For beginner guitarists, barre chords are always a tricky hurdle to pass. They can be a source of great frustration for so many budding guitar players.
It can take a long time and a lot of patience to get them sounding as smooth and clean as the guitarists you hear on the radio.
Barre chords require quite a lot of hand and finger strength to get each of the six strings ringing out clearly, without any buzzing or dead notes.
This strength can take some time and effort to build up, but once you’ve got it, it’s there.
Additionally, building the muscle memory to move between barre chords and open chords also takes a lot of practice.
If you find yourself struggling with that pesky B minor chord, then don’t get discouraged. We have 5 very helpful tips that will get you strumming those barre chords sooner than you think!
These easily-implemented tips and techniques will improve your barre chords immensely, but remember, like anything else, this takes time, patience, and practice. Here are 5 tips and techniques to get those barre chords sounding clear, smooth, and clean.
Technique > Pressure
Although it is true that barre chords do require more pressure than other types of chords such as open chords, proper technique is far more important.
It’s very important to not apply too much pressure when you’re playing guitar, as this could lead to strain and even injury after a prolonged period of playing guitar.
When a beginner guitarist is trying to play barre chords, and they’re unable to get them to ring out cleanly, and they’re getting buzzing strings, they sometimes try to compensate with a large amount of force.
This can cause strain to the wrist, fingers, and forearm and tire out the player’s arm and hands very quickly.
Playing guitar with poor technique and too much pressure for a prolonged period can lead to serious damage to the tendons and muscles of the arm, so using proper technique is essential.
Proper technique means that you hold the guitar in the correct position. Your fingers should also be positioned correctly, and your wrist should remain straight.
Having a bent wrist can lead to injury when playing the guitar.
Pressure should not be added until you get the correct technique down. If we use good technique, we only require a small to a reasonable level of pressure to get the barre chords sounding great.
Begin with the “A minor” Shape
The easiest barre chord to start with is the “A minor” shape barre chord. This is one of your most commonly used barre chords, and it’s one of the easiest to master. Because of this, it’s a good idea to start here before going on to more difficult barre chords.
The main reason why this shape is easier is that it’s a five-string barre chord — meaning, your “barre” finger doesn’t need to barre across all six strings but instead only needs to barre across five strings, leaving out the low E string.
If your guitar has quite a wide neck, or you have fairly small hands, you may find this easier to learn than some of the harder six string barre chords.
The “A minor” bar chord shape is also a great barre chord shape to simplify, vary, and transform into other lush sounding chords, too.
If you imagine the “A minor” shape in root position, and then move this shape up two frets and barre across the A string to the high E string, this becomes a B minor chord. This is a common chord found in many chord progressions in the key of G, A, and D major. This is a good place to start.
Try Practicing Barre Chords Higher Up the Neck
Every guitarist knows that the most difficult barre chord to master is the F major barre chord on the first fret. This is because at the end of the neck, the frets are the furthest apart from each other. You also need to apply more pressure lower on the neck to get the chords to sound clearly.
Because of this, it’s advisable that you try playing barre chords further up the neck – anywhere from bar 5 to 9.
This is because the higher up on the fretboard you go, the closer the frets get together and therefore the less you need to stretch.
You’ll likely find it much easier to play a B major barre chord on the seventh fret compared to that pesky F major on the first fret.
Because you don’t need to reach so much on barre chords further up the neck, you can focus on getting good finger placement, making good techniques a habit, and getting chords sounding clearer more often.
Once you’ve mastered a barre chord on the seventh fret, for example, you can then move the same shape down one fret, and see if you can play it.
Once that sounds good, you can continue moving lower and lower on the neck until, finally, you’ll have that F major barre chord in the bag!
Check Your Guitar’s Action
The “action” of your guitar means the distance between the strings and the fretboard.
If your guitar has high action, meaning the strings are high above the fretboard, you’ll need to apply more pressure to get chords to sound cleanly.
Because of this, playing barre chords on a guitar that has high action can be very difficult.
You may find it a lot easier to play barre chords on an electric guitar rather than an acoustic, as electric guitars typically have a lower action in addition to a thinner neck.
If your guitar isn’t set up properly, it will likely be a lot harder to play than it should be. If you feel like playing a note is a lot harder than you expected, this could mean that your action is too high.
High action means this distance is great and that your strings are high above the fretboard. Set the action too high and the difficulty will increase because it will take more effort to press down the strings.
If you set the action too low, the strings won’t have any room to vibrate and create the buzzing sound as they hit against the frets.
