Getting Those Barre Chords Down

A technique illusive to you, put in simple lament ways to get you to the point of using them daily, with clean rich sound.

Ultimate Guitar
I have noticed many bare chord lessons lately that are geared towards beginners, but after reading them, they almost expect you to pick up the guitar and understand bare chords. Most of them will say to practice doing this and that until you get, then they go into the theory put behind a bare chord. It is true that practice makes perfect, especially with bare chords, but some people like me need a strict schedule and strict guidelines to learn, so I have created just that. This lesson was created for people who are determined to learn the much-feared bare chords. I will not cover any theory on the bare chords, rather I'll go through and first explain why they are hard for you, giving you an understanding of what you should expect. Then I will cover some very basic practices with a guideline and timetable. Keep in mind that the more you practice of course the faster you will pick this up and understand it, so the time lines are just a basic average, maybe practicing 15-30 minutes 3-4 times a week.

1) Why you suck at bare chords

A) Everyone goes into bare chords figuring there has to be a technique to make a bare chord sound so great. In reality, there really is not much to it. The reason you are probably having trouble with bare chords is the strength it takes, along with the endurance.

Remember when you first began playing guitar? You had to learn how to press your fingers just hard enough, in the right spots before single notes or chords began to sound decent. With a bare chord, it is the same concept but now we are asking you to do it across six strings, no easy task at all. Expect this to be hard, but worth it. Now you may look back at that and think that it barely takes any pressure on a string to make it sound nice, but that is because you have practiced and built the strength to where it just became natural.

2) Finger placement

Take your index finger, stare at it for a little bit. If you look right at the bottom portion, you can see that this part of your finger is very squishy. This is the part that we do not want to use. Look at the side of your finger, the side closest to your thumb. There is some hard bone there with a bit of pad, much like the tips of your fingers. We want to use this part of your finger when we bare a chord.

To help you get started I want to give you a couple tricks of the trade. When you are first beginning to try to bare a chord you can use your middle finger to help you bare the chord. Place your index finger down, baring the chord, then place your middle finger on top of your index and apply pressure. This should only be done in the first exercise; just so you get use to how hard your finger needs to be pressing against the strings, and so you can see where your finger needs to be to have each string chime. Another basic tip is to play the guitar like a classical guitarist, put the guitar over your left leg and point it straight up; the headstock should be towards your roof. This can help you move your fingers around a bit more, but once again We want to get you to the point where you can do a bare chord with out these tricks so try only using it in the first exercise.

Your thumb is a big part of the strength it takes to properly play a bare chord. Your thumb has to be behind the neck of the guitar, pressing into it while your index finger is pressing down on the strings. Just like squashing a bug between your fingers, you are pushing up with one finger and down with the other to create the pressure needed. At first, this can feel awkward; you may think it feels as if you can only hold the guitar like this for a short time. The whole point of these exercises is to build the strength and endurance, it will get easier.

3) Bare chord exercises 101:

A) Now that you understand why you suck Shall we move on?

We are going to take baby steps to build strength in your hands; with each exercise completed, your hands will be a lot stronger, which will help you in the future with other tricks. We are going to start on the eighth fret since there is very little tension in the strings this far down on the neck. We will gradually move up the neck, meaning more tension in the neck, but the exercises should build strength so that it gradually becomes easier. We will not worry about an actual bare chord just yet, first we just want to hold our index finger across the 6 strings and make sure they all sound clean.

Exercise 1: This lesson should last you about 2 weeks at a minimum, with at least 15-30 minutes of practice 4 times a week. Depending on how often you practice, this could take 2 weeks or a few months. You MUST do this exercise completely before moving on or the over all lesson plan will not work.

Bare your eighth fret, check for thumb placement and index finger placement. You should know the basics of where notes sound the best on a fret from playing chords and notes in the past. Same concept for bare chords. I want you to pluck each string individually and take a mental note of which ones were buzzing or muted. Buzzing can be caused by where your finger is, or by lack of pressure. A muted string just means there is not enough pressure on that string. Therefore, we are going try a few things to make it sound better.

