, the first finger on the second fret of the A string, and the third finger on the third fret of the high E string.
Conversely, the notes that make up the G chord (G, B, and D) can also be achieved by barring all of the strings on the third fret with the first finger and then placing the third finger on the third fret of the A string, the fourth finger on the third fret of the D string, and the second finger on the second fret of the G string.
Though both options achieve all of the G major chord’s required notes, the first option is much more beginner-friendly. Once you’ve developed your finger independence and hand strength, you can choose between multiple options of chord fingerings to achieve the exact balance of notes that you prefer sonically.
As a reminder, here is a list of each of your left-hand fingers and which number represents them in guitar playing. If you’re left-handed, you will use your right hand to fret, and therefore these numbers will mean the fingers on your right hand instead.
- Thumb has no number
- The index finger is 1
- The middle finger is 2
- The ring finger is 3
- The pinky finger is 4
As you can tell, barre chord shapes tend to be more complex than basic chord shapes, which is why they require a higher level of skill to be successful. Let’s explore some of the steps you can take to increase your left-hand agility and strength to tackle barre chord shapes head-on.
How to Play Bar Chords: Developing the Right Skills
As you’re figuring out how to learn bar chords, it can be easy to get discouraged as you place your fingers in the right spots, yet the strings don’t sound as clear as they should when you strum them.
However, with some steady practice that just takes a few minutes a day, you can gradually build up the finger strength you’ll need to play bar chords like a bar chords guitar pro.
Start by choosing a common bar chord such as E major or A major (if you’re not familiar with these, we’ll explain them in more detail later).
Place each finger in position, but leave the finger that will be doing the barring out of the equation at first. Then, practice putting down and lifting back up the barre finger. Strum as you put the barre finger down to make sure you’re pressing hard enough in order to achieve the proper sound.
This exercise is a great way to build up your hand strength for bar chords, but make sure you start with just a few minutes a day and slowly build up so that you don’t fatigue your hand.
You can also build up your bar chords guitar abilities by simply practicing moving between chords without actually pressing down too hard. This practice will help to develop your muscle memory and dexterity without tiring out your muscles.
Common Guitar Bar Chords Chart
Feeling overwhelmed by all of the barre chord shapes that are out there to learn? This guitar bar chords chart will help focus the process by giving you some of the most basic bar chords guitar players should start with.
Here are four of the most common major bar chords that guitarists use in a variety of songs and genres and how you can learn to play them:
E Major Bar Chord
To begin to play the E major bar chord, you’ll place your first finger across every string on the seventh fret except for the low E string, which is already a note member of the E major chord.
Then, you’ll place your second finger on the ninth fret of the D string, your third finger on the ninth fret of the G string, and your fourth finger on the ninth fret of the B string.
This chord can be difficult for bar chords guitar beginners to play, as it involves barring five strings at once with the first finger and placing each of the rest of the fretting fingers in line with each other on different strings. This positioning can feel awkward and uncomfortable for new guitarists but can be perfected with practice over time.
A Major Bar Chord
The A major bar chord involves barring all six strings at the fifth fret with your index finger and then placing the third finger on the seventh fret of the A string, your fourth finger on the seventh fret of the D string, and your second finger on the sixth fret of the G string.
This bar chord is generally slightly more friendly for bar chords guitar beginners but still takes some time to master.
G major bar chord
To play the G major bar chord, you’ll bar all six strings with your first finger at the third fret. Then, you’ll place your third finger on the fifth fret of the A string, your fourth finger on the fifth fret of the D string, and your second finger on the fourth fret of the G string.
This chord is actually the exact same shape as the A major bar chord but is simply moved up by two frets to achieve the notes that make up the G chord. As such, it can be easier for bar chords guitar beginners to master.
D Major Bar Chord
The D major bar chord is played much higher on the fretboard than many other bar chords. The first finger is placed over all six strings on the tenth fret, with the fourth finger pressing the twelfth fret on the A string, the third finger pressing the twelfth fret on the D string, and the second finger pressing the eleventh fret on the G string.
The D major bar chord is considered one of the more difficult bar chords to play for bar chords guitar beginners, much like the E major bar chord.
How to Learn Bar Chords at Home
Luckily, there are many online resources available when it comes to learning how to play bar chords.
However, developing the skills needed to finger bar chords successfully and create a ringing sound with your strumming can be difficult without a deep knowledge of guitar technique, which most beginning bar chords guitar players don’t have.
Additionally, trying to master bar chords on your own could injure your fretting hand if you overwork it or don’t properly stretch before and after long practice sessions. The best way to avoid injury, ensure steady progress with your playing, and move toward your goals faster is to enlist the help of a guitar teacher.
Trying to learn a new skill of any kind on your own can be difficult, and burnout or loss of interest is extremely common when developing a self-taught talent.