To find out if your action needs adjusting, the best thing to do is have your guitar checked out from a guitar technician or luthier.
To get a rough idea of whether your guitar is set up correctly, here’s what you should do; Take a coin that is roughly 2 mm thick.
Slide a coin under the low E string at fret 12 and place it on the fretboard. If this is a tight fit or has a little space, your action is low, and if you don’t hear any buzzing when the strings are played, the action is most likely fine.
If there’s plenty of space, and you can easily fit an extra coin in there, your action is probably too high.
Learning to play the guitar is hard enough already. We don’t want to make it any harder, right? So make sure that instrument is set up to be as playable as it can possibly be.
Thumb Support and Hand Strength
The thumb is one of the most important parts of your fretting hand. When you’re learning how to play barre chords, you’ll need to use your thumb to apply pressure to the back of the guitar’s neck.
This way, you don’t need to use so much finger or arm strength in order to apply sufficient pressure.
Thumb placement is very important when playing barre chords. The thumb should be pressed roughly on the upper third of the back of the guitar’s neck, and it should be elongated.
Pressing against the back of the neck will help you get clean sounding barre chords.
Another way of using the thumb is by using what’s known as the “Hendrix thumb”, where the thumb of the fretting hand goes over the top of the neck to press down on the low E string. For some people, this is an easier alternative to barre chords.
Building up finger strength is a process that takes patience and hours of practice. Don’t expect to be able to play barre chords straight away.
It’s also important not to overdo it, as this can lead to injury. If you start feeling any pain in your hand or wrist, then you must stop practicing immediately. Take a few hours off or, better yet, come back to it the next day.
The foundation of all barre chords lies with the index finger of the fretting hand. Because of this, it’s a good idea to practice and build up the strength of the index finger by barring across all the strings and notice if any of the strings are buzzing or not ringing out clearly.
If you hear a couple dead notes or buzzing, try adjusting the position of your index finger and use the outer edge of it, and adjust the amount of pressure you’re applying to the strings. Experimentation and trial and error are key to getting your barre chords sounding good.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I Play Barre Chords With Small Hands?
Although it may be a lot more difficult to play barre chords if you have small hands, it is still achievable as long as you adopt a proper technique.
With enough practice, even small children can learn to play barre chords cleanly.
What Is The Hardest Barre Chord?
As mentioned earlier, the F major barre chord is most likely the hardest barre chord to learn.
This is because the frets are the widest apart at the bottom of the guitar’s neck, and the chord lies at the very first fret.
Because of the wide space between the frets in this position, it requires more of a stretch in the fretting hand.
Do Lighter Strings Make Barre Chords Easier?
A lighter gauge of string will make it much easier to play barre chords. This is because a lighter string doesn’t require so much pressure to press down on the strings.
If you’re having a lot of trouble playing barre chords cleanly, you may want to try a lighter gauge of string.
Are Barre Chords Harder On An Acoustic Guitar?
Acoustic guitars and classical guitars tend to have much thicker necks than electric guitars, which makes barre chords more difficult to play.
Despite this, it’s recommended that beginners learn to play on an acoustic guitar or a classical guitar, as this will help them to develop finger strength and dexterity, as well as proper technique.
Why Do Barre Chords Hurt?
Barre chords may hurt your fretting hand if you are stretching too much, and/or applying excessive pressure. If you experience pain when you’re practicing guitar, you should stop playing immediately.
If you keep playing, it may lead to permanent damage to the tendons in your hands, and this may lead to tendonitis or even long-term arthritis.
It’s expected that beginners will experience some pain or discomfort after a long period of practicing, as the strength and stamina in their hands and fingers needs to be developed.
Are Barre Chords Necessary To Learn?
Barre chords may be difficult to learn, but once you get the hang of them they’re very easy. Barre chords are a staple of guitar playing, and they will open up a world of possibilities for your playing.
Almost all songs you will hear will have barre chords in them.
They’re absolutely necessary to learn, as they will allow you to play in any key without the need for a capo.
Every guitarist remembers the struggle of trying to tackle barre chords for the first time. It’s one of the most difficult things a beginner guitarist has to learn, but it’s worth the time and effort that it demands.
Barre chords open up the possibilities of your guitar playing immeasurably, allowing you to play in any key, all over the neck of the guitar.
We hope that these 5 handy tips have helped you on your path towards mastering barre chords on the guitar. Remember, it takes time, effort, and patience to get good at barre chords, so keep practicing and don’t get discouraged if they aren’t sounding good right away.