Every person plays a bare chord slightly different from the next. Here we want to try and figure out how you are going to play it, will you lay your finger straight, maybe use a slight arch? This is what we need to find. First, I want you to try keeping your finger completely straight, playing the chord and taking a mental note of each string and how it sounded. Then try to slightly arch your finger, just letting it relax a little instead of being so stiff and try it again. Then try moving the tip of your index finger a little towards the low e string, and pluck the notes again. Then try moving the point of your index finger back a little bit towards the high e string. Again, take mental notes of how the strings changed each time you moved your finger. Our goal in this exercise is to figure out the best, most comfortable and best sounding placement of your finger. This part of the exercise depends on you since I can not be there. As you move your fingers you should be noticing how the smallest movement can make a huge difference, for the worse or maybe for the better. As you do this each day you should slowly start to realize which finger positions work best for you. Just from doing this though you're also building strength in your hands; soon you will realize which fingers position is best for you. This part is really just playing around till you get it.

Exercise 2: Now move your index finger up one fret, we are on the seventh fret. It is the same technique, but since we moved from the eighth fret to the seventh fret, we will require a little more pressure but not a lot. Again, we are only applying our index finger and we want to make sure every note sounds clear as possible at least 90% of the time you attempt to do these, THEN continue to exercise 3. If you truly completed exercise 1, this should only take you another day or two of practicing to get down.

Exercise 3: The EXACT same thing but now we are going to the fifth fret. Again, as we go up the fret a tiny bit more pressure is always needed. However, we are going to get you to the point of not even noticing any change. Make sure to do this exercise until each note is clear 90% of the time.

Now that you have completed exercise 3 try going back to exercise 1 and 2, are you starting to see a difference yet? By now, you should have been at this for a good two weeks. Your fingers are now better conditioned and stronger, more durable and hardened. I want you go from exercise 1 to 2 then 3. While on exercise 1, place your index finger down, strum the chord and if it sounds clean, then release your hand, place it back down on the same fret and do it again. Does this for each exercise, taking your time to ensure you place your fingers correctly. In total, you should have strummed 6 times; as long as five of the six are clean, you should be ready to move on.

Exercise 4: Now you have the basics down, your fingers are stronger. If you are still having a hard time, do not attempt this section yet. With this exercise, we are going to focus on multiple tasks; exercise 4 and 5 should be done with in one session of your practicing. Take your index finger, start at the fifth fret just to warm them up. Then move to the third fret, then the second fret. This may be hard at first, but just keep going at it until each fret has a clear sound to it. What we want to focus on is really building some good strength into your hands. You already know what it takes to make the notes sound good; just apply exercises 1-2-3 to this section. This exercise should still be done for about 15 minutes a day.

Exercise 5: Adding shape to your bare chords. Before we were simply using our index finger like a capo, bringing the nut down to the eighth fret as if nothing above the eighth fret existed. Now we want to add shapes and chords to this.

You have probably seen and read these in other articles, or videos, but here is the one I am going to use with you today.


This is just a basic shape, the shape of an E major chord, barred and we can take this shape and place it anywhere for a chord. There is a whole crap load of lessons about bare chords, though, I do not want to get too far into the subject, as this lesson is about getting you ready for their lessons.

Looking at this pattern lets apply it to the eighth fret again. Bare your eighth fret, your index finger is the 1 in the tab above. Usually I use my pinky and ring finger for the next part, but whatever feels natural to you is fine for now. Place a fingers one fret bellow on the A and D strings.

If you're having a hard time with this part, try researching some stretching exercises to do; stretching exercises along with still doing these exercises should help.Once you have this done, it is as simple as exercises 1-3, in fact that is all it is. You are adding a very basic and simple shape to the bare that is all. If you do these simple little exercises, and just think about the day when you will have these down, then you will get it. Do not get discouraged.

Once you feel you no longer need this lesson, you should continue on to read about bare chords, how they are formed and where they are so you can bare any chord and get the sound you want. You also want to practice switching between chords to bare chords, a really good start off song is Plain White T's 1-2-3-4 (I love you) which I know has 1 bare chord in it, I can't remember if it has 2. However, any song with one or two bare chords in the song mixed with open chords will be good practice.

