Learning guitar barre chords, or chords created while clamping down all six strings with your index finger, intimidates many guitar students. However, these new chords don’t need to be so scary! Austin guitar teacher Samuel B. breaks down five reasons why learning barre chords is not so bad…
I maintain little to no doubt that learning guitar barre chords is the most challenging advance for a student. Along the way there, I recommend practicing chords such as F (which involves holding down two strings at a time) as well as conditioning in the form of scales before the introduction of relevant chords (as in the video on my profile). Despite the hefty work in store for your left hand (no, I can’t sugarcoat this), some key facts are worth considering as what you’re learning to do is probably simpler than you think.
1. You’ll Begin By Learning To Play An Alternate Version Of A Familiar Chord
When it’s time to begin barring, you’ll begin doing so on the fifth fret (in sixth position to be exact) as I find it the most accommodating place to start. For one thing, the E formation you’ll be transposing will be an A (based on the fourth note of the E scale – as you will have learned while playing first-position chords in that key). Your first barre chord, in other words, will compliment the base (1st) chord of the last first-position key you will have learned to play (which is E). Put simpler, you’ll be learning another version of something you already know.
2. You Will Have Learned To Play Triads In The Same Position
Just as I preface chord knowledge with scale knowledge, I always teach abbreviated variations of the E and B7 formations in the middle of the neck before I introduce barre chords. The E formation looks like this:
The B7th one looks like this:
Both chords are easily transposable anywhere on the neck and serve as the basis for introducing jazz tinges into familiar standards.
3. Conditioning Your Index Finger To Hold Down Six Strings At Once Is Really Just A Matter of Clamping
Your thumb and your index finger are doing the most work here. You will have to practice holding them together tightly on the neck, but this is a mere matter of strengthening your grip.
4. All Barre Chords Are Based On Two Basic First-Position Formations – E and A
Though variations such as minor, seventh, and augmented will be introduced down the line, all you’re really learning to do is play E and A with your third, fourth, and fifth (as opposed to your index, third, and fourth) fingers.
5. The Most Important Thing To Learn To Do Is Switch Smoothly Between The Two
At this point in the curriculum, I condense as much instruction as possible (without creating drudgery) into having you play the barred E formation and the barred A one back and forth. The goal here is to create a see-saw effect. Once this has happened, you’ll be ready to learn to play whole songs with guitar barre chords only.
Samuel B. teaches beginner guitar lessons in Austin, TX. He teaches lessons face-to-face without sheet music, which is his adaptation of Japanese instruction (involving a call-and-response method). Learn more about Samuel here!
Photo by stimpsonjake