Thanks for reading, this is my first lesson and I can only hope it helped someone out there.

Sparta09 signing out.

27 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Kale Good
    A great and unique exercise to help improve strength in the first finger.
    Nice lesson,but an E major shaped bar code would be tabbed like this
    Great Lesson Because that is essentially what learning Barre chords is about - which positioning and placement of your finger makes the notes sound and mutes some others. And, I think that this is the only lesson on UG that covers that aspect, the learning process. Although I'm a bit jealous that you wrote this lesson first because I have had it in mind as well for some time, I'll give it a 10/10 one can have lots and lots of bar chord shapes written down if you don't know how to learn and develop barring technique you won't master them. I think a guitar teacher is quite important for learning barr chords and I think this lesson does a good job to save you one
    Very good lesson. I've been playing for over a year and I actually learned quite a bit from this. 10/10
    I find barring harder up on the neck, starting from about fifth fret, especially for the fourth and second string. So E min form is harder than E maj form
    Thanks guys I am learning Flamenco at present and the exercises on Barre chords are very valuable for playing nylon strings. I found steel strings esker, but the whole Sparta09 lesson has been very helpful.
    Thanks I've been playing for years, but unfortunately picked up a bad habit of lazy barre chords where a few strings were muted. Sounded fine when strumming but a pain in the ass if you have to anything intricate. Finally accepted that I have to go back to square one and learn to do it properly if I want to get any better. This was just what I needed.
    Used to play guitar a lot but fell out of the way of it the past few years. This lesson is a good 'un, gets to the meat of forming barre chords which I felt other lessons on the site skimmed over. Don't settle for dead notes when playing your barre chords! I'll be re-training myself and hopefully my fret hand strength shall return.
    hi there struggling with the B Chord A shape with a barre getting buzzing, can play a F Chord without any buzzing
    Sparta09: I've been trying to learn for a while now, and was wondering why barre chords wouldn't work. Turns out I was using the padded part of my index finger to barre the strings. With that one line, bam! And I know know what I'm doing. And your exercises are definitely a good way of building strength. So thanks a ton, dude.
    Oh man I'm gonna practice the shit out of barre chords with this.
    This was just what I needed. I'm a newbie and was really intimidated by the barre chords. What is motivating me to really work at them are several songs that I want to learn that ALL have Barre chords!!
    Cream-fan-#1 wrote: good lesson... but please learn how to spell barre
    agreed, thx Cf#1, so 9.7/10
    Most other lessons iv read just explain the barre chord with stuff like just keep practising it and you will get it ,this is the first lesson iv seen with practical advice and a real system to learn them ,well done this was so helpfull thank you
    well, the spelling is a detail. The lesson is good and worthwhile. The goal is clearly to have a good sound, not really to explain in details which form is which chord. Nevertheless, one needs to be precise. Good job anyway
    133211 is what I meant, something I've already said in an above comment. However, the F major is an "E major" shape barre chord. 022100 - the E major Barre it you have.. 122111 Now since a barre is like using your finger as a capo, you'd move the shape of the E major up a fret... 133211, an E major "shape" but as Para said, it's an F major. You could practice this same shape up and down the fret board for different barre chords. This lesson explains in great detail the use of the E major shape for barre chords. Again, sorry for the confusion. Hope this helps clear it up.
    Honey Bunny
    Hey great lesson If ur looking for a song to build ur strength try Muses acoustic version of Creep, gives me a good work out everytime i play it... Cheers
    Good lesson. Help me a lot to create a clean sound. About the E chord, I think it is just about the shape, not the chord itself that he was talking about.
    Parafina is correct. I was wandering what was going on until I seen your correction. I've been playing guitar many, many years and to all you beginners Parafina is right.
    That actually happened by mistake.. Microsoft word considers "barre" misspelled, I should have noticed that before just quickly clicking change on the word and grammar correct. My bad =/
    whoops, yeah you're right gillet. Sorry for any confusion caused by that. Though any chord shape you apply should help. Thanks for all the votes and good comments, hope to write more in the future!
    Thanks man, I will be back here in a few weeks to tell you if it worked for me.